Defence preparedness, in simple terms, means readiness to meet an attack from an adversary or to attack the adversary and win a war. This is a function of strength and intention of the adversary, own strength in manpower and quality of equipment, doctrines and training and, national will. The strength of own Armed Forces also depends upon by the quality of their leadership, levels of training, ability to absorb and high technology weapon systems and use them effectively, domestic defence technology base, funds available to meet revenue and capital expenditure of the defence forces in a sustained manner and, clarity of political and military objectives. Winning a war requires synergy not only among the three services but full support of the government and the people. This brief note focuses on the state of military hardware and the concerns about technological lag and obsolescence of the equipment held by Indian Armed Forces.
There is enough literature available on the subject to indicate that wide gaps remain between the requirement and the present holding of equipment by the three Services. HQs Integrated Defence Staff of the Ministry of Defence issued a Technological Perspective and Capability Roadmap in April 2013 which lays down the technological perspective and capability roadmap. But this still remains a wish list rather than a clear road map.
DRDO has worked on some of the systems and provided some systems to the Armed Forces. However, we are still far from being self-reliant. The number of combat squadrons in the Indian Air Force remains well below the projected requirement; the Army has not inducted field artillery guns and air defence hardware for decades and deficiencies of its surveillance equipment and support and close combat weapons for infantry are far from being made up; and, the Navy is desperately short of modern submarines and some other equipment. India still relies heavily upon imports for weapon systems and allegation of corruption in defence purchases has further complicated the acquisition process.
There have been many instances of the capital component of defence budget not being fully utilised resulting in surrender of the part of the allotted capital budget. Perhaps, an assessment that war is not imminent has made us complacent in not putting efforts to shorten the acquisition cycle and procuring the required equipment. It, however, needs to be realised that the shortfalls in critical equipment is pilling up and obsolete equipment is not being replaced in time thereby affecting the defence preparedness of the Armed Forces.
India needs to take urgent measures to make up the deficiencies in weapon systems and equipment for the three services lest it should reach a stage wherein a sudden military threat compels it to resort to emergency procurement at higher costs to meet the basic necessities of its Armed Forces as it happened during the Kargil conflict in 1999.
Defence Scams: Is there a way out?
The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) has been routinely revised. An ‘integrity clause’ for capital acquisitions costing more than 100 crores was introduced to ensure fair play. An Integrity Pact Bank Guarantee was also put in place. The bidders signed the clause as a matter of ritual without any intent to abide by it. This clause has never been evoked and scams in defence purchases continue unabated.
The surfacing of defence scandals, the connected leaks from ‘reliable sources’ and the media hype that goes with it, are all timed to suit political conveniences and die a natural death after the instant news has served its purpose. Fiery statements are made by politicians while the role of bureaucrats is seldom questioned.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which hardly has any credibility, is commissioned to carry out investigations without any time frame or intent to nail the culprit. Thereafter, nobody knows as to where the case stands as in the case of coal or the spectrums scams. At the end of the day. no one gets punished. The Bofors and the HDW scandals are classic examples. Obviously, the crook protection mechanism is much more effective than the scam prevention methods in place. The man hours and money spent in such mock investigations is colossal.
In an age when countries like US, China and Russia are in the final stages of developing Hypersonic Glide Vehicles which have the capability to pierce missile defences and an ability to hit any place in the world with conventional warheads in less than an hour, the Indian Army is struggling to get a basic support weapon, the artillery gun to replace the existing Bofors gun, a weapon system which has survived beyond its age of entry to a museum.
If there is a war tomorrow, our leaders will be guilty of fielding our troops as cannon fodders without even the basic minimum fire support. Most of the essential equipment in our defence inventory like the helicopters and the air defence systems, just to name a few, are obsolete. The two divisions and the mountain corps under rising are yet to be equipped. How does one expect them to be trained for war?
Now with the AgustaWestland scam re-surfacing and the prospects of fresh investigations to unearth the scams in other deals such as Pilatus trainer aircraft looming large, the procurement processes of defence equipment is expected to be further delayed impacting national security. Should the delay factor put a stop to investigations even in cases where evidences of misdemeanor are visible? That will only incentivise the crooks. The bureaucracy, some say will be scared of taking decisions for being implicated in a scam. The soldier on the other hand going into battle without the fire support is expected not to get frightened of losing his life. If scared of taking decisions, one should just quit and not be a national liability.
Why is it that despite frequent updating of DPP and measures in place to prevent corruption, these scams are continuing? The reality is while the procedures have been fine-tuned, the role of the parties to the scams namely the bureaucrats, the politicians and the military have deliberately remained unchanged. The question is why should bureaucrats, who are meant to be the staff officers to implement political decisions, handle defence procurement including price negotiations? Why not constitute an independent body of experts to handle procurement within a stipulated timeframe? Experts from various fields as and when required could be called in for consultations. The final decision and payment could be left to the government....