India has fought four major wars, a half war and several insurgencies. The first significant defence reforms in the country since independence in 1947 were carried out after the Kargil War. However, these reforms were a result of conflict dynamics and not evolved as pre meditated deliberations. India was constrained to carry out a critical analysis of shortcomings after the conflict. The reforms were reactive, not proactive. The Chief of Defence Staff was not appointed, and although several integrated structures were created, others did not take shape.
In recent years, the government has instituted several major defence reforms. These are genuinely proactive, evolutionary, and driven by deliberations and a felt need rather than the result of any post-operation analysis. It started with the establishment of cyber and space commands, albeit as agencies initially. The Armed Forces Special Operations Division was also raised, followed by creating the office of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This one appointment is the biggest game-changer.
This was followed up with a couple of other significant changes. The first was an unequivocal mandate to the CDS listing out targets to be achieved along with timelines. The thrust was on integration between the three services and creating integrated theatre commands in a time-bound manner. This enhanced the combat potential of the commanders in the field, who will prosecute operations without having to look over their shoulders. It also helps accountability and responsibility for operations as well as sustenance.
The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) is another development. It is a long-felt need to make the armed forces a part of the Ministry of Defence. Formally, they were only attached offices. While creating a separate department gives the services a much-needed say in running their affairs, what still needs improvement is the synergy or integration between services and the ministry’s bureaucracy.
The other central pillar on which adequate combat power rests is capability development. It encompasses the hardware and software of weapons, platforms and systems that make modernised armed forces. Significant reforms have been initiated in this field of capability development as well. The defence industry in India has been largely dependent on the public sector and government-owned ordnance factories. Their performance leaves much to be desired and consequently, we have to rely on imports for our security needs. This is less than desirable.
During recent years, significant reforms have been instituted to partner the private sector in the defence industry, make them a stakeholder and incentives their joint ventures with foreign manufacturers on the Indian soil, not only for our security needs but also for exports. This should give a significant boost to indigenous defence products. LCA Tejas aircraft being manufactured by HAL with the involvement of the private sector is an example.
In the meantime, to bridge the capability gap, some platforms are being procured from foreign manufacturers. The procurement of Rafale fighter aircraft is an example. The key lies in executing these reforms, which requires an involved sense of ownership of the new initiatives.
There are two other areas, however, which require the urgent attention of the leadership.
Firstly, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is staffed by a generalist cadre, while the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Railway Ministry has a dedicated cadre. Finance, Forest and Home ministries have a large percentage of domain experts. However, the security needs of the country, handling the largest budget, is left to generalists. There is merit in having a dedicated cadre.It will create involved domain expertise and a better sense of ownership, which will lead to better integration with the three services, which are, by nature and of necessity, a little closed in their interactions. In this era of specialised warfare and newer technologies, domain expertise cannot be done without an improved integration between MOD, and services will be a force multiplier.
Secondly, an outlier aspect at a different level is the issue of border guarding. Various Central Armed Police Forces have been assigned the responsibility of protecting borders with foreign countries. This arrangement works well in the international borders.
However, on the two unresolved borders, namely LoC with Pakistan and LAC with China, the Army plays a more critical role. The BSF units deployed By Lt. Gen. SatishDua (Retd)on the LoC are placed under the operational control of the Army, and the arrangement works well and has stood the test of time. However, on the LAC with China, ITBP is yet to be placed under the operational control of the Army. There is no room for considerations other than the security of our territorial integrity.
In recent years, several decisive steps have been taken by the leadership in the military domain. The surgical strikes of 2016 and the Balakot airstrike of 2019 have redefined our responses to spectacular terror attacks. Standing up firmly to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Doklam and Ladakh has sent a clear message to China as well as to the world of our resolve and capacity.
It is laudable that major defence reforms have been launched proactively. The focus is rightly on ‘Integration and Indigenisation’. The consolidation process suffered earlier when all the reforms recommended by the Group of Ministers were not implemented fully in 2001. Let us not stop short now, after having initiated such bold, evolutionary defence reforms.
Let the momentum not be lost, nor any opportunity wasted. It is essential to plug in any gaps and enhance better integration between the instruments of power. A truly integrated Ministry of Defence and synergetic application of forces on the borders is a need of the hour, in addition to ongoing reforms.
About the Author: Lt General SatishDua is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. (Views expressed are personal)