The debate about the turbulence in India’s economic health is worrisome for defence procurement plans. The defence budget has been declining over the past decades, with this year’s allocation at a record low of 1.56 per cent of the GDP. With the RBI’s latest report marking down the overall GDP figure for FY 2017- 18, the amount available in the government’s kitty for the next fiscal would be even lower — especially considering the social initiatives of the government.
With many other "breaking news" events taking centre stage in the national discourse, the effect of the economic slowdown on defence preparedness has not received the attention it deserves. While it is extremely heartening to see the new defence minister moving among armed forces personnel, celebrating Diwali at Air Force Station Car Nicobar and introducing events like daily meetings with the armed forces’ chiefs, it is time to address acquisition issues beseeching the government for attention.
The 2017-18 allocation for the three services is Rs 2,62,390 crore, of which the revenue budget takes the lion’s share of Rs 1,75,861 crore, or 67 per cent of the allocation. That has left only Rs 86,529 crore for capital procurements of which, after catering of contracts concluded earlier, only around 10 per cent or Rs 8,000-odd crore are left for new schemes.
This is peanuts! The announcements made routinely of new proposals being passed after every meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council gives a false sense of progress being made — the proof of the pudding lies in if, and when, contracts get signed in time. A five-step process is needed to ameliorate the almost critical situation we find ourselves in.
First, for the tri-services’ Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) to have any sanctity, it must have the sanction of the CCS, else it would remain a wish list as it is today. Since CCS sanction would oblige the government to commit financial resources, there would be due diligence in the finance ministry vetting the LTIPP for a 15-year period and laying aside monies and not leaving defence allocations hostage to monetary decisions made on social and other considerations.
For this, the defence ministry leadership must get the ongoing LTIPP passed through the finance ministry and PMO grinder and made into a realistic document on which the services can tailor their acquisitions and operational plans for the next 10 years — till 2027.
Second, between now and 2027 when the next LTIPP would be issued, rationalisation of single service procurements must be conducted on the basis of inter-se prioritisation of tasks and competencies. For sure, there would be some overlap in procurements for roles germane to basic tasks and missions of a service, but India is not rich enough to have the luxury of each service having an elaborate air arm — Special Forces, air defence paraphernalia, et al.
A call, a tough call, must be taken on this akin the decision of the UK which has decided to cut down its Army Aviation Corps by a quarter!
Third, the strategic partnership model, which has been accepted, must see the light of day if the private industry is to make any progress in setting shop for big-ticket items that affect our strategic autonomy; the progress of the IAF’s single-engine fighter and Navy’s helicopter acquisitions are test cases of the government’s resolve.
Fourth, a decision on the recommendation of the Dhirendra Singh Committee of having an independent and professional defence procurement executive/agency/authority, call it what you may, outside the defence ministry, must be taken. This would be sacrilege for the bureaucracy but till the procurement process is freed from red tape and run professionally, the dream of setting up a vibrant Indian defence industry would be a lost cause.
Which brings one to the fifth basic, and a crying, requirement of having professionals running our acquisition organisations: What happened to professional training of the bureaucracy and service officers for defence procurements that so many committees have recommended? The defence minister must, post haste, ask for the latest position of this foundational necessity, else the ignominious tag of being the largest importer of arms in the world would take a long time to shake off.
The China-Pakistan nexus is strengthening and recent reports from Doklam, despite Beijing’s "withdrawal," indicate a stiffing of the dragon’s attitude towards India. Other indicators are the non-sharing of water data and cancellation of the traditional annual border meetings on October 1 at five designated border posts commemorating China’s National Day.
The deteriorating security environment around us obligates the leadership to invigorate the indigenisation drive. The ball is in the defence minister’s court and the anticipation generated on her appointment must not be a case of fleeting effervescence.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)