Millennium Post

Taking stock of national security

Now that the dust has started to settle and General Vikram Singh has taken over as the chief of army staff, it’s time to take stock of the national security challenges that lie ahead. Some of these concern the army while most others are of relevance to all the three services and our apex security establishment.

To start with, army’s transformational process, accelerated by General V K Singh, needs continuous push. Infact, beyond the army, there is an immediate necessity to transform our higher defence management.The Ministry of Defence (MoD) cannot keep pace with the demands that national defence entails in the 21st century without adequate professionals on its rolls. Integration of the MoD with the service headquarters, repeatedly recommended by various committees, needs to be immediately undertaken. The current model’s cosmetic attempts at integration have not progressed beyond renaming itself as integrated headquarters of MoD. There is a requirement of inducting service officers in the MoD’s uppermost echelons to ensure professional advice reaches the minister. Service officers would also be able to push implementation of projects and bring about a cultural change that will usher in timely execution.

The implementation of the chief of defence staff (CDS) system and joint services commands is an area where we are still miles behind. The Andaman and Nicobar Command and Strategic Command set aside, we have not progressed to transform our geographical commands into joint-services entities. Such a change will need to be top driven, with the appointment of the CDS being the first necessity. Theatre commands should follow. Though it may be argued that theatre commands are not necessary for us given our limited geo-political involvement, such a transformation is essential keeping in view our progress towards being a substantial regional power. Further, with tri-service joint operations already a reality, the changeover to joint theatre commands is imperative. While the necessity of jointmanship has been touted by all the three services, it is nowhere near seamless integration that is necessary to optimise operational effectiveness. Resistance to the CDS concept exists within the services themselves, nor is such resistance peculiar to our country. The government will need to proactively accelerate the transformation.

The Defence Procurement Procedure needs to be made more transparent and simple. Today, all the best manufacturers of artillery guns globally, have been blacklisted without giving out the reasons in the public domain. Obviously, such an impasse cannot continue. While the requirement of keeping defence deals clean is beyond debate, crippling bans will only push modernisation further back. Time frames of selection process and especially equipment trials have also to be curtailed. A common template cannot be applied to all kinds of equipment. Equipment in service in other armies may not require as stringent trials as we undertake. The staggering shortages in equipment that the leaked letter of General V K Singh had brought to the defence minister’s notice, the depletion in combat squadrons of the air force and delays in acquisition process of the navy vie with each other for prioritisation.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation – Services interface needs to be made far more productive with both organisations being involved in strategising research areas in consonance with emerging combat philosophy. The Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) have also to start producing world class equipment. They have been functional now for decades and it’s over due for them to deliver results. Accountability is lacking in most aspects of public life in our country, however, organisations so intimately associated with the nation’s security cannot have similar ethos. A degree of dynamism is necessary in DPSUs, and induction of professional management from the corporate sector combined with greater autonomy, is necessary.

There is the crying need to rope in the private sector into defence equipment production. The effort will require a degree of government support being provided to select concerns. Also, these private players and the DPSUs have to be allowed to market their products abroad to sustain their R&D efforts.

The infrastructure in our northeast remains a huge concern. With the Chinese improving their road and rail network in Tibet, we will not be in a position to match their logistics build up. Most of our infrastructure projects are behind schedule and impinge on our operational capabilities. It’s time to focus on the northeast to bring in economic dividends to the area while simultaneously strengthening our security.

An army is as good as its officers are, is an age-old proverb. We have to attract the best material in all three services for our forces to be combat ready in a battlefield milieu where technology plays an increasingly pivotal role. As on date, all three services are reeling under severe officer shortages at the junior levels. Let’s face facts, the days of the services being amongst the top few career choices is over. Life in the forces is difficult, especially in an army fighting insurgencies all along. The only way to attract young people is by offering substantially better pay and perks. We also need to accept officers opting to leave the services after completing contractual service. In today’s world, young people are no longer taking up a profession or joining an organisation with the idea of spending a lifetime in it. The services will need to evolve a system of retention bonuses after contractual terms, if they want to retain talent.

The army’s image needs to be strengthened through the media. Its Public Information Directorate requires far more empowerment to be aggressive. The other services need also to create similar organisations. Further, MoD’s media machinery needs to be led by service officers. Military professionals are necessary for perception management operations and utilising open media as a force multiplier.

We have to view our security requirements with a China-Pakistan two front scenario, simultaneous with multiple insurgencies. The necessity of instilling confidence in our neighbours about our military capability is also gaining urgency.

Brigadier S K Chatterji (Retd) writes on national defence and international security.
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