Ashok K Mehta
The DPC is too little too late and appears to be an attempt to obfuscate defence planning and higher political management. Missing defence reforms have to be forced top down, overruling babucracy
Four years after coming to office, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Government hurled a surprise at the defence and strategic community with newspapers last month splashed with the news of a new high-powered Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under NSA Ajit Doval to steer the country’s military security strategy and develop defence capability. Instead of first establishing Integrated Theatre Commands, appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and creating jointness in existing planning headquarters, like the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Integrated Defence Staff, the DPC appears as an attempt to obfuscate defence planning and higher political management.
India has waited for a CDS for 50 years. The first time this acronym was heard was after the 1971 war when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw that he would be made CDS, but the idea whose time had come, never materialised. In 2001, following the Group of Ministers (GoM) report after the Kargil Review Committee report had recommended and the Government accepted 340 defence reforms, and some were implemented, the name of Admiral Sushil Isaacs as CDS was the breaking news on TV, his office chosen and rehearsals carried out for his appointment. The screens then went blank; the CDS disappeared into oblivion. It was not until the Naresh Chandra Task Force (NCTF) was set up in 2011 that the CDS was resurrected from among 97 recommendations made by the Task Force.Defence Minister AK Antony, influenced by the bureaucracy, refused to approve the appointment of the CDS. By the end of September 2012, the MoD had accepted all the NCTF recommendations except two: Integration of the MoD and IDS; and the appointment of Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee in lieu of CDS.
Of the three Defence Ministers appointed by this Government (Arun Jaitley twice holding additional charge of defence) only Manohar Parrikar was seriously working towards the CDS. He announced half a dozen times that a CDS will happen — in six months time.
With the CDS missing, without a genuinely integrated Inter Services Staff and several recommendations of the GoM not implemented, erecting a new defence planning architecture is creating another organisation on a weak platform. Without foundational reforms — missing CDS and no integration for jointness in planning structures — the DPC will be like a house of cards. Previously, the Government had tried working at National Security Council (NSC), National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), and other ad hoc committees. The versatile and immortal Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, NN Vohra, has suggested a Ministry for National Security but India never produced a single worthwhile document on security and defence strategy.
But the reincarnated DPC is meant to be a permanent body consisting of the three Service Chiefs (one of whom is rotating chairman of CoSC) Secretaries of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Expenditure. The chief of IDS is member secretary who will service the DPC. IDS currently has five departments — Doctrine, Organisation and Training; Perspective Plans and Force Structures; Intelligence; Operations; and Medical. Because it is not fully staffed, does not have anyone from the Ministry of External Affairs, for example, and other expertise, there are holes in its output.
In April 2017, the IDS produced the joint doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces which was a very shoddy work and was criticised by the strategic community. Missing was the concept of jointness, joint war fighting capability and interoperability. Till some of the basic shortcomings of jointness and integration are rectified through joint commands, truly integrated headquarters and the CDS, the DPC will make no substantial difference to the existing outcomes. In the IDS, operations are planned and fought single service and separate defence plans are merely stitched together.Almost similar to the IDS, the DPC has four subcommittees: Policy and Strategy; Planning and Capability Development; Defence Diplomacy and Defence Manufacturing. The last two would have been in IDS had the Ministry of External Affairs and Defence Research and Development Organisation initially posted their officers instead of keeping these slots vacant. The DPC will produce position papers which the MoD and IDS do today and forward them to the Raksha Mantri (RM). In other words, NSA will report to the RM. How all this will sharpen defence planning and capability building is hard to visualise. This one extra layer of bureaucracy of very busy bureaucrats will in no way catalyse strategic processes and tactical procedures as long as strategic political guidance is absent. The RM’s operational directive is currently written by the IDS and not the CCS or NSC.
Thus, the left arm does not know what the right arm is doing as illustrated by the establishment of yet another advisory panel for RM. A 13-member committee has been formed to explore why procurement procedures on capital projects exceeding five billion rupees face long delays. Ironically, principal resistance to its formation has come from MoD. The RM should also task the panel to investigate why modernisation funds, meagre as they are, are usually not utilised in full, usually for reasons of financial expediency — balancing the fiscal deficit.The truth about higher defence management, defence planning and capacity building is the surfeit of ad hocism. Prime Minister Modi ordering 36 Rafale instead of allowing the fruition of the 126 Rafale aircraft deal, is a classic example. As long as the Government does not traverse the established planning processes, starting with a National Strategic Defence and Security Review, followed by building requisite military capability — which has never been done — Governments will indulge in bouts of tinkering and tampering as has been the practice excluding the KRC report. Even a White Paper on defence has never been attempted. The NSAB and IDS were asked to draft a National Security Strategy. The UK last carried out its SDSR in 2011 and keeps updating it along with periodic military capability review.
A Defence Planning Staff was established in 1985 with hands on involvement of service chiefs and the defence Minister in systematising defence planning and higher defence management. It wrote the first ever 15-year Long Term Integrated Defence Plan which was recognised in Parliament. DPS was the harbinger of jointness and integration — with it morphing into IDS, but with jointness absent. The muddle-headedness will continue with NSA replacing Defence Secretary as virtual CDS.
Ashok K Mehta