A new dimension has been added to the many challenges already being faced by Indian defence planners. In an interesting development, NITI Aayog is thinking of integrating defence and internal security with the new 15-year vision it is developing as an alternative to national five-year plans. This long-term vision will be based on broader social objectives and take into account changes in the world economy while setting sustainable goals.
A 7-year National Development Agenda (NDA) will also be drawn up to flesh out the vision. This will require the Aayog to specify targets, fix milestones, ensure financial support, steer programmes through inevitable roadblocks, and monitor the outcomes, perhaps jointly with the ministries and other departments responsible for implementation. Integration of defence plans with an overarching national framework is bound to pose serious challenge both for the Aayog and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on all these counts. But this challenge can be overcome if proper groundwork is done before taking the step.
To begin with, there has to be absolute clarity about the objective, advantages and feasibility of such integration. Considering the difference between the orientation of the national framework and the defence plans-former focused on socio-economic development and the latter on defence preparedness – even conceptualization of their fusion requires enormous intellectual effort.
The current Long Term Integrated Defence Plan (LTIPP) 2012-27 is due to be reformulated to cover the period from 2017 to 2032. The thirteenth 5-year defence plan and the corresponding Services Capital Acquisition Plan (SCAP) for 2017-22 are also due for revision, along with the Annual Acquisition Plans of the three services. All these plans are to commence from the next fiscal year. The exercise to revise these plans must have already started but it may not be in tune with what Niti Aayog has in mind, as there seems to have been no exchange of ideas between the two so far.
The defence plans, as presently structured, cannot be plugged into any national framework straightaway. The immediate challenge for both the Aayog and the MoD, therefore, is to jointly work out the modality of integration, especially if the deadline is to be met. A joint task force needs to be set up immediately to resolve several contentious issues, ranging from the basis of defence planning to execution of plans, and come up with a workable model for integration.
The Defence Minister’s Operational Directives, which presently form the basis of defence plans, are not considered by many to be a good enough foundation for defence planning. In addition, the absence of a Chief of Defence Staff or a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and assured long-term funding of plans equalling at least three per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (DGP) are also seen as factors inhibiting efficient planning.
While these notions are debatable, the problems underlying these constructs are axiomatic. The absence of a comprehensive national security framework document, an overarching organisation to formulate and execute all-inclusive defence plans, cohesive defence planning, pragmatic thinking about their financial viability and outcome-oriented monitoring have for long been the bane of defence planning.
The present defence plans are highly disjointed and poorly coordinated. Each armed service prepares its own plans, which are then put together by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). For their part, the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), Border Roads Organisation (BRO), and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) prepare their own plans without any meaningful interaction between them or with the armed forces.
It is doubtful if the MoD provides any active guidance for, or plays any coordinating role in, the preparation of defence plans. The procedures and techniques for planning are not well defined, outcomes are shrouded in mystery, and there is hardly any mechanism for systematic review of execution of the plans. These problems have to be fixed by the MoD itself. For an outside agency, these will be quite a handful, not least because it will be hard to develop the domain knowledge required for addressing the core security concerns outside the MoD framework. Integration of the armed forces and all other defence organisations in their entirety with the national framework may not be quite workable. This does not, however, imply that there no defence segment(s) that could be severed from the MoD’s overall charter and brought under the purview of Niti Aayog. While it may be tempting for the Aayog to make deep inroads into defence planning, it would be wise to focus only on those areas that do not disturb the core function of defence preparedness, leaving the latter to be dealt with by the MoD through an improved system of defence planning. There are many such areas that could be hived off. The most significant of these is the development of infrastructure, especially rail and road networks in the border areas, tunnel networks, harbours and ports for the Navy and Coast Guard, airstrips and airports (especially in the North East), smart cantonments, and even accommodation for personnel by adopting public-private partner ship model.
The Aayog could also look at the possibility of better management of defence land, particularly military farms, and other defence assets which could be utilized for generating much needed revenue for the state. The opportunity to convert the INS Vikrant into a museum has been lost, but several retired defence assets, such as submarines, could become the focal point for promoting defence tourism.
The renewed ‘Make in India’ thrust in defence production has brought the focus once again on the private sector. There is going to be a huge demand for skilled workforce once defence manufacturing gets going in a big way. Skill development can be handled better by the Aayog, in coordination with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, than by the MoD or directly by the industry. This is equally applicable to areas such as development of the services sector specific to defence needs and improvement in ease-of-doing business that assumes a different dimension in the defence manufacturing sector. Niti Aayog will do well to concentrate on only severable segments of defence that have a high potential for employment generation, especially for ex-servicemen. They could be encouraged through appropriate policy initiatives to form cooperatives and other forms of legal entities to provide services that the armed forces should be outsourcing in a greater measure than has been the case so far. Such outcome-oriented areas would be most amenable to the setting of goals, manageable funding, joint monitoring along with the MoD, and enthusiastic participation by the private sector.