Feb 18, 2009


The Mumbai carnage brought once again to sharp focus, the criticality of having a potent defence establishment in the country. Nobody for a moment has or is suggesting that the Indian Armed Forces are not up to the mark. Indeed we do have a first rate Army, an Air Force which is much more than a match for our western adversaries and last but not the least a Navy which is a force to reckon with in the sub continent. There are nevertheless indications to suggest that a lot more needs to be done to give ourselves the teeth to be able to act as a deterrent, not only to Pakistan’s war plans if any, but also to their strategy of proxy war. Over the last few decades Pakistan has in fact mastered this strategy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts and more.

For the armed forces of any country to be potent, they require competent personnel and state of the art military hardware. The Indian Armed Forces are unfortunately, challenged on both fronts. The intake of officers in the Armed Forces has been suffering for a long time, especially post the economic liberalization since the nineties. While on the one hand our military challenges are mounting, the number of personnel volunteering to stand up and defend the nation is dwindling. We have it here from the Army Chief himself.

"The armed forces have, after a study, come to the conclusion that the army is not too attractive as a career for a young man, who is looking for employment...for good productive life," Kapoor said in an interview.

                                                                                                -General Deepak Kapoor.

Well, it hardly required a study to be conducted to come to this conclusion. We have to accept that we are well past the day and age when we could expect, the cream of the country to join the defence forces. To make matters worse, more and more officers are queuing up to quit service due to dissatisfaction or better prospects outside. Maybe if the current recession continues for a reasonably long period, the better lot might be forced to choose this as an option.  In order to attract able young men in numbers required, not only do we have to make the services more attractive monetarily but also improve service conditions considerably. Developments like veteran soldiers returning their medals to the President, or the government not paying timely heed to the services demand to address anomalies of pay commission, do not auger well for the morale of the forces.

The other area of grave concern is the modernization of the forces. Regular increase in budgetary allocation for defence notwithstanding, the Indian Armed Forces are far from being the lean and thin fighting machine that they ought to be. The forces in fact are plagued with an acute shortage of critical hardware. A case in point is the deficiency of Air Defence equipment. To quote the Directorate General of Air Defence.

“Air Defence capabilities are hollow. Ninety seven per cent of its equipment is approaching obsolescence.”

The Navy and the Air Force are also plagued with similar criticalities. The CAG has pointed out the gaping holes in critical defence areas, including the fast dwindling strength of Naval submarines. What is causing these criticalities? Is it lack of budgetary support? Is it lack of political will or is it lack of long term vision. While all these factors are responsible, the greatest hurdle seems to be the Bureaucrac,y one of the worst legacies of the British. Our procedures are archaic and slow. It is most unfortunate that even six decades post independence, we have not been able to streamline our procedures in tune with the need of the of the times. All plans of modernization of the defence forces therefore have been lying quagmired in bureaucracy and red tape for ages. And finally when these plans do see the light of day, they are on the threshold of becoming obsolescent. The rot has to be seen to be believed. The defence minister himself stated that there is a need to address red tapism. We can scarcely blame the Brits for having left us with this legacy. We have to blame ourselves for having failed to put in place fresh procedures more in keeping with the times.

The extremely short tenures of senior military commanders is not helping matters either. The tenure of a service chief is seldom more than two years and that of senior field force commanders barely over a year. Implementation of the AVSC report, has further reduced tenures of senior commanders. Jack Welch, the erstwhile CEO of General Electric, was at the helm of affairs of his company for two decades. That is the kind of time that one requires to transform an organization and optimize efficiency. Conception to fruition cycle is a long and tedious one. How can an organization progress, if the very direction of progress changes course every alternate year?  

It is obvious that we have not learnt our lessons from the 62 debacle or the Kargil conflict. The Kargil Committee Report has been left to gather dust and is yet to be acted upon even a decade hence. Lack of long term vision, tendency of the government to accord priority to populist measures required to retain Power at the centre rather than address the more important issues of national security have taken a toll on our defence preparedness.

These are dangerous times that we live in today. With the Taliban threatening to take over Pakistan, having taken over SWAT valley in NW Pakistan already, the threat from our western quarters is getting closer. The spectre of war will always be looming large over the horizon in times to come. It would be foolhardy to believe that the international community would bail us out of a situation, like it did during the Kargil conflict. War is going to be at our doorsteps without much warning, and we will hardly have time to prepare ourselves at the eleventh hour.

Will the powers that be, come out of their somnolent inactivity, for some serious soul searching and act before it is too late.


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