Five priorities for the new defence minister

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He must look beyond enhanced annual allocations and focus on the strategic needs of the armed forces

Since India aspires to become a leading power  which conducts its foreign policy based upon real rather than perceived strengths  it should, among other things, become a credible military power. For this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should appoint a political heavyweight as the full-time defence minister, who is able to cut through the entrenched bureaucracy (civil and military) to focus on five fundamental priorities. First, the minister should strive for constitutional ownership of the defence ministry. Under the 1961 Government of India Allocation of Business Rules and Transaction of Business Rules, the defence secretary, not the defence minister, is responsible for India’s defence. Given this, while the five departments of the defence ministry  department of defence, department of research and development, department of production and supplies, department of finance, and the integrated defence headquarters and the three integrated headquarters of the three defence services report to the defence minister. His authority is more notional than real. The actual work depends upon how the defence bureaucracy views matters.

Second, the defence minister should direct the chiefs of staff committee (comprising the three defence services chiefs) to do a combined assessment of threats from Pakistan and China. This has never been done. The assessment of the two-front war, based upon which massive procurement and huge manpower expansions have been sought, was first done by the Army. Not to be left behind, the Air Force and the Navy came up with similar assessments and sought additional equipment, well beyond what the annual defence budgets can afford and the ill-equipped indigenous defence industry can deliver. Moreover, since fighting two-front nuclear-armed neighbours with potent conventional war capabilities is suicidal, what is the point of collecting expensive war goodies which cannot neutralise threats? The way out would be provided by combined threat assessment and military reforms.   Read More…


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