Establishing a transparent and reliable defence system


There is an immediate requirement to upgrade and make up the deficiencies of arms, weapons and ammunition of the three services, writes Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma, and hopes that the present defence minister will take corrective measures to establish a transparent and reliable system.
National security is the ability to preserve the nation’s physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world.
– Harold Brown, US Secretary of defence 1977-81

After Independence, India faced wars with Pakistan and China, terror attacks by non-state actors and internal disorders based on ethnicity, religion or economic conditions. In these wars appropriate diplomacy gave us security against interference by third parties. In the light of this experience, our focus on national security has to be on military power to meet invasion and to deter any aggressive acts. Intelligence and diplomacy are essential tools for use of military power.

Wrong policies, lack of timely decisions and alleged corruption

A long history of subjugation and India’s policy of peaceful co-existence had caused a neglect of the defence machine. The political leadership and media considered it to be fashionable to desist from any discussions on military matters. The war in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 did not alert us to the need of effective military power. The intellectual class echoed similar thoughts. The defence services were starved of funds and were excluded from the inner councils of decision making organisation. The humiliating defeat against China in 1962 did bring some change.
The brilliant victory in 1971 and long period of peace that followed again led to neglect and apathy for the needs of military power. There is an immediate requirement to upgrade and make up the deficiencies of arms, weapons and ammunition of the three services. We must have arms not inferior to those of the enemy. Confidence in arms is an essential condition for high morale.

Wrong policies and lack of timely decisions are to blame for this state of affairs. Modern weapons are costly and complex. They have a long life and cannot be discarded after a short period. Choice will often determine the way threats have to be countered. Export of high technology weapons has political implications and can be contracted only after approval by the government. India does not have a robust defence industry. It is imperative that we must produce our requirement of arms.

At the time of Independence, it was decided to restrict production of weapons to the public sector and a large number of factories were established for specific items. There are a few success stories like production of MIG series of aircraft and Vijayanta tanks manufactured under license. Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) was established to design and develop own weapons instead of relying on import of technology. Demands for weapons and equipment are examined by DRDO and imports are resorted to only after its approval. In a large number of cases, it makes an unrealistic case for indigenous production and imports are held up till it is proved to be incapable of producing the equipment. The head of DRDO is also the Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and holds veto power over imports.

Invariably, there are inordinate delays. Arjun tank was planned to be inducted in the 80s and was made available in 2006. Its operational quality is questionable. The present INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifle is prone to failures. The Air Force listed 53 operational inefficiencies in this rifle. General Bikram Singh had placed top priority for these weapons when he took over as Army Chief in May 2012. No progress has been made so far. The current carbines also need immediate replacement. In the 1990s, limited imports had to be carried out as the militants in Kashmir were better armed than the soldiers. Lack of timely action will now force imports of small arms at a cost of about USD 6 billion. Instead of accepting failure of the DRDO, the Defence Minister commented that INSAS had been overtaken by technology. DRDO undertook development of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, with target date of 2003 for delivery. It is not ready in 2014 and 1700 parameters have yet to be cleared. It was beyond the reach of current Indian technological resources. Offers by American companies for collaboration were rejected. A development body has degenerated into a regulating body.

Price negotiations follow selection of equipment by the Service HQ after due diligence and trials. Invariably there are allegations of kick-backs. The government adopts the easy way of postponing or cancelling the acquisition of the equipment. A few suppliers have been black listed which serves no purpose. It is strange that alleged money trail is never investigated and no bureaucrat has ever been punished. Was the supplier functioning in vacuum? In brief the problems in acquisition of weapons and equipment are failure of the PSUs, unrealistic claims by the DRDO and allegations of corruption, particularly in cases of imported equipment.

FDI in defence should be increased further

In May 2001, the private sector was allowed to participate in the defence sector and 26 percent FDI was permitted. There were some restrictive conditions. Equity will have a lock-in period of three years and there would be no guarantee for purchase. Management control would be with Indians and CEO would not be a foreigner. There has been no improvement since the FDI received so far for defence industries is paltry USD 4.12 million. It is heartening to note that the present Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has announced increase of FDI in defence sector from 26 percent to 49 percent. Former Defence Minister Antony has criticised it as a risk to national security. Outdated arms and low ammunition is a greater danger to national security. The Defence Minister has also cleared the first lot of orders stuck for the last few years. What is required is a change in the procurement process. During the Kargil conflict, artillery ammunition had to be imported. Such shortages can lead to humiliating defeat. The increase in FDI to 49 percent is a first step and should be increased to 76 percent or even 100 percent for cutting edge technology. It is preferable to have production in India in a wholly foreign owned company than to have it in USA or UK. It is expected that deficiencies of all arms and ammunition would soon be made up and agreements concluded for joint production in view of approval for increased FDI.

Enhance technological skills and correct civil-military relationship

The next step should be to enhance technological skills to enable our industries to design and produce next generation of arms instead of duplicating the current models. We have agreement with Russia for joint development of some weapons. In 2005, India and USA had signed the “New Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship” for joint research, development and co-production of new defence equipment. Progress has been slow due to bureaucratic hurdles. In September 2013, during his visit, US deputy defence secretary announced that USA was ready to co-develop and co-produce equipment for the international market. For a start, he suggested anti-tank missiles. This proposal is welcome and has immense opportunities.

Intelligence reform is a crucial element in using India’s military capacity. We had three major intelligence failures, 1962, Sri Lanka and Kargil. In Sri Lanka, the political or the military aims were not clear. In Kargil, even the Pakistani officers were surprised that the Indian Intelligence Agency had failed to note the increased activity at Skardu air field.

Recommendations of the Kargil Enquiry Committee are gathering dust. Due to dysfunctional relationship between the civil and military sectors, India has not been able to alter the strategic situation to advantage. The political leadership in India has apprehension of a military coup without any reason and has kept the armed forces away from decision making. This led them into ignoring ground conditions for military action. Civil-military relationship needs to be corrected.

Ensure a trustworthy redressal system

The man behind the gun is as important as the gun itself. Serving and retired men had to go to the court for issues of
promotion, posting, pay and allowances. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) deliberately made an error in implementing the recommendations of the 4th Pay Commission and kept on filing appeal after appeal in the Supreme Court. The order of the Supreme Court was wrongly interpreted forcing the concerned officers to file a contempt plea. Action should be taken against the officers responsible for it. These developments have created discontent which is dangerous.

Officers taking recourse to court for promotions and postings is a matter of concern. It is completely absent in armed forces of UK and USA. Like other armed forces, India should ensure a trustworthy redress system. It has been talked of since the time of Nehru but nothing has been done. It can seriously undermine discipline. Judgements of the Armed Forces Tribunals (AFTs) have not been implemented as they are under the MOD and not under the Ministry of Law. No action has been taken to correct the controlling authority of the AFTs. It is expected that the present Defence Minister who is a brilliant legal luminary himself will take corrective measures to establish a transparent and reliable system.In a country of 1.2 billion, the armed forces are short of officers. The service conditions should be improved to make up the deficiencies as it seriously affects the operational efficiency of the units.


Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd.)

The writer served in the Army for 30 years. Post retirement he served the telecom industry with multinational and Indian corporates. He is also a freelance journalist and has interests in national security issues.