Evolving a defence bottom line

The media recently reported that the armed forces pleaded before the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence to modernise their resources in order >to improve defence preparedness . This is not entirely unexpected, but it is distressing nevertheless.

Providing the military with modern equipment to tackle security concerns and prepare for future operations entails a certain number of trade-offs and risks. It involves meeting objectives against the reality of limited resources and uncertainty.

The Indian Armed Forces Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2012-2027 (which is not in the public domain) is the main document to be considered for this. It matches force levels with operational requirements. It focuses on bridging gaps and building force levels that are considered essential for the services to meet their operational directives. It also lists the inductions planned by the three services.

It is no doubt that the Indian military will confront a very diverse and demanding array of strategic challenges in the coming decades, emanating either from state actors along the troubled peripheries with neighbouring countries or from non-state groups. Determining what sort of wars India may have to wage against these two challenges in the immediate and distant future, and deciding the fundamental determinants of the country’s defence will be the crucial to filling the gap between perception and reality.

The task of defending the country’s borders needs to take into account the nuclearisation of the sub-continent and the employment of other instruments of power. Defining the notion and shape of victory, given the nuclear overhang, is a first step towards building capability. It also needs to be seen whether, should the conventional and infrastructural asymmetry continue, a stalemate would serve a similar purpose.

Only when these issues are jointly ironed out and articulated will a solution for the right capabilities and their development in time and within available resources emerge.

Read: >Under-armed and underprepared

Joint solution

The LTIPP, therefore, cannot simply be an aggregate or arithmetic sum of desired capabilities but an integrated and balanced acquisition programme for the three services that uses strategy, sets priorities and demands budgetary support.

Given the financial constraints, a joint strategic prioritisation of capital acquisitions, particularly for those proposals or schemes that have already been granted Acceptance of Necessity, is necessary to get early results.

A joint review will also enable a defence bottom line involving land and coastal security to come up first, along with necessary and deterrent vectors that could keep wars away. It will also allow us to consolidate and build the desired capabilities in the interim. Considering the likely paucity of funds, it would be prudent, therefore, to realign the projections of LTIPP 2012-27 and the 12th Defence Plan. What should they be realigned to? This could be arrived at through a joint consultative process. The following issues need to be kept in mind while realigning the long-term capability matrix.

The five steps

First, one has to re-evaluate service-specific schemes and programmes in the backdrop of the conventional programme focussed at China and Pakistan, and in that order. Second, individual priority must be recalibrated in the backdrop of envisaged future missions and desired joint capability. Third, certain capital intensive key programmes (KPs) must be identified that can fight and win local wars and dominate sea lanes of communication through a joint consultative process. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance or ISR and precision targeting capabilities will remain common to both.

Fourth, having identified the KPs, definitive rolling funds must be allocated with a time-bound implementation schedule to ensure that existing capability voids are bridged within a reasonable timeframe.

Finally, it must be recognised that the country’s capability to prevent war, or fight it successfully, has to be holistically developed. War cannot be a zero-sum game amongst the Services, because no individual service by itself can achieve the objectives or be a gainer or loser. The only criteria must be the optimising of the joint potential of all three forces to achieve a common military aim. Thus, the need will be to make hard trade-offs, based on prioritisation of missions.

Prioritisation itself must be based on an objective evaluation of the need and relevance for a particular capability projected by a service, in the prevailing threat scenario, against the availability of funds. An integrated exercise is recommended to be undertaken both for inter-Service and intra-Service prioritisation, based on operational necessity.

Self-reliance in defence production needs to be given an institutional push by bringing stakeholders (including users, R&D agencies, and industry) on board a common platform. Monitoring the progress of indigenous projects and fixing accountability is of utmost importance. Technological sovereignty must be achieved and forex reserves preserved. By creating jobs associated with defence manufacturing, defence and development will reinforce each other.

The impact of the choices that senior leaders are making today will not be fully seen for many years to come, and will enable or constrain their successors for decades. There is no choice but to look ahead and plan for an uncertain future while preparing for shocks.

(Anil Chait is former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff.)

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 10:28:51 AM |

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