The establishment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a four-star general, in India’s military apparatus is poised to bring in much required internal reforms i.e. corroborating the tri-services to eventually operate as theatre commands where the Army, Navy and Air Force would operate under a single 3-star general. The corollary effect of this establishment will fall upon the industry as all revenue and joint procurement plans will be dealt with by the CDS.
Emergence of the need
Since the Kargil conflict of 1999, the necessity of jointmanship in operations was seen as a critical step in effectively thwarting future threats emanating from India’s borders in the west and as well as the east. A testament to the lack of cohesion between the Army and the Air Force during Kargil was how both forces named the same operations differently: The Army called it ‘Operation Vijay’ while the Air Forced termed it as ‘Operation Safed Sagar’.1, 2 To solve this, the Kargil Review Committee recommended the establishment of a CDS to create synergy and jointness within the tri-services.3 After 19 years of political stumbling and turf wars between the forces, the 27th Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat finally took charge as the first CDS on 1st January 2020.
General Rawat has been given a timeline of 3 years to establish effective jointmanship amongst the forces, which, hopefully, should lead to the creation of theatre commands where the Army, Navy and Air Force operate under one umbrella.4 The task at hand for General Rawat is monumental as India navigates itself against the rise of China and the ensuing global trade war. India’s influence in the neighbourhood with an extension to Africa and the Middle East, will be heavily determined on how our forces interact; bilateral military exchanges and defence trade can form the cornerstone of India’s relevance in the region. The present charter of the CDS does empower him, amongst other things, to deal with the supply of ammunition to neighbouring countries, monitor developments in the Indian Ocean, Afghanistan, West Asia and South East Asia.5 Further, to counter, the Pakistan-China alliance, whether on border disputes or the Belt and Road Initiative, it is imperative for the services to act under one command so as to avoid another Kargil-like conflict.
As the CDS does not have operational command over each service – Army, Navy and Air Force, the responsibility of achieving the desired level of inter-operability, lies equally with the three service chiefs. In addition, considering the tensions between the bureaucracy and the military since independence, coupled with inter-service rivalry, the success of such a major reform cannot be left solely on the CDS and the Ministry of Defence needs to play a proactive role in clearing the bottlenecks for the synergizing process.
Optimization of Resources and the Industry
The operational effectiveness of a force not only lies with the men who command it but also with the equipment that that they use. Despite having a defence industrial base, dominated by public sector units, India has not been able to indigenize many of its critical platforms and still relies on imports.6 Further, the services, on numerous occasions, have raised objections against the quality and delivery timelines of the public sector units. 7, 8
To encourage competition in the sector, it was opened for private participation in 2001 and since the launch of the Make in India programme by the Indian government in 2014, a renewed zeal and optimism has emerged amongst the private sector to be part of achieving the goal of self-reliance in defence manufacturing.
In building a conducive environment, the government has been proactive in streamlining the defence procurement procedure (DPP) and the defence procurement manual (DPM) through multiple revisions whilst taking cognizance of the Industry’s concerns. The announcement of the draft Defence Production Policy 2018 is also a welcome step as the policy articulates a vision to make India self-reliant and one of the top five countries of the world in the aerospace and defence sector; The policy clearly sets a goal for the sector to achieve an annual turnover of $26 billion in defence goods and services by 2025.9
Given India’s external security threats, timely acquisition of military equipment is essential to maintain operational effectiveness. Coupled with traditional equipment, the emergence of Industry 4.0 – artificial intelligence, machine learning, 3D Printing et al., has led the services to expand the scope of warfare through these new-age technologies.
With big ticket capital acquisitions still under the ambit of the Defence Secretary, the CDS will have to create integrated requirements for the tri-services so that a supplier company can achieve economies of scale by supplying to all three arms in one procurement cycle. In numerous cases related to technology development and absorption, the Industry has raised concerns over research and development costs and assured acquisitions by the services. With an aggressive push by the government to boost exports and an integrated capability development plan being steered by the CDS, the Industry can look forward to attractive acquisition plans and a supportive export policy that caters to the aforementioned technologies.
The Cyber and Space Command, under the purview of the CDS, is where the real potential of the Indian Industry can be realized.10 India has already developed substantial capability in the Space domain where many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME)’s have contributed to supplying spare-parts and components to missions of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). In addition, India has established herself as an information technology (IT) leader where major players and start-ups can contribute immensely to its defence requirements. Dr Ajay Kumar, defence secretary, has already conveyed that the IT industry is exporting goods close to $2billion in the Defence and Aerospace sector and that the Government needs a stronger partnership model with the IT industry to expand this number.11 In line with this ‘digital’ aspect of defence, the recently concluded DefExpo 2020 endorsed the theme of ‘Digital Transformation of Defence’ where a dedicated ‘India Pavilion’ was made to showcase indigenously developed technology to the services as well as to the global market.
Inducting indigenous equipment has become imperative to ensure secrecy and operational efficiency.12 As the United States is apprehensive of Huawei and impeding Chinese intrusion through 5G, India’s forces have faced similar apprehensions while using foreign equipment, especially communication gear. Hence, the services are becoming increasingly dependent on using indigenously developed technology rather than going for imports. Though national security has been at stake, the induction of any equipment, traditionally, has progressed at a snail’s pace due to a lengthy procurement procedure. Adding salt to the wound, this lengthy procedure is why, presently, the Air Force has 26 fighter squadrons as against a sanctioned number of 42 squadrons.13 The sanctioned number amounts to waging a two-front confrontation with China and Pakistan.
The combination of internal reforms i.e. establishment of the position of the CDS along with streamlining of procurement procedures can herald a win-win scenario for the services and the Industry. The following can be achieved if reforms are implemented in its full spirit:-
- Quicker induction of latest technology in line with emerging requirements.
- Economies of scale for the industry that will, thereby, will be incentivised to invest in manufacturing.
- Increase in inter-operability of the services and the equipment they use.
- Substantial increase in defence exports to friendly foreign countries.
- Projection of India as a self-reliant, technologically equipped military power.
After 70 years of independence, we are fortunate to have a government which is attempting to shake the inertia of its military dormancy. With reforms in motion, hopefully, the next Indian war could be won with Indian solutions.
1. Shaurya Gurung, “Kargil: What happened 20 years ago and why it’s unlikely to happen again”, The Economic Times, July 26 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/kargil-war-what-happened-20-years-ago-and-why-it-may-not-happen-again/articleshow/70371791.cms?from=mdr
2. “OP Safed Sagar”, Indian Air Force, accessed February 16, 2020, https://indianairforce.nic.in/content/op-safed-sagar
3. Rahul Singh, “ India’s 1st chief of army staff Gen Bipin Rawat to head dept of military affairs”, Hindustan Times, January 01, 2020, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/creation-role-of-dept-of-military-affairs-notified/story-okOp7hshvV4eE6kCNhgi2I.html
4. “Cabinet approves creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of four star General”, Press Information Bureau, December 24, 2019, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/pmreleases.aspx?mincode=33
5. “Allocation of work and staff between Department of Defence and newly created Department of Military Affairs”, Ministry of Defence, January 09, 2020, https://mod.gov.in/dod/sites/default/files/AllocaDMA170120_1.pdf
6. “India is world’s second largest arms importer”, The Hindu, March 12, 2019, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/india-is-worlds-second-largest-arms-importer/article26502417.ece
7. Rajat Pandit, “ Army raises alarm over rising accidents due to faulty ammunition”, May 14, 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/army-raises-alarm-over-rising-accidents-due-to-faulty-ammunition/articleshow/69315854.cms
8. Manu Pubby, Slow HAL impacting India’s air combat strength: IAF to Govt, The Economic Times, January 24, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/slow-hal-impacting-indias-air-combat-strength-iaf-to-govt/articleshow/67665277.cms
9. “Draft Defence Production Policy 2018”, accessed on February 16, 2020, http://www.makeinindiadefence.gov.in/admin/writereaddata/upload/Draft_Defence_Production_Policy_2018.pdf
10. IBID – iv
11. Dr Ajay Kumar, ” We are fortunate to have strong domestic IT Industry with defence and aerospace exports worth $ 1.5 – 2 billion; we must engage in a stronger partnership model with the IT Industry”, Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers, Twitter, November 27, 2019, https://twitter.com/SIDMIndia/status/1199537815538634752
12. “Important to develop indigenous systems for ensuring secrecy: Gen Bipin Rawat”, The Economic Times, November 26, 2019, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/important-to-develop-indigenous-systems-for-ensuring-secrecy-gen-bipin-rawat/videoshow/72237920.cms
13. Ajai Shukla, “ IAF to increase squadron strength; 3 more to be inducted in 2020”, Business Standard, January 19, 2020, https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/iaf-to-increase-squadron-strength-3-more-to-be-inducted-in-2020-120011801028_1.html