SOURCE: RAMANPREET SINGH / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Indian Defence Ministry is an arm of the Government of India which handles defence of the nation. Indian Defence Ministry controls all agencies that are involved in defence or defence-related work. The ministry has an annual estimated budget of 66 Billion USD for the year 2020. The current head of this ministry is defence minister Rajnath Singh. It was formed in 1947 after Independence and has slowly expanded as more organisations were created to safeguard the border. However, there is inherently a critical flaw with the organisation which is the people who run this organisation.
The Indian Defence Ministry is run by bureaucrats rather than defence officials. Most other nations around the world let military officials run departments/Ministry of Defence. This is done to give armed forces the required power to meet the threats of the future without facing massive bureaucratic obstacles. Having military officers reporting to a defence ministry run by defence officials, allow for a smoother flow of information and threat assessments. For example, the US has the Department of Defence (DoD) commonly known as Pentagon, and is run by military officials. They are responsible for the defence of the United States and its interests. The Pentagon has departments for each armed forces, intelligence services, and run by military officers coordinating on defence activities. This, however, is not the case with India.
India’s Defence Ministry is filled with civilian bureaucrats. Most have limited or no exposure to military operations or intelligence gathering. Yet, they are on the very top of the command chain and give orders to military officers on how to handle situations. This in any other country would make no sense. Yet in India, this continues to happen even after these flaws were pointed out in the past. Recently, there have been so many questions raised about how the Chinese military who were carrying out military exercises, mobilized, and moved into India territory. All while the Defence Ministry was keeping a “close eye” on the exercise.
How did PLA move from their exercising spot to border areas without anyone noticing in the Defence Ministry? How did no one in intelligence services notice how many supplies the Chinese were gathering which would clearly indicate this is more than a normal exercise. How did this not ring alarm bells all over in New Delhi and the Prime Minister’s Office? Yet the people in the Defence Ministry will get to walk away with no accountability for their failures. All while the armed forces will have to be deployed in the mountains in the winter at a time when it is completely cut off from the rest of India. This is due to the fact India failed to build infrastructure in these critical areas. People could blame the Border Road Organisation (BRO) for this, however, BRO is controlled and commanded by the Ministry of Defence. There is no accountability because most are civilians who see this position as a 9-5 job that offers retirement.
Defence of the nation needs to be a lot more than a job with retirement benefits. Another core problem is procurement and delays. People often blame armed forces for delaying induction and preferring some products over the other. This might hold some truth for which they should be criticized for it. However, the ministry of defence ultimately decides what the armed forces can buy and what not. If the Ministry of Defence says you have to buy Indian made weapons, the armed forces will comply.
The Ministry of Defence decides what the armed forces will need, overruling what the armed forces have already projected for their 10-year plans. The constant changes in procurement policy, delayed contracts, dragged on negotiations, and contract signing takes so long that the price of the product and the required amount of stock changes. This is why armed forces keep having to buy equipment during “emergency buy powers,” which kick’s in the moment there is trouble at the border. The armed forces are trusted to make the right decisions during these emergency buy times, but not during normal procurement in peace times. When India was planning to conduct surgical strikes inside of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir( POK) in response to Uri attack, armed forces had to buy weapons and weapon systems off the shelf from vendors in emergency buy.
This was something that intelligence agencies of other nations probably took notice of including Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. These types of equipment should have been available since the defence minister at that time, Manohar Parrikar, had ordered fast-tracking of procedures 6 months before the strikes. But delays from the defence ministry side kept delaying procurements. Fast tracking seems to just be a word thrown by the Ministry of Defence whenever it is questioned. The past has shown this means nothing when it comes to actually materializing contracts. We must reform the Ministry of Defence to give control of procurement directly to armed forces. Having experience military officials will allow faster movement of files to quickly procure weapon systems. This will make it easier for armed forces to protect the border while being a little safer. Having weapon systems available in a timely fashion would ensure armed forces are not using obsolete weapons systems.
This is especially important against China, who has been massively modernizing their forces to fight for regional hegemony.
Indigenization and development of weapons have been an important issue in India. When it comes to the development of advanced weapon systems, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) often comes to mind. DRDO is often criticized for its failures to provide armed forces with state of the art weapons. DRDO has its internal issues, however, two of DRDO’s main issues of being understaffed and underfunded are caused by the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Defence allocates a budget to DRDO and tells it which projects to work on. Many times, these orders and funds take years to come. DRDO was given approval for increased manpower years back but those positions remain open even today. DRDO wanted to hire another 4500 scientists and engineers in 2010 but was approved for just a fraction of that. Being low on manpower and funds for projects causes delays which DRDO is often blamed for by civilians and military officials alike. If the Ministry of Defence commenced projects on time with the right amounts of funding and manpower there would be fewer delays
One of the projects which DRDO is often criticized for is the Kaveri project. DRDO has failed to create a sufficient power aero-engine after more than 20 years of research and development. What is often not mentioned is DRDO was only given about 280 million USD as funding for all its years of work. This is nothing when compared to Western nations spending billions of dollars to develop an aero engine and take years to develop. Many still end up failing to meet thrust requirements. DRDO was given a very small budget for the project with no in house infrastructure and capabilities. DRDO had to first build capability and then send engines to Russia for tests since there was no infrastructure in India. Yet DRDO made an engine against all odds, which unfortunately failed to meet the required thrust. DRDO wanted to continue work on the engine with more money and manpower. However, most of the uncertainty for the project came from the Ministry of Defence who didn’t know what to do with the project. If people in the defence ministry had military experience, they would know how critical it is to have an indigenous engine for indigenous aircraft. This lack of vision ends up costing a lot of money to taxpayers and a lot of lives at the border.
How to Reform
There is no doubt the Ministry of Defence needs to be reformed. One way to reform would be to follow a similar path to Chief of the Defence Staff branch in the ministry. Currently, there is only one branch with military officials that works alongside civilian administrators even when they are of a higher rank. This can be modified by doing away with civilian administrators, and introducing one branch for each branch of armed forces and intelligence services.
all of which can be combined under the Chief of Defence staff who should oversee cooperation between forces. This is necessary along with other changes to ensure adaptability to the new age of warfare where we don’t have years to prepare. The new age of warfare requires the decisions to be taken in a matter of minutes, and decision-makers have to be fully informed. When India saw the Chinese buildup across the border, India could have responded with a similar buildup to build deterrence. When the Chinese entered into Indian territory, India could have entered Chinese territory at critical locations before diplomatic talks began. This would make it easier to de-escalation, and to negotiate a return to the status quo.
India also needs to give control of procurement to armed forces with the supervision of the PMO and Defence Accounts Department headed by CAG. This would ensure faster contract signings and faster materialization of products. Armed forces also need to clearly tell the private sector what weapons they will want in the next 10 years and how it plans to procure them. This would allow the private sector to look at what the demand would be and if they are interested in investing in R&D of the product. This has to be backed by timely trails and contract signs with proper funds.
India also needs to reform DRDO taking away job protections from underperforming employees. This would cause people to start performing or lose their job. More funds and increased talent hiring would also help speed up the project. The control of DRDO needs to go directly to the Chief of Defence Staff rather than some civilian bureaucrats who don’t understand R&D work or lack strategic vision.
The Border Road Organisation (BRO) also needs to directly come under the control of the Chief of Defence Staff. The armed forces need to lay out plans of where it wants improved infrastructure to help improve their defence preparedness. Armed forces can not keep having blocked roads due to snow or massive reroutes that cause massive delays to reach border areas. India has clearly seen how aggressively the Chinese military has been building infrastructure in its border areas. This is equally matched by civilian companies developing military grade infrastructure in the rear in the name of connecting remote towns. India not only has to catch up but also create deterrence. It should not take armed forces multiple days to reach the border. This is a massive disadvantage to armed forces. Armed forces must work with the Chief of Defence Staff and BRO to build infrastructure capability. The PMO should also ask the Finance Ministry to give additional funds to help build these infrastructure projects. These are a few of the many changes that need to happen in the government as a whole.
India must reform its command and control structure, and place it in the hands of military officials. If India wants to be a regional power, it has to act like one. This is not possible if it is not backed by a strong and structured defence ministry. This can no longer be delayed due to civilian politicians fearing strong military power. General Patton once said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”. It is time for India to reform its ministry of defence structure and start holding people accountable in it. The nation can not keep losing its brave men and women to the failures of bureaucrats and their delays.
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