Indian Army Officer(Retd.)
Capability building is a complex and tedious exercise that is based on detailed planning leading to formulation of service specific plans like Army plan aggregating to Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), which includes all three Services. The next logical step is to get the draft plan approved by Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs (CCPA)/ Cabinet Committee for Security (CCS). While Armed Forces never slip up in producing their plans, only three such endeavours have got the requisite approval.
Synchronisation of Defence Planning as co-terminus with national plans was done with 6th plan (1980-85). Although, linkage between them remains ambiguous as no limiting financial figures are indicated to the Defence planners. Even desired capabilities and envisaged threats are stated in very generalised terms rather than clear-cut strategic guidelines. 6th and 7th plan (1985-90) were approved by CCPA. Commitment having ebbed, 8th plan remained in a limbo and 9th plan was got approved by only CCS. Exercise to seek approval for 11th plan was a protracted and frustrating dialogue war between Defence and Finance Ministries leading to it being abandoned as a lost cause like many other such earlier plans. It is perplexing that such deliberations don’t look at possibilities of part and interim approvals.
As Additional Director Perspective Planning, I had the onerous responsibility to steer formulation of 12th Defence Plan to cover period from 2012 to 2017. While formulating such plans it is imperative to carry out a review of last plan. The thing that stares you in the face is what is termed as ‘slippages’ or shortfalls. When plotted graphically they seem to depict skyscrapers vying with each other to rise to dizzy heights. With great difficulty, I motivated my team and we produced a pragmatic plan. Within Army, planning is basically balancing competitive demands of line directorates like Infantry, Artillery, Mechanised Forces etc.
Currently, key stakeholders, Regional Commands are included only in consultation and information loop. However, this may have to change with the establishment of integrated Theatre Commands.
The next challenge was to put it through the Finance Ministry but such was the bitter aftertaste of 11th plan experience that bureaucrats told us in jest it may be better to send it anywhere but Finance Ministry for concurrence. MOD was already caught in a maelstrom generated by compromising of infamous communication on ‘hollowness’, where a DO letter by COAS addressed to PM had got leaked and it had for the first time laid bare the critical deficiencies as a compiled list. This lead to introduction of a new term, ‘hollowness’, which is now regular and much-used jargon.
As a via media and to signal full backing of MOD, 11th plan was approved by Defence Acquisition Council on 2nd April 2012, on the very first Monday of financial year. Looking back and taking state of slippages combined with the recent statement of VCOAS to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence (PSCD), it may have been more apt if the plan had been approved on All Fools Day.
Consequent to this famous DO, we had to go through a similar invocation by PSCD. This Parliamentary committee lead by Hon’ble Satpal Maharaj had many active MPs like Manish Tewari, Owaisi, Navin Jindal, Madhvender Singh, just to name a few. Armed Forces were in the firing line but those, who are constitutionally mandated as per Allocation of Business Rules for defence preparedness and enjoy overriding powers were smiling and have since been rewarded with sinecures of constitutional appointments and plum assignments.
In the corporate world, each one of them would have got a pink slip and prolonged banishment. Even if it seems harsh, a system without accountability and which promotes risk averse filibustering, above all with no reward for performance defies all management principles and is unlikely to succeed. Even worse, all reforms and reviews are lead by failed in-house experts rather than a professional consultancy.
We were assured by Committee and Ministry that financial allocations will not be allowed to impair operational preparedness of Armed Forces and media was flooded with such assurances. Accordingly, a slew of measures including prioritisation, fast-tracking and holistic review of procurement procedures were undertaken. There was a flood of Acceptance of Necessity (AONs), which generate a false sense of belief that item is about to be inducted.
In fact, our procurement process is indeed a very sad litany of abandoned AONs and foreclosed procurement cases. Indian Navy with committed liabilities in approved long-term projects is the only exception. Unfortunately, the initial focus and commitment at least in case of Army fizzled out too soon after Parliamentary Committee hearing despite assurances at all levels.
Meanwhile, planning cycle continued and 13th Defence plan (2017-22) was formulated with an allocation of Rs 26,83,924 crore for the Armed Forces. This includes Rs 13,95,271 crore under the revenue segment and the remainder for modernisation or what is referred to as capital expenditure. These figures do not include anticipated expenditure for Defence Research & Development Organisation, Ordnance Factories, Coast Guard, Border Roads Organisation, and many other associated organisations, as well as miscellaneous activities, carried out under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Above all, it does not include the funds required to pay out defence pensions. The total allocation for these aforesaid organisations, activities and defence pensions adds up to Rs 1,36,746.10 crore for the year 2017-18, with defence pensions alone accounting for Rs 85,737.31 crore. As a ballpark figure and excluding any increase like OROP in the coming years, the requirement for the plan period approximates to Rs 6,83,730.50 crore. Once again total approximate requirement of Armed Forces, other organisations and defence pensions would thus add up to Rs 33,67,654.50 crore. We are already in the second year of the plan without any approval and only abiding realities are inadequate allocations, slippages and worsening state of equipment and ammunition.
Six years down the line, our ammunition stocks are well below revised and reduced mandated scale of ten days of warfighting. VCOAS also informed recent Parliamentary Committee hearing that our mix of equipment instead of ideal 30:40:30 (Modern, Current and Ageing) has become 8:24:68. It may be worthwhile to place on record the fact that a recent welcome corrective has brought down earlier impractical ammunition stocking levels from 40 days intense warfighting scale to 21 days and now in the interim to 10 days stock, yet we are short and in some cases down to 3 days of stocking.
As per media reports, deliberations at Defence Planning Group (DPG) have asked Armed Forces to build up stocks of ammunition to mandated ten days. It is a welcome initiative that arms procurement in future will be linked to assured supply of ammunition and it will be ensured that the Original Equipment Manufacturer will set up ammunition production facility with complete Transfer of Technology (TOT).
It will be pertinent to include a few important caveats. Firstly, all procurements should factor ‘life cycle support’ with assured serviceability rates, like in case of proposed supply of Rafael aircrafts. This would mean setting up of Maintenance Repair Operation (MRO) hubs and warehousing of critical spares. Ammunition TOT has to be genuine and complete unlike Russian APFSDS manufacture of 90s, where yearly supply of 35,000 Core Penetrators ex Russia really amounted to capped licensed production. Each equipment should come with simulation package and low-cost training ammunition like practice ammunition for 105 mm T-55 and Vijayanta tanks.
Recently constituted DPG should consider an urgent review of defence plans and lay down a strategy to make up the ‘critical hollowness’ in a time-bound manner. Unlike all previous such lists, let this listing be small and tailored to available funds. To start with basic weapons (rifles) and protection equipment (bulletproof jackets and headgear) for hybrid war for specified number of troops in combat zone, helicopters along with stocks of specified ammunition should be procured.
It will be worthwhile to form an empowered Task Force with committed non-lapsable funds backed up by special liberal ISRO type of pragmatic procedures, which ensure procurement. It will also be pertinent that in future defence planners are given an idea of possible fund allocations and desired capabilities in specific terms like – Should we prepare to fight two and half front war? Are we to maintain ‘punitive deterrence’ against Pak and ‘credible deterrence’ against China? More importantly, specifics in terms of likely duration of war, effects desired and punishment that we are prepared to withstand should be stipulated.
We need to find answer to an eternal enigma, will we continue with impractical and emotive diktat of no loss of territory or accept pragmatic formulation of tallying of net specified gains at the end of war? Another pertinent query that defence planners should address is scope and manifestation of collusivity between our adversaries. As a macro direction and in long-term, it will be good to revisit ‘threat vs capability based’ planning, a conundrum that bedevils our defence planners. In the interim, it appears that a via media of ‘effects-based’ planning, more of an operational ‘jugaad’ that addresses our critical hollowness, builds up essential infrastructure and keeps our deterrence inventory including surgical strike capabilities in shape may have to be accepted. In soldierly terms, enough to deter, bite a bit- if forced, while modernisation can wait.