Would any member of the committee dare tell NSA Ajit Doval that his security and defence policies were demonstrably wrong since they betrayed a lack of understanding of China and Pakistan?

With India's defence-industrial policies mere 'flights of fantasy', the DPC's formation a year before the Lok Sabha polls, is at best an attempt by the government to refurbish its image

by Pravin Sawhney

The failure of the recently announced Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the stewardship of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval lies in its composition.

Which member of the committee would dare tell Doval that his security and defence policies were demonstrably wrong since they betrayed a lack of understanding of the two adversaries (China and Pakistan)? Would the members, who hold full-time jobs, and more to the point, who would hesitate to offer advice contrary to the entrenched beliefs of the government, come up with imaginative ideas? Moreover, would it be fair to expect serving officials who have grown within the system by looking up for guidance to think through out-of-the-box formulations. If this was not enough, the ponderous size and tasks of the committee would ensure little concrete results.

Here are five hard truths for consideration of the committee. One, competition and rivalry with China would be counter-productive since it is a global power while India is a medium power. China is strides ahead of India in hard power (economic, technology, defence-industrial and military) and a catch-up is not possible. While using its soft power where it can, China pays special attention to its hard power, which forms the fulcrum of its ‘One Belt One Road’ policy.

Once this is grasped, it will become clear why Doklam was a geo-political, military and geo-strategic blunder, which has led to the shrinking of India’s strategic space and increased its military burden on the Line of Actual Control. This has compelled New Delhi to retract its existing China policy; sugar-coating it as ‘re-set’. That said, the committee would have to look for, as the Chinese say, win-win solutions for cooperation with Beijing if India desires to retain credibility in its neighbourhood and near-neighbourhood.

Two, Pakistan is a formidable military power and a major geo-political pivot: these are nations whose rise is directly proportional to their indispensability for global powers, like the United States, China and Russia. What makes Pakistan an impossible adversary to defeat in war is its grown inter-operability (ability to fight together for common missions) with the Chinese military. On the one hand, this would ensure that the Pakistan military (unlike India) would not be short of ammunitions and spares in case of hostilities. On the other, China would likely support Pakistan with its enormous cyber, space, electronic (to jam India’s communication nodes) warfare capabilities without outwardly showing its hand. Given this, the committee should consider conflict-resolution and not confidence-building talks with Pakistan.

Three, there is little understanding in India of what constitutes military power. The political leadership lacks motivation to know this, while the military leadership, which is given to parochialism (own services’ good), is happy underplaying this. The focus is on battles rather than on the war or campaign (series of battles). The three defence services formulate their own threats assessment (instead of a common assessment), seek own capabilities, devise own doctrines and undertake own training to meet these threats. The army and the air force, therefore, are undecided about which service should lead the land battles, while the navy remains overawed by increasing maritime threats with little capability and capacity to contribute to the land battles.

While the land, air and sea battlefields, which are under the three services headquarters are their war responsibility, four new battlefields of the modern war are no one’s concern. These are space, cyber, electronic and psychological battlefields, two of which are administratively under the Integrated Defence Headquarters. Unless all seven battlefields of modern warfare, which constitutes military power, are tackled as a whole, there would be (a) little war-preparedness, (b) few genuine military reforms (c) cosmetic and lopsided modernisation, and (d) little value of military power in furtherance of foreign policy. It is difficult to see this happening unless the political leadership take charge and tells, for example, the army, that its drastically reduced strength (which is feasible) would help war-preparedness.

Four, India should consider what all major powers (especially China and Pakistan) do: use military diplomacy as a critical component of foreign policy. This requires either a good understanding of military power by diplomats or accepting military leadership’s role in foreign policy. Indian diplomats who, rightly so, cannot be expected to understand military’s operational (warfare) issues, would fight tooth and tail to disallow the military a partnership in its exclusive domain. Moreover, since this would entail getting the military inside the policy-making loop, the powerful civilian bureaucracy too would resist this reform.

Keeping the military in an advisory role, as is the case, would not deliver optimal results. It would be similar to the three defence services, who are averse to sharing their turfs, saying that cooperation in war with one another, is a good substitute for joint-ness in war. Now, would the committee recommend giving the military a role in policy-making?

And fifth, all major military powers have one thing is common: a strong defence-industrial base. This requires cutting-edge technologies which no nation shares with another because they are the result of years (if not decades) of research and investments and constitutes hard power. What is shared is low-level or outdated technologies, which, at best, can help generate employment in the buying nation. India, unfortunately, is one such nation. It has little culture for defence research, invests minimal in it, and yet desires to indigenise state-of-the-art capabilities which can be exported.

The government’s entire policy of ‘Make in India’ in defence is geared solely towards employment generation by encouraging the start-ups, small and medium enterprises to be a part of defence eco-system. For instance, the recent Make II project scheme, the Innovation in Defence Excellence (IDEX), and the two defence-industrial corridors (in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh) are populist measures meant to create the perception of the government working towards building a defence industrial base.

The truth is that the recently announced draft Defence Production Policy is not rooted in reality and the Defence Procurement Policy-2016 remains ambiguous. Notwithstanding grandiose announcements, no niche or cutting-edge technologies or significant foreign direct investment in defence has come to India. Yet, the government has announced its intentions to increase defence exports by 15 times by 2025, especially when India has never exported whole weapon systems. This is nothing more than sloganeering in which the government has even co-opted India’s defence advisers posted in missions abroad. Now, which committee member would tell chairman Doval that the government’s defence-industrial policies are mere flights of fantasy.

The above home-truths would suffice to establish the impossibility of the tasks at hand. These involve writing the national security strategy, strategic defence review, international defence engagement strategy, military employment strategy and defence-industrial strategy. It seems that the government’s announcement has an entirely different objective in mind. Much like the 2016 surgical strikes against Pakistan, which produced enormous political dividend, the formation of the DPC, a year before the general elections, is really meant to refurbish the government’s image as best custodians of national defence.