Lt Gen DS Hooda (Retd) led the surgical strike happened after the suicide attack on army base camp in URI took place in 2016

Former Northern Army Commander Lt-Gen DS Hooda (Retd), who spearheaded the 2016 surgical strike, is a strong votary of reforms in India’s defence forces. He also wants India’s sea power to be oriented towards countering the emerging threats from the Chinese Navy. Excerpts from an interview with Mayank Singh:

What were your expectations from the 16th round of India-China military-level talks?

We have been hopeful of disengagement at Patrolling Point (PP) 15 (Hot Springs) since the last two meetings because it is doable. The problem has persisted at positions in which the troops had to disengage and move back. As for the meeting on Sunday, it is better to wait for an announcement.

What is the reason for a surge in activity in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific?

The Indo-Pacific has drawn major international attention to the extent that various countries such as Germany and France have come up with their own Indo-Pacific strategies. This will lead to some strategic competition. Seeing the growing presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean, we should collaborate with like-minded nations with ties tailored towards our interests.

The government has carried out infra build-up along the borders with China besides in the Andamans…

One positive of the two-year standoff in eastern Ladakh is our renewed push to infrastructure development, capability building and realignment of forces. All this will improve our capabilities on the northern border.

The Andamans could have been encompassed with theatre commands. It should be integrated in the overall maritime strategy. If you look at command and control, the Andaman & Nicobar Command is under the CDS whereas the Navy’s commands are under the Navy Chief.

Your reaction to the country’s focus on self-reliance and Make in India in defence sector for strategic autonomy?

This entails innovation and modernization with Atmanirbharta (self-reliance) in view. It demands close collaboration and processes which will lead to assistance to the industry with some assurances. The industry’s concern is that if it spends money, then who else than the forces will buy their product. Besides, we need to relook at our defence research and development. A restructuring of the Defence Research and Development Organization is needed. The other model is the US’ DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency). They don’t have labs and the entire fund is given to the industry or various academia to develop products. We will have to come to whatever creates value.

There are ongoing defence reforms. New recruitment policy Agniveer has come up. Your views?

The idea is to bring in reforms aimed at rectifying mistakes at the implementation level. ‘Agniveer’ has faced so much protest; things could change if we get our implementation right. The immediate need is to have a new Chief of Defence Staff. CDS General Bipin Rawat was driving the reforms, but we lost him.

The Ukraine conflict is stretching on. How will it affect us?

I am not sure whether it will affect us directly since our dependence on Russia is high. It is certainly going to impact the availability of spares.

The Indian neighbourhood is in a dynamic situation. What should be our approach?

We should continue to focus on our neighbourhood, including countries like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Myanmar. We should leverage our economy to be able to come to the assistance of various countries such as Sri Lanka as it will add to our own security.