by Wing Commander (Retd) Praful Bakshi

It is an undeniable and universal fact that the most serious threat to a nation is the threat to its national boundaries and territories. This threat has to be countered by a strong military and defence set-up, which is not only made up by a productive and efficient military industrial set-up, but also led by an equally efficient politico/military leadership fully backed by sound defence doctrines and policies.

Rand Corp Report

In 1995, when Rand Corp brought out a report, stating that since 1947, India had not developed any national security doctrine for external or internal security, resulting in practically no fighting doctrine or defence policy guidelines even for the three services, Parliament was furious. Needless to say, the Henderson Brooks report on the fiasco in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, or Nagaland operations of 1960s is so reluctantly mentioned, leave aside even being discussed.

Hence, it was very evident right up to the Kargil War and from the reports submitted on it, that some positive solutions towards rectification of running the defence machinery had to be found.

Positive Solutions

Placing together the three Service HQs in MoD: At the moment, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is not collocated with the Service HQs, and till recently, practically all the administrative posts were taken up by the IAS; fortunately, the Prime Minister has brought in some changes, with defence officers also being placed at crucial places, resulting in commendable outcome. This lack of transparency, which develops in such a set-up allows the foreign vested interests to influence the politico-bureaucratic decisions in purchase of very costly and vital items. This spells the beginning of defence scams, e.g. from the 1948 Jeep scandal to the HDW Submarine, to the Bofors to the very recent Agusta helicopter scandal.

With proper decisions taken by the present regime, projects like the near USD 20 billion Rafale deal of most urgently required combat aircraft, proper induction of Tejas in the squadrons or the postponed Project 75 of submarine purchase have fructified. The present government has overcome most of these problems, specially the one with the LCA Tejas, which is now in full steam to be inducted in various squadrons. The planned induction of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft is now complete. The indigenization of the 155MM field gun like the DHANUSH 155/45 calibre or the advanced technology artillery gun ATG, are one of the many positive examples of development.

Doctrines And Policies

Doctrines and policies spell out to the professional decisionmakers the right step in the right direction in right measure at the right time, taken by the right person. This step would not be possible if the MOD and the Service HQs problem is not sorted out as mentioned earlier.

Self Reliance In Defence Indeginisation

Till very recently, perhaps the most serious shortcoming which was the outcome of the above, was the very poor standing of India in the defence indigenization sector. From 1947 till very recently, India, despite its 9PSUs like the HAL, BEL, DRDO and ordnance factories, had not produced an acceptable rifle for the Infantry, or a main battle tank, a satisfactory field arty gun (155mm), any fighter aircraft, advance jet trainer, its engine, submarine, attack helicopter, or other major weapons support systems.

According to SIPRI, India had met over 80% of its defence requirements amounting to $12.5 billion for the block 2007-2011 through imports. A number of suggestions had been proposed even by Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam when he was the senior scientific adviser and by Dr Kelkar, towards self-reliance.

Suggestions By Dr Kalam

As per Dr Abdul Kalam and Dr Kelkar, two main suggestions came up:

1. Joint ventures with a few select foreign manufacturers: To give a boost to our local private industry, joint ventures could be undertaken, to boost manufacturing capability, with further aim to even export the same in the region. This would also entail suitable offset schemes requiring the foreign industry to reinvest a decided percentage up to 50% or more of earnings back into the venture.

2. Foreign Direct Investment: To give a boost to local industry, foreign bodies are now being allowed to invest in local Indian ventures. The suggested limit is being raised from the present 46% to 78% or even 100%, as per Rajnath Singh. This venture must be more lucrative for the foreign investor so that industries like Tata, Larsen and Toubro, Ashok Leyland, and even PSUs, would stand to gain immensely. The recent example of Tata joining up with Airbus to produce C295 transport aircraft stands out as a fine case in this issue.

With this approach, India can go safely ahead with export of armament and defence equipment which was not considered proper due to national policy issues. As can be observed, India’s total military expenditure now is close to $76.6 billion, which is the third highest in the world, and is up by .9% from 2020, and by 33% from 2012. India’s defence export in 2020 was worth $6.5 billion, which further rose to Rs 8,000 crore, and is slated to rise to Rs 13,000 crore by the year end as per Raksha Mantri’s statement. Interestingly, the export earnings before 2014 were between Rs 900-1,300 crore. Now, 50 companies in the private sector are involved in defence export supplying equipment to Sri Lanka, Italy Russia, Maldives, Nepal France, Egypt, Israel, Bhutan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Philippines, Poland, Spain and Chile.

Some of the main items in the export list are: Brahmos cruise missile, Pinaka rocket launchers, advance light helicopters (ALH), high speed sea-going guard boats, weapons locating radars.

Border Infrastructure Development

The other glaring omission on the part of all governments had been the total neglect of border communication infrastructure. This became clearly visible in poor border management, because of total lack of road and rail systems in the far-flung border areas, and just two or three wartime airstrips, with no major air movement handling capability. The comparison between India and China becomes glaring, because China has neatly laid out road and rail network, right up to the border all along, even in the Tibet zone. The Chinese forces can move right up to the border in a matter of one or two days, making India realise that this neglect has left them 25 years behind China in this game.

If one could take a glance at the development of Chinese fighting establishments from Ladakh to East Arunachal, then one can clearly appreciate the Chinese infrastructure development.

From Aksai Chin to Sikkim area to Bhutan to Tawang to South Central Tibet to Lhasa airport to east of Arunachal, there are military bases, armament depots, air fields, oil storage depots, Elint Radar sites at high peaks, phased array radars, missile sites both air to air and surface to air missiles, railway yards to offload heavy armour right at the border. During the Galwan episode, this aspect became very glaring and evident. However, the present government had already started undertaking border infrastructure development on a war-footing.

Approach of The New Govt

As we can see, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm is fully aware of all these shortcomings. The vast eastern border is fully ready militarily, and even the Daulat Beg Oldi airfield has been made fully operational despite objections by the Chinese to the previous government.

Wing Commander (Retd) Praful Bakshi is a defence analyst