Big military reform challenge
In a first, the Government of India, on August 30 this year, approved reforms within the Indian Army to enhance combat capability of the forces, thereby rebalancing defence expenditure in a phased manner by December 2019 based on the recommendations of the 12-member high powered expert committee under the chairmanship of Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (Retd).
Signalling that the Ministry of Defence is examining military dimension seriously, the Shekatkar Committee included several military officers such as Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), a former military operations chief who now heads the tri-service think-tank, the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies.
The first phase of reforms involves redeployment and restructuring of approximately 57,000 posts of officers. Measures will be implemented gradually. Restructuring by the Indian Army is aimed at enhancing combat capability in a manner that officers will be used for improving operational preparedness and civilians will be redeployed in different wings of the Armed Forces for improving efficiency, said the statement of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) which was chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Shekatkar Committee had recommended 121 reforms in its draft report of December 2016, out of which the CCS approved 99 and the Ministry of Defence decided to implement 65 in the first phase.
“The net effect of this is, as to various, different functions in the Army, as per the changed environment of technology, economy, combat capability of the Army, how it is to be best utilised”, said Arun Jaitley, the then Minister of Defence.
Resultantly, the Government will do away 39 military farms and several Army postal departments in peace locations. There will be optimisation of signals establishments to include radio monitoring companies, Corps Air Support Signal Regiments, Air Formation Signal Regiments, composite Signal Regiments and merger of Corps Operating and Engineering Signal Regiments.
There will also be ‘optimisation’ and ‘re-structuring’ of ordinance and vehicle depots, signals establishments and base repair workshops, supply and transport echelons. The National Cadets Corps (NCC) will also undergo reforms to improve its efficiency, with re-employed former servicemen progressively replacing service personnel there.
Many more such measures are urgently required to improve the poor teeth to tail ratio of the Indian Armed Forces, the third largest in the world after China and the US. The Army, for instance, needs to fully raise its new 17 Mountain Strike Corps (90,274 soldiers), geared for high-altitude warfare with China by 2021.
Apart from this, in the first phase, the Government will also undertake restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include base workshops, advance base workshops and station workshops in the field Army.
The Government can save up to Rs 25,000 crore from the current expenditure. Most of the recommendations are measures to cut down flab in the Army to make it thin, lean, agile and increase coordination among the three services.
The committee has dismissed the idea of reducing the manpower of the 11.8 lakh-strong Army, stating that the Army’s task is in the mountains, both against China and against Pakistan. Asking the country to be prepared to fight “a two-and-a-half front war” — Pakistan, China and internal security — the report says that it has attempted to “refocus, reorient and realign” the Armed Forces. The report has asked for the threshold of the annual defence budget to be raised from current 1.7 per cent to 2.5 to three per cent of gross domestic product for modernisation.
One of the major recommendations of the committee is to review the definition of ‘capital’ and ‘revenue’ budget heads in the funds allocated to the three Armed Forces, particularly the Indian Army. The panel notes that the Indian Army, unlike the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, will have to remain a manpower-intensive force because of its major deployment in the mountains against China and Pakistan.
As a result, sustenance budget of the Indian Army will be higher than the other two services, leaving very little money for capital acquisition. The panel has reportedly, therefore, recommended that a ‘roll on’ plan for fresh acquisitions be introduced so as to overcome the practice of ‘surrendering’ funds at the end of financial year.
The panel has also suggested a review of the financial management system of the Ministry of Defence in which the defence finance wing is seen to be more of an impediment in clearing projects and has recommended that the financial powers of all the three Chiefs and Vice Chiefs be enhanced further to quicken the pace of acquisitions.
As for redeployment and rationalising of manpower, the committee has recommended that the role of non-combat organisations paid for and sustained by the defence Budget be subjected to a performance audit. Some of these organisations mentioned in the report are Defence Estates, Defence Accounts, DGQA, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), and Defence Research and Development Organisation. Once a professional and objective review is carried out, downsising or rationalising the manpower in these organisations could achieve substantial savings.
The committee also suggested the establishment of a Joint Services Warfare College for training for middle level officers, even as the three separate War Colleges-currently at Mhow, Secunderabad and Goa-for Army, Indian Air Force and Navy could continue to train younger officers for their respective service. Similarly, it has recommended that the Military Intelligence School at Pune be converted to a tri-service Intelligence
Another aspect highlighted by the committee is the increasing reluctance on part of the State Governments to renew lease of land for crucial firing ranges for the troops. Increasing urbanisation and pressure on land has meant that the Armed Forces have to battle political and bureaucratic pressure to retain the existing firing ranges.
However, the committee has suggested that the Armed Forces ramp up the quantum of training on various simulators. The new recruits can do about 60 per cent of their firing training on simulators, resulting in substantial savings to the tune of Rs 20-25 crore per annum in expenditure of training ammunition.
The report argues that the four-star post, whether it is called the Chief of Defence Staff or Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), is essential for smooth functioning of the Armed Forces in the prevailing security environment. This is not the first time a tri-service Chief has been proposed to provide single-point military advice to the Government, usher in synergy among three services, prioritise inter-service procurements and manage the country’s nuclear arsenal.
After the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Group of Ministers’ report on reforming the national security system had strongly recommended a CDS because the existing COSC had “serious weaknesses”. The Naresh Chandra task force in 2012 had also recommended the post of a permanent chairman of the COSC. The CCS has not considered the appointment of CDS despite the recommendations of three committees.
The false and fabricated propaganda of the bureaucracy that the Army will take over the country if CDS is appointed has taken precedence over the national security and integrity of the country. The Indian Army is apolitical adequately proved over the years. The CCS is seeing ghosts (based on self aggrandised interests of the bureaucracy) when there are none.
(The writer is a retired Professor in international trade)
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