Room 103, South Block has a smorgasbord of challenges for the new defence minister. At the very outset, AK Antony will have to ensure modernisation of the armed forces. At a time when almost every defence deal reeks of kickbacks and fixes, the new minister’s litmus test will be to guarantee transparency in defence procurements without letting critical acquisitions suffer.
“It is paramount to provide momentum to the modernisation of the armed forces, despite the Bofors, Denel and Barak deals. Each time an arms scam is exposed, the services fear derailment of acquisition plans since the entire establishment tends to play safe,” said a retired lieutenant general closely involved in the procurement process.
The navy, severely restricted by a shortage of aircraft, is struggling to fill a void in its maritime surveillance capability. The defence minister will also have to discipline the Defence Research and Development Organisation that has let the armed forces down time and again. Inter-services synergy is another area that needs his attention. Antony will have to strive for consensus among political parties for the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff so that the three services work together.
And against the backdrop of fratricidal killings and suicides in the army, the minister will also have to spare a thought for stressed-out soldiers.
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