Key decisions underline govt’s focus on building stronger military | Opinion
Two key policy decisions taken by the defence ministry over the last fortnight reflect the government’s sharp focus on upgrading the military’s fighting potential and sharpening its operational effectiveness to take on new challenges.
The first decision deals with reviewing the country’s defence procurement procedures to achieve two main objectives: speeding up the purchase of weapons and providing a push to the sluggish ‘Make in India’ programme.
The second relates to restructuring the Army headquarters as part of a larger transformation plan of the force to become a deadlier fighting machine fully prepared for future wars.
While the first decision seeks to energise the existing procedures for buying weapons and promoting indigenisation, the second is a small but important step towards the biggest exercise in independent India’s history to restructure the army.
The success of the ministry’s new initiatives will hinge on many factors — how they are taken forward, the sincerity of the stakeholders in implementing them and, most importantly, the intervention of the top leadership to knock down any hurdles that may come up.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh’s go-ahead to have another look at the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 and the Defence Procurement Manual (DPM) 2009 could help the military plug gaps in its capabilities with new equipment and reduce dependence on imported hardware. But there are no guarantees, going by past experience.
It’s important to remember that despite successive governments taking steps to refine procurement rules, little has changed on the ground. The procurement process is painfully slow, ‘Make in India’ remains a pipe dream and the country finds it hard to reverse the trend of dependence on imported weaponry.
There have been instances where procurements pursued for several years have returned to the drawing board because of procedural reasons.
Singh has asked an 11-member panel, under the director general (acquisition), to carry out the review of the procedures and submit its report in six months. The timing of the review is significant as the military is in the need of new fighter jets, helicopters, warships, submarines, artillery guns, missiles, armoured vehicles and other weapons.
The armed forces are hoping that the high-powered committee’s recommendations will accelerate projects being pursued under the government’s ‘strategic partnership’ (SP) model to provide fillip to the ‘Make in India’ programme. Projects worth billions to build choppers, next-generation submarines, fighter planes and armoured vehicles are covered under the SP model.
As far as the restructuring is concerned, the government has started with the low-hanging fruit. The changes being made in the Army HQ include posting 206 officers from New Delhi to field areas, creation of a new vigilance cell under the army chief and a new branch under the vice chief focusing exclusively on human rights.
This restructuring is the outcome of one of the four comprehensive studies conducted by the army to shape and direct its overarching transformation plan. Apart from reorganisation of the army headquarters, the remaining three are reorganisation and rightsizing of the Indian Army, cadre review of officers and review of terms of engagement of rank and file.
The army and the ministry will have to shift into top gear to implement the remaining proposals that will bring about some far-reaching changes, including a troop cut, improved tooth-to-tail ratio, creation of integrated brigades that can be mission-deployed swiftly and several technological advancements.