Sunday, 22 April 2018

New Defence Planning Committee evokes mixed response



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd April 2018

Successive defence ministries have adopted the adage: When nothing else is working, set up a committee. Give it a sweeping mandate. Demand a comprehensive report. Then, implement a few recommendations and put the important ones in cold storage.

Over the preceding two decades, two National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and two United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments have done exactly this. In 1999, the Kargil Review Committee reported on defence reform, with a Group of Ministers reiterating many of its key recommendations in 2001. In 2005-06, the Vijay Kelkar committee submitted its seminal report on revitalising defence production. In 2012, it was the Naresh Chandra Task Force and in 2016, the Shekatkar Committee.

Many of their key recommendations related to higher defence planning. None were implemented in any but the most half-hearted way – such as the establishment of the semi-empowered Integrated Defence Staff in 2004. The integration of the military services (army, navy and air force) headquarters and the civilian ministry of defence remains a mirage.

Now, in its penultimate year and staring at a worrying lack of achievement in defence planning, procurement and force structuring, the current government has constituted yet another body – called the Defence Planning Committee (DPC).

Hailed as “overarching” and a “super-committee” by some news outlets, the DPC, headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, comprises officials from several government departments that feed into national security. Unlike earlier committees, this one is staffed by senior serving officials.

There are the three service chiefs (with the senior-most being the ex-officio Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee), and the secretaries of defence, external affairs and expenditure. The principal secretary in the prime minister’s office (PMO) is there too.

The idea of such a committee, even the name, is not original. In 1978, the Morarji Desai government set up a Defence Planning Committee under the cabinet secretary. It included the secretary in the PMO and those of defence, defence production, external affairs, finance and the planning commission. After achieving little, the 1978 DPC faded away.

The current DPC’s mandate is expansive. It will prepare draft reports on national security strategy, and international defence engagement. It will prepare a roadmap for building a defence manufacturing eco-system and a strategy to boost defence exports.

According to media reports, the DPC will submit its reports to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

It is already being whispered that the DPC will up-end established decision-making structures. While Sitharaman remains the de jure head, government insiders clearly see a shift in influence towards the National Security Council and the PMO. They say that was the trend anyway.

The Indian Express has commented that bringing together key officials on one platform “can obviate the usual bureaucratic problem of important issues being moved on file only, to be debated in silos in different ministries”. However, the DPC is only a deliberative body. Its decisions would still require to be moved on file and cleared, remaining subject to implementation delays.

“Bringing additional departments and bureaucratic structures into decision-making is seldom a good way of speeding up things”, says a senior defence ministry bureaucrat, talking anonymously.

“We have planners and thinkers aplenty. The problem is unlocking implementation logjams. Defence does not new “planning commissions”; it needs an implementation commission”, says a defence industry chief executive.

“There is already a Defence Production Policy of 2018, that envisions creating a defence manufacturing eco-system and exponentially increasing defence exports. There is a Defence Procurement Procedure as well. Will the DPC work with existing rules, or create its own framework?” wonders the defence ministry official.

The big plus in the DPC could be a new, holistic approach to national security planning, enabling a combination of diplomacy, defence and economic means to be deployed in managing threats like a two-front war, or a naval blockade of Indian ports.

Another positive is the inclusion of civilian planners into the formulation of military doctrines and objectives. Currently, this is entirely left to military planners.

“One reason we don't know where Indian civilians stand on the army's Cold Start Doctrine is because there was no formal or informal process for civilians to review service doctrines. This new [DPC] appears to provide just such a forum. That's good!” tweeted Christopher Clary, a US-based academic who studies Indian security and strategy.

According to media reports the DPC will have four sub-committees, dealing with: Policy and strategy; plans and capability development; defence diplomacy; and defence manufacturing eco-system. 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hope the new committee sticks to policy and giving strategic directions.
I find your comments on civilian participation puzzling.
The armed forces are civilian controlled , a joint secretary can shoot down or approve or sit on a proposal with a few lines in the file, this without understanding the full picture.
The chief of staffs are way down the pecking order , I believe this has been gradually going down since we got independence.

To me it means civilians overriding armed forces without corresponding accountability. This needs to change, I do hope it does in near future. Not sure though you claim reverse, maybe some explanation needed here.
In five years when each corps will have a squadron of dedicated attack, medium lift and a few heavy helicopters together a with drones (recon/armed roles) and then the big 155 artillery , the commanders need to be really talented to make use these diverse resources.

Of course it also could mean creating a common cadre of officers starting from 1 star generals. This will create a new leaner structure , a new set officers more strategic oriented and of course break down a lot of existing relationships.

Anonymous said...

Why should all the perks go to our Armed Forces?
The IAS delivers a world-class public service, skilled administrators form the bedrock of the world’s largest democracy.
Contrary to what this stupid Broad Sword blog says, the IAS is highly efficient in turning policy into reality, that too in a timely manner, constantly changing people's lives for the better daily.
Our IAS is made up of dedicated and highly skilled public servants committed to delivering for Bharat Mata.
Across India, officers of the IAS are operating in an exceptionally challenging environment. But sadly our pay levels have fallen dramatically behind the market. By this I mean the IAS pay is not as attractive as some private sector opportunities, and our pension is very very poor.
In my present posting I am required to live in New Delhi but have this year a measly increase in my city allowance – although I live rent free, half of my take home pay goes towards the property I plan own on my retirement.
This is very unfair!

Anonymous said...

The civilian Officers' have always overridden the armed forces. they will continue the same. do they understand the requirement of the forces? the services will be meek "yes boss" as it is today with no change in status and with NSA heading things will be seen in a different perspective. God Help !!!

Sarbjit Singh said...

You have very good sense of humour.

Lt Gen G M Nair(Retd) said...

The defence planning and procurement processes were long overdue for overhaul. We were in a state of inertia with India not yet having a National Security Strategy, from which armed forces strategies as also strategies of allied ministries like Home Ministry could evolve. This had to change. Ideally, an organisation with the highest political authority as the head should have been formed to initiate and reform our national security structures and processes. In the absence of this overarching structure, the proposed organisation is only the next best. In all probability the new organisation will be found to be wanting in achieving the desired results.

Alok Asthana said...

@Annonymus 23 Apr 0530 - The IAS delivers a world-class public service. World -class? Public?

Anonymous said...

10 plates, bhabiji ke samose-garam garam! Committee baithagi, meeting hogi, bhook lagegi, Aur Delhi ki garmi main kuch Thanda!

Ahts Maria said...

THE DOWN GRADE , STATUS , SALARY , PERKS OF ARMED FORCES IS COMPLETE. THE SERVICE CHIEFS , CINCS , PSOS ARE TODAY ISOLATED FROM THE OFFICERS AND RANKS THEY COMMAND BY VIRTUE OF FORGETTING THE SERVICE CHETWOOD CODE AND QUIETLY HAVING ACCEPTED THE FULL OROP WITHOUT WAITING FOR THE WIDOWS , ORPHANS OLD MAIMED AND INJURED RETIRED OFFICERS AND MEN . THE CIVIL SERVICES IAS /IPS / IFS WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILTY AND RESPONSIBILTY TODAY AS IN THE PAST RULE THE ROOST . A DEFEATED NATION THE POILTICIANS WILL GET THE BOOT , FOR ARMS COMMISSIONS THE SERVICE CHIEFS WILL BE DISGRACED LIKE ACM TYAGI SENT TO JAIL WHILST THE CUNNING CONNIVING BABUS WILL BE PROMOTED AND SENT AS CIC , CVC CAG AND OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL POSTS . THE GOOD DAYS OR BAD DAYS FOR THE ARMED FORCES ARE HERE TO COME .