Even as the security environment has deteriorated, India has not managed to escape the exorbitant arms import trap.
Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter signed the 10-year Defence Trade and Technology Initiative in early June, to extend defence cooperation between the two countries. The move has been hailed as "path-breaking", but in reality the agreements on joint technology development are far below expectations. In fact, to expect any country to share cutting-edge defence technology would be gross naivety. As the Narendra Modi government enters its second year, it's time to map the challenges facing it in the defence sector.
There is no choice for India but to go Indian. Results will only flow if cogent policies drive decision-making, even as field work continues. With 250 million people on either side of the poverty line, the defence budget has rarely crossed 2 per cent of the GDP, and it is doubtful if it ever will. To make optimal use of the scarce money, the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) task is cut out along two avenues: operational and administrative.
Operationally, two basic issues require immediate consideration. First, the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) has to be urgently revamped, to address the "hollowness" of the forces (as one Chief put it). Second, the Defence Offsets Management Wing (DOMW) must be strengthened immediately. Even as the security environment has palpably deteriorated, the defence acquisition process has failed to get India out of the arms import trap.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation's efforts have been embarrassingly poor. The reality is that India will continue to import for the next two decades. These frightfully expensive acquisitions need leveraging through the DPP and DOMW to ramp up Research and Development and manufacturing capabilities. The phrase 'in war there is no prize for runner-up' might be a cliché but unfortunately never truer, as 'victory' and 'defeat' have acquired new definitions. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that these terms have a contextual hue, and considering that India's future wars will be short and sharp, time and intensity are also keyfactors.
(Manmohan Bahadur, a retired Air Vice-Marshal, is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi).
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