Parrikar's exit and its impact on languishing defence projects

Issue No. 5 | March 1-15, 2017 Photo(s): By PIB, US DoD
By Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd)
Senior Technical Group Editor


The then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar interacting with the troops in Rajouri sector, Jammu and Kashmir, in May 2015

Manohar Parrikar who held the office of the Defence Minister of India for two years and four months has now returned to Goa to take over as the new Chief Minister after the recent election in Goa. While it may be politically expedient by the Bharatiya Janata Party to do so to help stabilise the fluid situation in Goa, it does not augur well for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) where a large number of defence projects are languishing for want of decisions and action which would have a long-term impact on military capability as well as national security in the two-front challenge facing the country.

Tumultuous Tenure

The period spent by Parrikar in office as the Defence Minister has been rather tumultuous. He took over the mammoth MoD at a time when the modernisation had hit the rock bottom and equipment shortages had multiplied manyfold due to total inaction and neglect by the UPA government. Thus when Parrikar took over as Defence Minister from Arun Jaitley on November 9, 2014, after the latter had been in office for about six months, there was a sense of relief as well as optimism because Jaitley, then wearing two hats, had his hands full with the Ministry of Finance and hence his attention was rightly on the North Block. Prior to Jaitley the Ministry was saddled with A.K. Antony for seven-and-a-half years. Under him, decision-making in the ministry had slowed to a crawl. It had catastrophic consequences for defence preparedness. India’s military machine — still equipped with tanks, fighter jets and warships acquired mostly in the 1980s was in a poor state of maintenance due to a variety of reasons. Artillery howitzers had not been replaced since early 1980s, new submarines had been delayed inordinately and fighter jet proposals were pending since 1999. Light helicopters were ready to be discarded and army was losing precious lives of its pilots. The $100-billion list of pending military requirements would take over a decade or two to be met. This is why Rear Admiral K. Raja Menon (Retd), a well known military analyst, called Antony the “worst Defence Minister ever”. Jaitey’s short tenure could not see much headway towards solving long pending demands of the three services and therefore it was at this critical juncture that Manohar Parrikar took over as the Defence Minister.

The military welcomed the arrival of a professional and technically sound politician. They reposed their faith in him and expected that he would ensure a better deal for them; would assist them in regaining their pride and élan that had been severely eroded over the past two decades; set right the civil-military relations and were looking forward to move towards modernisation that had virtually stopped.

Highlights of Parrikar’s Tenure

Parrikar brought dynamism and hard work to his office. Files were cleared faster than they accumulated as he set about acquainting himself with the nuances of military organisations and equipment. An outsider in Delhi, Parrikar was quick to grasp the intricacies of the ministry, the working of the armed forces and the challenges of modernising the military in the face of shrinking budgets. However, it is only at the fag end of his tenure that Parrikar had launched a concerted drive to make up the existing deficiencies by invoking emergency financial powers of the government. The government had, at long last, begun to address the ‘critical hollowness’ plaguing defence preparedness — a term used by the former Army Chief General V.K. Singh in 2012 when he wrote to the Prime Minister on this issue. Additionally Parrikar also initiated reforms in the procedures for the acquisition and indigenous manufacture of weapons and equipment and ensured the preparation and publication of the new Defence Procurement Procedure, 2016. Therefore his departure when the initiatives by him were fructifying is worrisome because in India, based on past experience, our political leaders have the uncanny ability to roll back to status quo faster than others.

Parrikar initiated reforms in the procedures for the acquisition and indigenous manufacture of weapons and equipment and ensured the preparation and publication of the new Defence Procurement Procedure, 2016

Some of the highlights of his tenure as a Defence Minister need to be recalled. These are given in the succeeding paragraphs along with our comments of what needs to be done in the future with regard to each issue highlighted.

One Rank, One Pension

Parrikar deserves credit for implementation of the OROP scheme in 2015. A more than fourdecade-old demand, the scheme grants equal pension to military personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service, regardless of the date of retirement. Nearly three million ex-servicemen and widows benefited from the scheme. However, it seems that the demands of the ex-servicemen were not met fully. As it was a long-pending and a highly emotive issue, OROP as it was meant to be was not implemented fully but a watered down version was implemented. Inadequacy of funds was the excuse given by the Finance Ministry as well as bureaucrats of the MoD which did not go down well with the veterans. In the bargain, he alienated veterans which also affected the morale of the forces. Ultimately, while the military continued to struggle to get their dues in financial terms, the bureaucrats, police and other civil administrative services managed to get all kinds of increments, perks and the like. Even the socalled Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) is being denied to the military, despite the recommendation of the Seventh Central Pay Commission and a judicial ruling on the issue.

Judicial Committee Report. The complaints by the ex-servicemen on the implementation of OROP compelled the government to appoint a Judicial Committee headed by Justice L. Narasimha Reddy, former Chief Justice of Patna High Court, to look into the anomalies of implementation of OROP. The Committee has submitted its report on October 26, 2016. This report needs to be made public and then implemented.

Military Modernisation and Capability Enhancement

His tenure as Defence Minister saw the inking of some major defence contracts. The main projects concluded include a $8.7 billion deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets, a $ 3.1-billion order for 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache Longbow attack helicopters and 15 Chinook heavylift choppers and a $750-million deal for 145 ultra-light howitzers (M777) from the US. The Defence Acquisition Council also gave the green light to several key projects including 420 air defence guns for Rs. 16,900 crore, 814 artillery guns for Rs. 15,750 crore and 118 Arjun Mk-II tanks for Rs. 6,600 crore.

Critical Gaps which Need to be Plugged. Notwithstanding the above deals, critical gaps still need to be addressed, ranging from bullet-proof vests, assault rifles and carbines for the infantry, minesweepers, light helicopters for the three services, equipment for special forces and submarines being some of the important types equipment which need to be inducted/replaced and we know that decisions taken even today will imply that the equipment will start coming in only five years later and ‘Make in India’ projects will take even longer to fructify.

Surgical Strikes

On June 10, 2015, India’s Special Forces carried a cross-border raid in Myanmar against Naga militant camps inflicting heavy causalties as a retaliation to the NSCN-K ambush on Indian Army convoy of 6 Dogra which killed 18 soldiers. Similarly on night of September 28/29, 2016, Indian Army carried out surgical strikes at seven areas in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and inflicted heavy casualties on terrorists and Pakistan military preparing to cross over to India. The army’s cross-border operation came after 19 soldiers were killed in an attack on an army base in Kashmir’s Uri sector that India blames on terrorists who crossed from the Pakistani territory. The surgical strikes demonstrated India’s hardened military resolve to the world. Parrikar said last year’s surgical strikes against terror pads in PoK had injected uncertainty into the neighbour’s mind. Thus Parrikar’s term saw India not only carry out surgical strikes in Myanmar and PoK and but also claim political ownership of the targeted operations. The daring move won accolades from political leaders and civil society alike.

Effects of Surgical Strikes. Pakistani terror tanzims have not stopped their infiltration into the Kashmir Valley to carry out terror strikes which are continuing and therefore the government will have to ensure effective defensive and offensive measures including the use of modern technological aids to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their efforts.

Indo-US Strategic Partnership

India and the United States have signed an important logistics agreement that will enable forces of both the countries to use each other’s bases for repair and replenishment of supplies. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Defence Minister Parrikar formally signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) on August 29, 2016. It has been specially drafted and designed for India due to the apprehensions expressed by the Indian Government regarding the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) which has been signed by nearly 100 countries some of who are seen as close military allies of the US. The LSA failed to pass muster with the two previous UPA regimes and even the Modi government, on taking over, was sensitive to its content. Parrikar’s term witnessed the signing of this long-pending agreement with the US.

Parrikar’s personal rapport with his then US counterpart Ash Carter played a key role in broadening the scope of Indo-US defence cooperation

Future Agreements. The LEMOA is one of the three foundational agreements proposed by the US more than a decade ago for tailoring a more robust strategic partnership. There’s been no progress on the other two: the communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement (CISMOA) that will allow India to access CISMOA-controlled secure equipment and the basic exchange and cooperation agreement (BECA) for exchange of geospatial information such as maps, charts, imagery and other data for digital mapping. Parrikar’s personal rapport with his then US counterpart Ash Carter played a key role in broadening the scope of Indo-US defence cooperation.

The Size and Shape of the India’s Military Machine

With dwindling defence budgets, Parrikar was determined to see how the MoD could cut down on superfluous manpower so as to reduce the revenue budgets and utilise the defence budgets more effectively. An 11-member panel, headed by Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (Retd), was appointed by the government to enhance the combat potential of the armed forces and rebalancing defence expenditure. The committee has recommended a number of measures to trim, redeploy and integrate manpower under the Ministry of Defence in a gradual manner to meet the objective of an agile but effective military to meet current and future threats that India faces. The report which was submitted on December 21, 2016, is being studied by the government. The panel prepared the report by taking into account the existing models of workforces and budgets of leading militaries, including China’s People’s Liberation Army, for a comparative analysis.

Implementation. While a large number of reports are prepared, very few are implemented fully. With the move of Parrikar to Goa it remains to be seen as what would be the future of this report.

Pay Revision

The Seventh Central Pay Commission for the services has not been implemented after the Service Chiefs had met the Prime Minister to apprise him of the anomalies that existed and needed resolution and the carryover of anomalies of the Sixth Pay Commission which had not been resolved. The issue is being looked into by the anomalies committee and there is growing resentment among the services over the delay. Presently the Services are being paid 10 per cent increase over the current salaries. This issue needs to be sorted out at the earliest.

Appointment of a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC COSC) /CDS

Parrikar was very keen that this reform, pending from the Group of Ministers recommendations following the Kargil War, should be implemented at the earliest so to ensure a single-point military advice and this additional four star general is vital not only for providing single-point military advise to the government but also to usher in synergy vertically and horizontally between the three Services to ensure greater jointness and integration gradually and build military capability on basis of an overall tri service plan of action rather than single service plans.

Defence Budgets

One of the areas that Parrikar has not been able to render assistance is in the budget allocations for defence. It is a fact that the share of the revenue expenditure in the total defence budget has been increasing over the years. The increase is primarily due to the hike in the manpower cost of the armed forces, which accounts for over 83 per cent (or Rs. 11,071 crore) of the overall growth of Rs. 13,291 crore in the defence budget 2017-18. It is significant to note that the manpower driven defence budget is not unique to the current budget. In the last several years, it has been a recurring feature with a debilitating effect on two vital elements of the defence budget, namely revenue stores and capital modernisation which together play a vital role in the operational preparedness of the armed forces. The combined share of these two elements has declined from 55 per cent in 2007-08 to 40 per cent in 2016-17. This does not augur well, especially when there exists a huge void in India’s defence preparedness, and the armed forces have grave shortages in many areas ranging from ammunition, assault rifles, bullet-proof jackets, night-fighting devices to howitzers, missiles, helicopters, fighters and warships. Needless to say that for a credible defence preparedness, the present ratio needs to change for better for which allocation under revenue stores and capital modernisation needs to be augmented substantially.

The above mentioned issues are some of the most important aspects which the new Defence Minister will have to look into and resolve at the earliest so as to ensure the development of a robust military capability to preclude threats to our national security.

The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.