National security strategy is fundamental

India faces complex threats and challenges spanning the full spectrum of conflict from nuclear to sub-conventional. These include unresolved territorial disputes with neighbours, insurgency, left wing extremism and urban terrorism. Despite prolonged exposure in dealing with multifarious challenges, India’s national security is poorly managed. The foremost requirement is formulating a comprehensive national security strategy.
South Asia is the second most unstable region in the world and is closely following West Asia in the race for the number one spot. Among the world’s major democracies, India faces the most complex threats and challenges spanning the full spectrum of conflict from nuclear to sub-conventional. Unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states, rising tide of left wing extremism and the growing spectre of urban terrorism have vitiated India’s security environment. Despite the prolonged exposure that the security establishment has had in dealing with multifarious challenges, India’s national security is poorly managed. 
The first and foremost requirement for improving national security management is for the government to formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), that also covers internal security. The NSS should be formulated after carrying out an inter-departmental, inter-agency, multi-disciplinary strategic defence review. Such a review must take the public into confidence and not be conducted behind closed doors. Like in most other democracies, the NSS should be signed by prime minister, who is the head of government, and it must be placed before Parliament and be released as a public document. Only then will various stakeholders be compelled to take ownership of the strategy and work unitedly to achieve its aims and objectives. 
It has clearly emerged that China poses the most potent military threat to India and, given the nuclear, missile and military hardware nexus between China and Pakistan, future conventional conflict in Southern Asia could be a two-front war. Therefore, India’s military strategy of dissuasion against China must be gradually upgraded to deterrence. Genuine deterrence comes only from the capability to launch and sustain major offensive operations into the adversary’s territory. India needs to raise new divisions to carry the next war deep into Tibet. Since maneuvers are not possible due to the restrictions imposed by the difficult mountainous terrain, firepower capabilities need to be enhanced by an order of magnitude, especially in terms of precision-guided munitions. This will involve substantial upgradation of ground-based (artillery guns, rockets and missiles) and aerially-delivered (fighter-bomber aircraft and attack helicopters) firepower. Only then will it be possible to achieve future military objectives. 
The armed forces are now at the cusp of the fifth and final year of the 11th Defence Plan (2007-12) and it has not yet been formally approved by the government. The government has also not approved the long-term integrated perspective plan (LTIPP 2007-22) formulated by HQ Integrated Defence Staff. Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans, rather than being based on carefully prioritised long-term plans that are designed to systematically enhance India’s combat potential. These are serious lacunae, as effective defence planning cannot be undertaken in a policy void. 
The government must commit itself to supporting long-term defence plans or else defence modernisation will continue to lag and the present quantitative military gap with China’s People’s Liberation Army will become a qualitative gap as well in 10 to 15 years. This can be done only by making the dormant National Security Council a pro-active policy formulation body for long term national security planning. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) only deals with current and near term threats and challenges and reacts to emergent situations. 
The defence procurement decision-making process must be speeded up. The army is still without towed and self-propelled 155mm howitzers for the plains and the mountains and urgently needs to acquire weapons and equipment for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The navy has been waiting long for INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) aircraft carrier, which is being refurbished in a Russian shipyard at exorbitant cost. Construction of the indigenous air defence ship is lagging behind schedule. 
The plans of the air force to acquire 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft in order to maintain its edge over the regional air forces are also stuck in the procurement quagmire. All three services need a large number of light helicopters. India’s nuclear forces require the Agni-III missile and nuclear powered submarines with suitable ballistic missiles to acquire genuine deterrent capability. The armed forces do not have a truly integrated C4I2SR system suitable for modern network-centric warfare, which will allow them to optimise their individual capabilities. 
All of these high-priority acquisitions will require extensive budgetary support. With the defence budget languishing at less than two per cent of India’s GDP – compared with China’s 3.5 per cent and Pakistan’s 4.5 per cent plus US military aid – it will not be possible for the armed forces to undertake any meaningful modernisation in the foreseeable future. Leave aside genuine military modernisation that will substantially enhance combat capabilities, the funds available on the capital account at present are inadequate to suffice even for the replacement of obsolete weapons systems and equipment that are still in service well beyond their useful life cycles. The central police and para-military forces also need to be modernised as they are facing increasingly more potent threats while being equipped with obsolescent weapons. 
The government must also immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to provide single-point advice to the CCS on military matters. Any further delay in this key structural reform in higher defence management on the grounds of the lack of political consensus and the inability of the armed forces to agree on the issue will be extremely detrimental to India’s interests in the light of the dangerous developments taking place in India’s neighbourhood. The logical next step would be to constitute tri-service integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities and the combat potential of individual services. It is time to set up tri-service aerospace and cyber commands to meet emerging challenges in these fields. International experience shows that such reform has to be imposed from the top down and can never work if the government keeps waiting for it to come about from the bottom up. 
The softer issues that do not impinge immediately on planning and preparation for meeting national security challenges must never be ignored as these can have adverse repercussions on the morale of the officers and men in uniform in the long term. The numerous anomalies created by the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report must be speedily resolved. In fact, the ham-handed handling of this issue has led to a dangerous “them versus us” civil-military divide and the government must make it a priority to bridge this gap quickly. 
The ex-servicemen too have had a raw deal and have been surrendering their medals and holding fasts for justice to get justice for their legitimate demand of “one rank-one pension”. One rank-one pension is an idea whose time has come and it must be implemented without further delay and without appointing any more committees of bureaucrats to look into the issue. While a Department of Ex-servicemen’s Welfare has been created in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in keeping with the UPA’s Common Minimum Programme, till recently there wasn’t a single ex-Serviceman in it. Such measures do not generate confidence among serving soldiers and retired veterans in the civilian leadership. Finally, rather unbelievably, India is still without a National War Memorial. 
Priority Measures 
Formulate a comprehensive National Security Strategy (NSS), after undertaking a strategic defence review. 
Approve LTIPP 2007-22, the long-term integrated perspective plan of the armed forces, and the ongoing Defence Plan 2007-12, now in its fourth year. 
The defence budget must be enhanced to 3.0 per cent of the GDP for meaningful defence modernisation and for upgrading the present military strategy of dissuasion to deterrence against China. 
The long-pending defence procurement plans such as artillery modernisation, the acquisition of modern fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers, warships and submarines must be hastened. 
Modernisation plans of the central paramilitary and police forces must also be given the attention that they deserve. 
The government must immediately appoint a Chief of Defence Staff to head the defence planning function and provide single point advice on military matters to the Cabinet Committee on Security. 
Anomalies created by the Sixth Pay Commission have led to a civil-military divide and must be redressed early, including acceptance of the ex-Servicemen’s legitimate demand for one rank-one pension. 
A national War Memorial must be constructed at a suitable high-visibility spot in New Delhi to honour the memory of all those soldiers, sailors and airmen who have made the supreme sacrifice in the service of India. 
The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.