Parrikar prioritiesFrom procurement to production,

Almost six months after being sworn in, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally appointed a full-time defence minister. As chief minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar was known for his dedication, competence, decisiveness and integrity. These are just the qualities he will need to give a fresh impetus to defence preparedness and military modernisation.
The foremost item on Parrikar's agenda should be to address the 'critical hollowness' in defence preparedness pointed out by General V.K. Singh in his letter to the prime minister in March 2012. Large-scale deficiencies in various munitions and frontline equipment have degraded readiness for war and the ability to sustain operations over anticipated time periods. The Army reportedly has some varieties of ammunition for barely 10 days of conflict and it will cost Rs.19,000 crore to replenish stocks.
Modern wars are fought mostly during the hours of darkness, but most infantry battalions and many armoured fighting vehicles-tanks and infantry combat vehicles- are still 'night blind'. Warships, submarines, fighter aircraft, light helicopters, artillery guns, ground-based air defence, command and control, surveillance and reconnaissance systems are either held in inadequate numbers or are bordering on obsolescence. There are 'operational voids' (shortfalls) in the war establishment of the three services. For example, several army corps do not have independent artillery brigades authorised to them. All of these shortcomings must be made up early to optimise combat efficiency.
Cicero said many centuries ago, 'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?' Unlike other major democracies, India does not have a clearly articulated national security strategy. The defence minister should take the lead in acting as the driving force for the formulation of a comprehensive national security strategy that includes internal security and non-traditional threats such as cyber warfare. The exercise must be inter-ministerial, inter-departmental and inter-agency in approach and should be preceded by a strategic defence review to take stock of future threats and a net assessment of the military capabilities of adversaries.
Among the long-pending structural reforms that require the minister's immediate attention, the most important issue is the appointment of a chief of defence staff. The next step should be to reorganise the present single-service commands into tri-service integrated theatre commands for the 'joint' formulation and execution of operational plans.
The 12th Defence Plan (2012-17), now in its third year, and the ongoing Long-term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP 2007-22) have not been formally approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans rather than being based on prioritised long-term plans that are designed to enhance India's combat potential.
The modernisation of the armed forces has been stagnating due to inadequacy of funds, a low defence technology base, the blacklisting of defence manufacturers and paralysis in decision-making. There are many systemic flaws in the procurement procedures despite the compilation and issue of new manuals such as the Defence Procurement Procedure and the Defence Production Policy. The Government must relinquish its monopoly on defence research and development and should gradually move away from its excessive reliance on the public sector for defence production. The national aim should be to make India a design, development, manufacturing and export hub for weapons systems and defence equipment in conjunction with India's strategic partners.
Financial management too needs improvement. The defence budget has dipped below 1.8 per cent of India's GDP. This is inadequate for military modernisation. The annual defence expenditure of China and Pakistan is 2.5 and 3.5 per cent of their GDP, respectively. India's defence budget should be raised to 3 per cent. Also, quite inexplicably, budgetary allocations for defence continue to be surrendered year after year. The Government should set up a rolling, non-lapsable defence modernisation fund of Rs.1 lakh crore.
Finally, a National Security Commission must be appointed to review the inadequacies in defence preparedness and military modernisation. It should make pragmatic recommendations to gradually enhance combat capabilities-lest the country has to face yet another military debacle.
The writer is former director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi