'Defence contracts of Rs 90,000 cr signed'

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has just completed one year in office, has given a free hand to the army to act pro-actively in response to cease-fire violations on the LoC. He convinced the Cabinet Committee on Security to launch a raid on insurgent camps across the border with Myanmar. The minister worked closely with the leadership of the armed forces and the bureaucracy to put defence preparedness back on the rails and give a fillip to the stalled process of military modernisation.

In an interview with Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (rtd), former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, Parrikar commented on the adequacy of the defence budget, the state of military modernisation, his emphasis on defence procurement as well as defence reforms, including the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), and the need for a comprehensive national security strategy. Excerpts:

Are you satisfied with the response of the army to cease-fire violations on the LoC? Is it sufficiently pro-active to act as a deterrent to the Pakistan army to stop aiding and abetting infiltration? What additional measures, if any, are necessary?

Compared with the past, the response has been more pro-active. However, we need to improve the acquisition of intelligence further to ensure that infiltration attempts are checkmated at source.

How do you rate the present state of defence preparedness and how do you intend to proceed to enhance it further?

The present state of defence preparedness is satisfactory. However, the same needs to be enhanced further by improving the equipment status using the latest IT tools and improved training methods.

You have taken several pragmatic measures to give a fillip to military modernisation. However, while a large number of defence acquisition projects have been approved in principle, relatively only few contracts have been actually signed. How do you propose to rectify this?

It is not correct to say that contracts signed are few in number. In fact, we have already signed contracts worth around Rs 90,000 crore during the past year while acquisition plans worth around Rs 1,00,000 crore are at final (Competent Financial Authority) stage of approval and are expected to be signed in the next six months. 

It should be realised that contracts signed have two important factors to be taken into consideration. Firstly, the financial provisions available during the current year and next five years – the contract period after taking into consideration committed liabilities; and, secondly, the urgency or priority accorded to the acquisition.

The defence budget has slipped to 1.74 per cent of India's GDP. This low level of funding leaves little in the kitty for major modernisation projects. How do you plan to ensure that the level of funding for military modernisation is increased so that the pace gathers steam?

While increasing funding will definitely help and is one of the issues of priority, utilising the available resources efficiently and critically is equally important. I intend to ensure that expenditure incurred on modernisation is utilised efficiently and judiciously. Further, improving indigenisation can, in the medium and long run, be less costly, if managed properly.

While the Defence Procurement Procedure is under revision, other defence reforms continue to languish. For example, a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has not yet been appointed. How do you plan to implement much needed defence reforms?

All aspects of defence modernisation and reforms are being actively pursued. This includes the appointment of CDS. 

India still does not have a comprehensively formulated National Security Strategy. Does the Cabinet Committee on Security intend to rectify this lacuna? Do you intend to personally work towards the formulation of such a strategy?

The formulation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy is receiving my attention as it is one of the important aspects of the country’s defence.