A Pragmatic Experiment : Defence Planning Committee

Through an executive order issued in late-April 2018, the government constituted a Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the chairmanship of the National Security Advisor (NSA). In view of the increasing threats and challenges to national security, the primary responsibility of the DPC will be to periodically undertake a Strategic Defence Review and draft India’s National Security Strategy (NSS) for approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

Other aspects of the DPC’s charter include oversight on major issues pertaining to defence procurement, guidance on defence diplomacy, and strategy to boost defence exports. Besides the army, navy and air force Chiefs, members of the DPC will include the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and the Defence, Home, Finance and Foreign Secretaries. The composition of the DPC makes it a high-level empowered committee for national security issues requiring inter-ministerial and inter-departmental coordination and the resolution of contentious issues.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that the DPC may be expected to make is in the field of defence planning. For many decades defence planning in India has been marked by knee jerk reactions to emerging situations and haphazard single-Service growth. With projected expenditure of US$ 12 to 15 billion on military modernisation over the next five years, it is now being realised that force structures must be configured on a tri-Service, long-term basis.

The absence of a clearly enunciated national security strategy, poor civil-military relations, the inability to commit funds for modernisation beyond the current financial year and sub-optimal inter-Service prioritisation, have handicapped defence planning. Consequently, the defence planning process has failed to produce the most effective force structure and force mix based on carefully drawn up long-term priorities.

Reforms after Kargil Conflict

After the Kargil conflict of 1999, the CCS approved several reforms based on the recommendations of a Group of Ministers (GoM). Headquarters (HQ) Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) was established with representation from all the Services. The erstwhile DG DPS was merged in it. The need to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), whose tasks include inter-Services prioritisation of defence plans and improvement in jointmanship among the three Services, was accepted. However, a CDS is yet to be appointed.

A tri-Service Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) was established under the COSC for strategic threat assessments. Speedy decision making, enhanced transparency and accountability were sought to be brought into defence acquisitions by constituting the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by the Defence Minister. Implementation of the decisions of the DAC was assigned to the Defence Procurement Board (DPB). The process for defence procurement was streamlined and the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP 2002) was formally announced.

Perspective Planning

It is now being increasingly realised that a Defence Plan must be prepared on the basis of a 15-year perspective plan. The first five years of the plan should be very firm (Definitive Plan), the next five years may be relatively less firm but should be clear in direction (Indicative Plan), and the last five years should be tentative (Vision Plan). A reasonably firm allocation of financial resources for the first five years and an indicative allocation for the subsequent period is a pre-requisite.

Perspective planning must not continue to be single-Service oriented in its conceptual framework; it must become tri-Service in approach. It must be undertaken by HQ IDS under the guidance of the CDS. Military, technical and R&D experts must take an integrated view of future threats and challenges, forecast the future battlefield milieu, evaluate strategic options and analyse potential technological and industrial capabilities. Issues like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, air defence, cyber and electronic warfare and amphibious operations, which are common to all the Services, must get adequate attention.

Major Anomalies

While efforts have been made to improve defence planning and suitable structural changes have been instituted within the MoD, implementation of the process continues to be tardy. The CCS, chaired by the PM, meets as often as necessary to review emerging situations with adverse impact on national security so as to issue suitable policy directives. However, the National Security Council (NSC), also chaired by the PM, whose charter it is to evolve an integrated national security strategy and provide guidance for long-term defence planning, seldom meets.

Five-year defence plans are rarely accorded formal government approval. The Thirteenth Defence Plan (2017-22), that began on April 1, 2017, is yet to be approved. Funding for each year of five-year defence plans is never committed in advance. The vagaries of annual defence budgets add an element of uncertainty to the planning process. Unutilised funds continue to lapse at the end of the financial year.

 

The failure to appoint an empowered CDS is a glaring anomaly. The COSC works on the basis of consensus and is unable to agree on inter-Service priorities for force structuring and modernisation as every Service wants a larger share of the pie. In the absence of a formally articulated national security strategy, the three Services HQ make their own assumptions of the likely military strategy for future wars and plan their force structures accordingly. Consequently, the LTIPP is integrated merely in name and is actually only a compilation of single-Service plans.

 

Despite the much-trumpeted reform in the procurement process, the acquisition of new weapons and equipment by the armed forces is still mired in red tape – both within the Services and the bureaucracy. There is a dichotomy between the time consuming quest for technological self-reliance and the desire of the Services to import arms and equipment based on immediate operational exigencies. The disconnect in the interface between R&D, production agencies and users remains unresolved. As a result, ‘make’ or ‘buy’ decisions are still contentious and DRDO projects continue to be delayed with consequent cost overruns.


Defence planning in India is marked by ad hoc decision making to tide over immediate national security challenges; long-term planning continues to be neglected. A fluid strategic environment, rapid advances in defence technology, the need for the judicious allocation of scarce budgetary resources, long lead times required for creating futuristic forces and the requirement of synergising plans for defence and development, make long-term defence planning a demanding exercise. The recently constituted DPC could make a substantive contribution.

The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.