“In the field of defence, there are a lot of inter-related areas, so you cannot operate in watertight compartments” said Maroof Raza, media commentator on military and security issues.
He was moderating a workshop, titled “Defense Modernisation in India: Policies, Commands and Capabilities”, which saw distinguished panellists addressing thematic issues relating to defence modernisation in India.
The workshop was organised by CUTS International under the Defence News Conclave Project, being implemented with the support of the US State Department (US Consulate Kolkata).
This project aims at creating awareness about the importance of India-US defence relations, particularly in the context of contemporary developments in the Indo-Pacific region.
Amit Cowshish, partner, Dua Associates and former financial advisor (acquisition), ministry of defence, observed that it was time to focus more on the outcomes of defence budgets in India, rather than looking at them only through the prism of allocation and utilisation.
In his opinion, there is a need to restructure Indian defence budgets to make them more result-oriented, in order to match aspirations with execution. Innovations like a system for managing committed liabilities were important areas for defence finance reform which he flagged.
Cowshish also noted that there was “no cut-and-dried policy on Atmanirbharta”, and the stated aspiration of self-reliance in defence relied more on a series of disjointed policies put together.
On greater cooperation between Services Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence, he noted that while there had been many calls for deeper integration between the two, there was not much clarity on the modalities of such integration.
Manvendra Singh, former Member of Parliament and Chairman, Soldier Welfare Advisory Committee, Rajasthan, emphasised the need for India to have a coherent National Security Strategy.
On jointness and integration of military commands, he noted the need to adopt a bottom-up approach, starting with joint planning by the services.
He suggested the creation of a Joint Logistics Command as a first step towards greater synergy, before moving to joint operational commands.
Singh also said that given the continuously evolving nature of security challenges, it was not pragmatic to set benchmarks for defence spending. On civilian-military relations, he observed the need for greater two-way conversations between the armed forces, the Parliament, and the defense bureaucracy.
Singh also touched upon non-traditional security challenges, including climate change, which the armed forces would have to respond to dynamically.
Capt Anubha Rathaur spoke about her experiences in a forward field posting during the Kargil conflict.
She shared the challenges that are generally faced by women officers in such field postings. Rathaur noted the role of limited indigenous defence production during that period, highlighting the shortages of spares, ammunition, armour, and even mosquito nets, which their units encountered.
She accordingly recognised the immense potential of defence indigenisation in contributing to India’s overall defence preparedness.
On the representation of women in the armed forces, she observed that logistical challenges were always cited as grounds against appointing women officers to forward posts.
This needed to change, and all such logistical challenges should have been addressed before the expanded induction of women officers into the armed forces was announced.
Cmde. Anil Jai Singh also stated that a National Security Strategy is an imperative for warfare in the 21st century.
In the absence of such strategic guidance, there was no real basis on which India was undertaking structural reforms in the military.
He also cautioned India against aping other countries’ security strategies, and emphasised the need to craft our own model, taking into account the multi-dimensional kinetic and non-kinetic challenges.
Jai Singh observed the challenges that accompanied procuring defence equipment following standard competitive bidding models.
He highlighted the example of equipment purchased from different Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which led to operational, maintenance and training challenges.
He also laid out the importance of India making early decisions on its collaborations for nuclear-powered attack submarines, in order to meet its goal of being a pre-eminent blue water power in the Indian Ocean.
This would align with India being recognised as a preferred security partner in the Indo-Pacific region by major powers like the US
The virtual session saw enthusiastic participation, with over fifty participants joining to hear experts deliberate on these issues.
This was the third of a series of such workshops, which have been conceptualised as capacity-building sessions for media professionals, so that they can have a more informed view of defense and strategic matters.
With its headquarters in Jaipur, India, CUTS International has regional centres in Accra, Lusaka and Nairobi covering West, Southern and East Africa.
Besides them, it has centres in Hanoi, Geneva and Washington DC. In India, it has a regional centre in Kolkata, a rural development centre in Chittorgarh and a liaison office in New Delhi.