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Work In Progress

The new year will see the implementation of the modernisation and restructuring activities started by the Indian Armed Forces in the year gone.

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There is plenty that happened in India’s defence sector which set the tone for the New Year. While the Indian government moved quickly to create the post of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and then fill it with outgoing Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Army came up with the concept of Integrated Battle Group (IBG) besides its highly specialized Mountain Division, both of which will see further refinement over 2020. For Indian Air Force and Navy, their thrust on modernization is expected to put the focus on timely procurement during 2020. Here is what you can expect in 2020 from India’s defence sector:

The asymmetrical warfare and the new doctrinal shift

The attack on the Saudi oil facility using a tiny drone or a swarm of drones is going to become the norm in the absence of conventional future battlefield. The thrust on such advance technologies under the Internet of the Battle Things -- drones, anti-drones, robotics, the artificial intelligence, quantum etc. must seep into the overarching doctrine. The doctrinal assimilation of such reality in theory and practice must be at the core of India’s defence architecture and that is the great expectation in 2020.

Joint-ness in spirit & structure

Addressing the core issue of joint-ness is the Headquarters of the Integrated Defence Staff, the Andaman Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command where the three services work together. While the expectation from the current army chief is to turn IBG into real formations on the ground, the integration of the infantry, artillery, armoured personnel and combat engineers at the division level are expected to take the shape of 5-6 IBGs. With the first Chief of the Defence Staff already in place, the services are expected to formulate a cohesive plan to focus on joint training and operations, to implement jointmanship between the forces. The seamless coordination among the three services for cyber, space and special forces will be critical at a time when information warfare that targets economic security of the nation is becoming the norm.

The procurement and the process

India is on track to become a $26 billion defence industry by 2025. But issues relating to indigenisation, streamlining of procurement of equipment and the role of private industry in defence remain. India’s defence procurement process as outlined in Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 amounts to nothing when it comes to the real exchanges among the industry, Ministry of Defence and forces as the end-user.

Quicker trials of equipment and skilled technical officers to streamline the process on the ground are expected without much ado. According to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, $10 billion investment in aerospace and defence goods and services is expected by 2025, which could provide employment to 2-3 million people. A robust mechanism to drive self-reliance in defence through the five Is — Identification, Incubation, Innovation, Integ ration and Indigenisation — must be pursued in mission mode. Else, the import bill and shrinking revenue will pose challenges for the Indian Armed Forces and their modernisation.

Defence budget

The current budgetary system of allocation for defence is inadequate for large scale procurements. Capital allocation out of the total defence budget only takes care of the committed liabilities. And certainly, the amount is not enough to make new purchases. The Indian air Force is looking at a Rs 1.5 lakh crore deal for manufacturing 114 multirole fighter aircraft which is also seen as a critical step for developing indigenous aerospace ecosystem. The IAF is looking to replace ageing MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27 fighter planes, some of which have already been phased out while others are on their way out in the next few years. Squadron replacement must be on priority and duly accommodated in budgetary allocation. The Navy is pursuing the project of P 75 (I) submarines and Naval Utility Helicopters. Its Long Term Capability Plan envisages induction of three aircraft carriers so that two carrier battle groups (CBGs) are available for dispersed deployments in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) at all times. The broad contours of IAC 2, to be constructed in India as a 65,000 tonne CATOBAR carrier with electric propulsion, have already been planned. The CDS has to navigate through such challenges immediately and meet the expectation as the next budget is underway.

R&D in defence

India’s sole research & development agency DRDO’s capital allocation is mere 6 per cent of the total defence budget, and that also includes the cost of maintenance and other administrative expenditure. This is grossly inadequate, especially when the need should be for financial commitment to the Technology Perspective and Capability Road map (TPCR) after deliberations between the scientists and the defence services. Since no nation gives away its cutting-edge technology, the government should treat DRDO as number one priority. But what is allocated in the defence budget for DRDO is far less than desired. At 6 per cent of the total budget (Rs 18,000 crore), it halts many futuristic programmes. The expectation is to bring focus on DRDO’s budget, expertise and capability building in entirety, not the ‘fit & forget model’.