Coming on the heels of India’s military operations against Pakistan-based terrorists, the defence ministry has approved the first batch of reforms in the army. This includes ‘flattening’ the army’s headquarters in Delhi and relocating 229 officers to operational posts, creating a new post of deputy chief for military operations and strategic planning, and setting up new wings for vigilance and human rights issues. Additionally, a new information warfare wing is being created keeping in mind future battlefield realities.
All of these are welcome moves as the country’s military desperately needs modernisation, both in terms of structure and hardware acquisition. Structurally, integration and joint commands ought to be the buzzwords. We need a leaner army with a better teeth-to-tail ratio. But in order to achieve this, the over 12.5 lakh-strong army needs to shed around 1.5 lakh personnel over the next six to seven years. This in turn will translate into a saving of around Rs 7,000 crore annually in revenue expenditure. After all, the budget for weapons modernisation remains tight even as the nature of warfare itself has changed – where technology, not manpower, is slated to play a bigger role in battles of the future.
In this regard, it’s welcome that government last year notified rules to enable joint theatre commands bringing together the three services. We should push ahead in this direction setting aside turf wars. There is urgent need for the creation of a chief of defence staff to move along a combined tri-service architecture. On the defence acquisition front, procedures need to be streamlined to dramatically reduce the timeframe between request for proposal and induction. Inordinate delays are seriously jeopardising our defence preparedness as evidenced by the acute shortage of fighter squadrons in the air force.
In the recent air skirmishes with Pakistan, IAF had to field ageing MiG-21 Bisons against superior F-16s. This is when our MiGs have been crashing in routine peace-time operations for years. The gap in hardware quality simply won’t do. We need bipartisan parliamentary committee oversight over defence acquisitions to speed up the process, and simultaneously build a robust indigenous military-industrial complex involving the private sector to churn out state-of-the-art weapons platforms. China is already on a military modernisation overdrive, slashing its army numbers by three lakh troops and investing in weapons platforms of the future. India shouldn’t lag behind.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.