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Thursday, 30 April 2015

From Today's Papers - 30 Apr 2015

In defence, time for tough decisions
 Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar, the government’s first and incumbent Defence Ministers, respectively, perhaps hoped that the pitiful record of their predecessor A.K. Antony, India’s longest continuously serving Defence Minister, would make their task easier. Instead, it’s been quite the opposite. Mr. Parrikar seems to have spent the last several months cleaning up what he insists is a fiscal and policy mess bequeathed to the government and overlooked by Mr. Jaitley, who was, for a brief period, wearing two hats as Finance and Defence Minister. But is Mr. Parrikar leaving the place tidier than he found it, or laying down an unhelpful legacy of his own? Three areas are worth looking at more closely: the slashing of the much advertised 17 Corps, the country’s first mountain strike force; the sudden re-jigging of a deal to purchase France’s Rafale fighter aircraft; and, most importantly, the vexed question of reforming India’s military command.

Two years ago, the previous Congress-led government announced the raising of 17 Corps, which, unlike 1, 2, and 21, would be directed at China rather than Pakistan, and therefore configured for mountain warfare. It would consist of two infantry divisions, three artillery brigades, three armoured brigades, and a host of supporting land and air units. Mountain units aren’t as mobile as those that fight in the plains, and so require plentiful airlift, particularly helicopters and light artillery. The 17 Corps would be large, with around 80,000 men, and expensive, costing well over $10 billion, $1.2 billion of which would have to be spent annually till the early 2020s. To put that in perspective, the Indian Army’s entire allocation for 2015-16 is $16 billion. As Mr. Parrikar asked, “Where is the money?”

Two out of three

Mr. Parrikar’s response has been to more than halve the size of 17 Corps to just 35,000 men, and to propose that the Army take a long, hard look at its current strike corps and other Pakistan-facing units. This will have mixed results. On the one hand, loudly raising new units on paper and then quietly slashing them sends a signal of weakness, even fecklessness, to your adversaries. Critics will accuse Mr. Parrikar of gutting India’s modest offensive capability against China even before it got off the ground. On the other hand, downsizing creates an opportunity to ensure that the pruned 17 Corps can now actually afford the equipment and supporting platforms it needs if it is to be combat-effective. It is better to have a smaller and more potent force than a large and flabby one.

Mr. Parrikar can turn this decision into an opportunity, but only if he focusses on explaining his intentions rather than on blaming previous governments.

The second choice, one in which Mr. Parrikar seems to have been largely uninvolved, is India’s decision this month to purchase 36 French Rafale fighters, multirole aircraft that can defend the skies and strike targets on the ground, in so-called “flyaway” condition. The catch is that India originally wanted to buy 126 aircraft, and was using the leverage of such a large order to negotiate a substantial transfer of technology to India. Although the idea goes back years, it dovetailed perfectly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative. It now seems that India effectively blinked. Nothing is to be made in India and everything will be imported. In the last three years, Indian arms imports have grown 56 per cent. This government is close to failing its first serious test at addressing that trend.

The deal also places a huge question mark over where the remaining 90 aircraft, required to keep the Air Force at reasonable strength, will come from. Mr. Parrikar has suggested, almost off-hand, that India might buy another light, single-engine fighter to supplement the indigenous Tejas, as part of the process of replacing the ageing MiG-21. This could include the Swedish Gripen NG fighter jet, a cheaper but attractive aircraft that lost out to Rafale earlier. But this throws up fresh problems. First, it would increase the variety of aircraft in the Air Force inventory, something that has been an issue since the 1990s, which increases the burden on training and maintenance. Second, it’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges: the Gripen and Rafale have different strengths and weaknesses, so the optimal balance between them would depend entirely on the kind of Air Force India wants to develop. Without some public statement that clarifies India’s defence posture, it’s hard to judge whether Mr. Parrikar is following a carefully thought-out plan or, more likely, improvising. Mr. Parrikar has justified the deal by calling it “oxygen relief” for the Air Force, but short-term impulsive buys will generate problems down the line.

As the British politican Nigel Lawson once observed, “To govern is to choose. To appear to be unable to choose is to appear to be unable to govern”. The government’s decisions on both the mountain strike corps and Rafale are bold choices, even if it’s unclear whether they are good ones. But in a third area, the government has not chosen at all.

Wanted: unified services chief

It is widely accepted that India’s civil-military relations and higher defence management are unfit to meet the needs of a rising, ambitious power in the top tier of Asian military forces. Successive government-appointed committees stretching back decades, and innumerable experts have made it clear that India’s three services must be stitched together with a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or equivalent post, sitting above the three service chiefs, who would be capable of giving the government coherent advice on military matters and imposing unity of purpose on the Army, Air Force, and Navy. As the scholar Anit Mukherjee wrote this month, “Left to themselves, they have not even been able to agree on training their musicians together, let alone pooling resources for joint training and logistics”.

In mid-March, Mr. Parrikar candidly acknowledged that “integration of the three forces does not exist in the existing structure”, and promised that “in the next two to three months my Cabinet note with the recommendation for a CDS will go to the Cabinet Committee on Security for the final decision”. He added that “a CDS is a must”. This is extremely promising, but caution is in order. If the Minister is serious, he should draw on the wealth of studies and recommendations produced by past committees to set out his vision for defence reforms. Every past effort has foundered on political and bureaucratic opposition. If Mr. Parrikar does not wish to go down as yet another Minister who raised expectations and fell well short, this is the time to take his commitment seriously. If he gets this decision right, it will be remembered long after the Rafale is retired.
Supreme Court irked over Army following two promotion policies
The Supreme Court on Wednesday took strong note of the Army following two promotion policies saying how could the Chief of Army Staff defy government order.

The court's observation came when the counsel for Ministry of Defence said that the Centre had approved the new "command exit promotion" policy but all the vacancies were not filled up by Army under this policy and some were done under pro rata basis also. "Whether the government took any exception to it? How could the Chief of Army Staff defy the government order," a bench of justices T S Thakur and R Banumathi asked.
"What exceptions you took," it further asked, adding how can the Army, on its own, fill up certain vacancies under pro rata basis.

Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh, appearing for the Defence Ministry, said that the Centre had approved the new promotion policy, which has been quashed by the Armed Forces Tribunal, meant for officers of the rank of Colonel and above from January, 2009. "Where is the government order? Where is the acceptance of the government. Show us the letter or acceptance of the Prime Minister or 'Raksha Mantri'," the bench said, adding, "we want to satisfy ourselves. We will give you the fullest opportunity".

The ASG then referred to the records to buttress the point that the 'command exit' promotion policy has been approved. The court then adjourned the hearing in the matter. Earlier, the court had asked the Centre to file its response as to whether it had approved the Army's "command exit promotion" policy or not.

It had also asked the Defence Secretary or a person authorised by him to file an affidavit within a week stating "whether the government had accepted the recommendations of the AV Singh Committee with regard to the 'command exit promotion policy'". Some army officers had claimed that the new promotion policy had adversely affected them as it is "arbitrary" and highly skewed in favour of Infantry and Artillery, as compared to other branches of the Army.

The bench is hearing the appeal of the Defence Ministry against AFT's decision to quash Army's "command exit promotion" policy on the ground that it is violative of Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution. The apex court had on March 25 stayed the March 2 decision of AFT to quash Army's promotion policy. Earlier, the court had asked the Defence Ministry to file its rejoinder to the response of the officers on whose plea AFT had passed the order.

Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi, appearing for several officers, had submitted that all ranks of personnel from Colonel and above would be affected due to the "biased" promotion policy. She was appearing for the main petitioners including Lt Col P K Choudhary on whose plea AFT had said that the 2009 promotion policy had resulted in preferential promotions to officers of select branches of Army and hence should be scrapped.

Some of the officers had said that personnel of all combative division except Infantry and Artillery have joined the fight against the 2009 promotion policy. In its appeal, the government has justified the promotion policy, saying the Army, being the employer, has a right to have its promotion policy and that AFT should not have interfered in the "policy decision".

It further said the age profile of unit commanders in Pakistan and Chinese armies was 35 and 40 years respectively and hence the age limit of battalion commanders in Indian Army also needed to be less. The central government had in 2001 asked the Chief of Army Staff to refer the recommendations of AV Singh Committee on restructuring of the officer cadre of the Army. The report was aimed at reducing the age of battalion commanders.
China can reach Tawang before Indian Army, says report
New Delhi: In an explosive revelation, a report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence has stated that in case of war, the Indian Army will take “more than a day to reach” the crucial Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh due to a “critical situation” regarding border road infrastructure, while “our neighbouring countries” (like China) can “reach the borders within two to three hours”.

China covets Arunachal Pradesh, especially the Tawang area within Arunachal and refers to the state as “south Tibet”. This is probably the first time that the vulnerability of the Indian Army —to protect Tawang in case of a war against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) —has been accepted.

“The Committee are dismayed to note that in Tawang area, the situation is very critical as connectivity is concerned. In case of war, the Army cannot reach there in a day. This is a matter of great concern with regard to our defence preparedness,” the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence has stated, in a report submitted to Parliament on Monday.

The revelation was made during the concluding remarks by the committee on activities of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which is now under the ministry of defence (MoD) and tasked with the construction of border roads.

In other reports submitted to Parliament, the Committee also mentioned how the slow pace of acquisitions has had an adverse impact on operational preparedness of the armed forces. In an important recommendation, the Parliamentary Committee said Capital expenditure and allocation for the armed forces should be “non-lapsable and (on) roll-on allocation (basis)” for the armed forces between financial years so that crucial acquisition of weapons and equipment is not delayed.
Capt Amarinder encourages youth at DAV to join defence forces
At the 59th annual award presentation event at DAV College Hathi gate, principal Dr Rajesh Kumar highlighted the financial crisis faced by higher education in Punjab and that state government was being negligent about the same.

MP candidate from Amritsar, Captain Amarinder Singh at the event announced a grant of Rs 11 lakh for the overall development of the DAV College Hathi gate.

Captain was the chief guest at the event where he awarded prizes and certificates to over 580 students for their outstanding performance in the field of academics, sports and other extra-curricular activities.

Captain, who himself is a veteran political figure (former CM Punjab), has written books on war and Sikh History and has a military background where he has served as Captain in the 1965 Indo-Pak War gave a motivational speech to the youngsters saying , "This moment has made me recall my own youthful days. I was remembering my classmates who cannot be forgotten and my teachers to whom I am grateful. Above all I am very happy to see girls and boys in uniform (NCC and NSS) who while interacting have promised me to join Indian defence services."

"Indian Army is short of 12000 officers, even Air Force needs pilots and Navy needs efficient officers. Youth should join defence services as they offer you a chance to serve the country. I feel privileged that I got a chance to serve my country even as a captain in the Indo-Pak 1965 war and also as a politician. Field doesn't matter but the aim should be serving the nation."

"I don't say defense is the only way to serve the nation , you all will get an opportunity to serve as every field has place in this country but through your respective fields aim to contribute to the nation and be responsible citizens of the same."

Captain awarded sword of honor to NCC Air Wing cadet Hitesh Sharma and NCC cadet Sagar Singh on account of their selection in international NCC youth exchange programme.

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