Tuesday 21 July 2015

Defence Sector Reforms | Strike Corps, Fighter Aircrafts, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)

Why in news?

Opting to drastically downsize 17 Corps and buy Rafale fighters were two bold, but not necessarily good, moves. Now, it’s time for the Defence Minister to create a unified services chief.

Steps taken, recently:
  • Three areas are worth looking at more closely: 
    1. the slashing of the much advertised 17 Corps, the country’s first mountain strike force
    2. the sudden re-jigging of a deal to purchase France’s Rafale fighter aircraft; and, 
    3. most importantly, the vexed question of reforming India’s military command.
  • Let's delve into them one by one:
Strike Corps: 17 Corps
  • Two years ago, the previous 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?”
  • So it was scrapped! and new things proposed:
    • more than halve the size of 17 Corps to just 35,000 men, and 
    • that the Army take a long, hard look at its current strike corps and other Pakistan-facing units
  • Impact: 
    • Negative:
      • sends a signal of weakness, even fecklessness, to your adversaries.
      • gutting India’s modest offensive capability against China even before it got off the ground
    • Positive:
      • better to have a smaller and more potent force than a large and flabby one ---> 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
Fighter Aircraft: French Rafale Fighters
  • A 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 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. 
    • India might buy another light, single-engine fighter to supplement the indigenous Tejas, as part of the process of replacing the ageing MiG-21 - 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. 
        • Short-term impulsive buys will generate problems down the line.

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. 
Now, let's understand the third area.

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 and innumerable experts --> India’s three services must be stitched together with a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or equivalent post, sitting above the three service chiefs
  • WHY: 
    • capable of giving the government coherent advice on military matters and 
    • imposing unity of purpose on the Army, Air Force, and Navy. 
      • [On a lighter note: “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”.]
    • The Integrated Defence Staff Headquarters (HQ IDS) set up, based on the GOM recommendations in 2001, in the absence of the CDS - i.e. its head, has no effective powers to coordinate the functioning of the three, as a cumulative, integrated structure for optimised pay-offs.
    • Security:
      • Issues:
        • All policy and coordination functions are carried out by the Ministry of Defence (MOD)
          • Policy-making on operations, procurement and joint logistics proposals therefore either gets delayed or stuck, without justification and accountability in the absence of background knowledge. 
        • This is worrying as the security environment in India’s neighbourhood is rapidly deteriorating
        • Tactical nuclear weapons are slowly appearing on the horizon 
        • Violations on the LoC and Chinese incursions across the LAC are on the rise and post the NATO forces withdrawal, the scenario in Afghanistan has fearsome implications
        • The tumult in other neighbouring countries – Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives - is also a factor
      • Solution:
        • The institutionalised direct interface of the political leadership with the military, through the CDS or Permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee, will provide a single, all-encompassing coherent and cohesive perspective, instead of disaggregated individual single service formulations.
        • Close monitoring and candid joint assessment of emerging situations, their implications and responses instead of three separate assessments is a must in the national interest
        • The Naresh Chandra Task Force (NCTF), constituted by the UPA in 2010, recommended appointing of a Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC COSC), pending eventual CCS approval for CDS
    • CDS charter will be the coordination of cyber and space functions, rationalising the capabilities of individual services, and plans and procurements for force development which consider fiscal resources and optimisation of logistics.
      • The organisational advantages expected to accrue from the proposed reform include holistic management of national security for optimised results, and single point military advice on matters of national security including nuclear weapons.
    • War possibility:
      • looming possibility of a two-front war (Pakistan and China) haunts military planners
      • Careful strategy and judicious distribution of resources under one head, instead of the present three, will be achieved.
      • Interdependencies and interoperability between the forces will be fostered
      • Optimisation will cut down redundancies, and overall effectiveness will be more than the sum of individual parts, while uniformity in training will increase
  • Govt's stand:
    • acknowledged that “integration of the three forces does not exist in the existing structure”, and Cabinet note with the recommendation for a CDS will go to the Cabinet Committee on Security for the final decision”. 
    • “a CDS is a must”. 
[Source: The Hindu]


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