Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Defence (procurement) minister

An ill-informed public narrative centres on expensive weapons platforms instead of the little things that would improve capability

By Ajai Shukla
25th November 2014

Going by the public statements made so far by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, one could be forgiven for mistaking him as minister for defence procurement. In practically every statement he promises “transparency and speed in defence procurement”. To be fair, he admits it will take him time to grasp issues relating to national defence. Even so, if he continues promising only faster procurement, it might well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It would be worrying to have a defence minister who measures his success in capital rupees spent. Instead, Mr Parrikar must focus on adding capability. This can be done at relatively nominal cost.

A striking example has been reported in Broadsword (See article below, “Advanced Towed Array Sonar contract provides major boost to navy). Over the last two decades, the navy has built up a powerful and enormously expensive fleet of capital warships --- the aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes that control the seas in war. Yet these warships, each costing several thousand crore rupees and crewed by a couple of hundred sailors, have remained desperately vulnerable to enemy submarines. This is simply because they lack “advanced towed array sonar”, or ATAS, which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) had promised to deliver but did not. By now procuring ATAS from the global market --- each worth a piffling Rs 50 crore --- tens of thousands of crores worth of naval warships have become combat capable.

Such examples abound within the military. Yet the ill-informed public narrative on defence procurement centres on enormously expensive weapons platforms that, in many cases, are operationally ineffective even after lavishing billions because smaller systemic or structural drawbacks restrict their full employment. In militaries like that of Pakistan, where money is short even after unfairly burdening the national exchequer, there is awareness of the need to obtain bang for the buck. India’s relative wealth has not nearly been translated into commensurate capability.

Remaining with the navy (ironically the most cost conscious service), there is constant breast-beating over the submarine shortfall and China’s growing lead in submarine numbers. The media constantly harps on how India has just 13 submarines compared to China’s 53 conventional and 5 nuclear attack submarines, though that lead could increase this afternoon, giving how fast China is building more. Everyone’s solution, predictably, is to throw more money at the problem, by quickly sanctioning (quickly and transparently, as Parrikar would say!) Project 75I, which envisages building six new submarines for a mind-numbing Rs 50,000 crore.

Yet if one were to scrutinise the on-going Project 75, under which Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai is building six Scorpene submarines, a sane planner would be aghast to discover that these submarines --- which have been in the works for more than a decade --- will be operationally hamstrung when they finally roll off the line. The submarine’s key weapon is the heavyweight torpedo and, incredibly, the MoD has omitted to buy any for the Scorpene. In 2011, Finmeccanica subsidiary WASS had been selected to supply 98 torpedoes for some Rs 1,850 crore. Since that contract remains unsigned, the Scorpenes will join the fleet without their key weapon.

Yet, nobody in the military, the ministry, the government or the media is called to account for allowing a Rs 1,850 crore procurement to stall the battle-readiness of Rs 24,000 crore worth of submarines. One can forgive the ministry, manned as it is by generalists for whom torpedo sounds like a variety of libido. The Prime Minister’s Office, with so many ministries to meddle in, can only focus on big bang procurements --- and that means those that are regularly reported on, or those that the military is pressing for. The media, especially top editors, choose not to waste mind space on the nitty-gritty of defence economics, and instead focus their collective gaze on high-voltage procurement contracts that can be easily remembered by the billions they cost.

Take the media fanfare over the selection of the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), an apparently fixed match that was won by the French Rafale fighter, the least expensive of the two most expensive fighters on offer, which were predictably ushered into the final selection. Currently, this $20 billion tender remains the single most reported defence story, with uncounted column inches speculating on the imminent signature of the Rafale contract. This newspaper has been practically alone in carrying cost-benefit analyses on the Rafale proposal, and in debating whether the opportunity cost of buying this fighter is too high.

In contrast, there is little mind space for the little things that would improve operational capability at little cost. Maintenance, that boring process that can put a hundred additional Sukhoi-30MKIs into the sky just by better inventory control and technician training. Light fighters, especially the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which should be the pride of India but is sadly the bastard child of the laughably named Indian Air Force. Force multipliers, like airborne refuelling aircraft and airborne early warning and control systems, can be wisely procured and deployed to make each squadron as effective as two. But this is humdrum stuff. So are issues like night-blindness that dramatically reduces combat capability across the three services, especially the army.

It is these mundane essentials that Mr Parrikar must focus on. Appointing a tri-service chief would spare him the confusion of having to navigate the tri-service jockeying for funds and resources. He must institute a detailed capability audit, in which each service presents a plan for optimising their existing weapons and platforms rather than just stretching out their palms for newer, better and, of course, more expensive toys. It is militarily prudent to get our existing kit working optimally --- the military equivalent of fixing the Indian Railways before building fancy new bullet train lines.

Advanced Towed Array Sonar contract provides major boost to navy

Atlas Elektronik wins ATAS contract, poised for more gains in the massive Indian sonar market

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Nov 14

On November 12, without announcement or fanfare, the ministry of defence (MoD) signed a small contract with enormous implications for itself and the Indian Navy. This formalized the purchase of six advanced towed array sonar (ATAS) systems from Atlas Elektronik, the German naval systems giant, for just under Euro 40 million (Rs 306 crore).

These ATAS systems will equip three Talwar-class frigates (INS Talwar, Trishul and Tabar) and three Delhi-class destroyers (INS Delhi, Mumbai and Mysore), allowing them to detect enemy submarines in the Arabian Sea, where the warm, shallow waters confound conventional hull-mounted sonars.

Without ATAS, all the warships the navy has built and bought since the 1990s --- each costing a few thousand crore and crewed by a couple of hundred sailors --- would be sitting ducks in war. Enemy submarines, lurking unseen 50-80 kilometres away, could leisurely torpedo Indian warships.

So vulnerable has been India’s fleet that, when INS Vikramaditya, the navy’s new aircraft carrier, was sailing home from Russia, it was escorted through the Arabian Sea by several Indian warships. There was no certainty that Pakistan’s Agosta 90B submarines could be detected by sonar systems other than ATAS.

All that protects India’s 25 latest frontline warships from enemy submarines is a relatively ineffective Passive Towed Array Sonar (PTAS), and an indigenous hull-mounted sonar called HUMSA.

So important is the ATAS contract that the MoD abandoned even the pretence of indigenisation. Atlas Elektronik will build all six ATAS systems in Germany, and has been exempted from offsets.

ATAS is especially vital in the Arabian Sea. Warships detect underwater objects (like submarines) with sonar --- a “ping” of sound emitted into the water that reflects from submarines, just as radar bounces back from aircraft. In our warm, shallow waters, the returning signal often gets lost. Since the water is warm on the surface and cools rapidly as one goes deeper, the sharp “temperature gradient” refracts sonar waves, bending them away from the warship’s sensors. Unable to receive the returning signal, the warship cannot detect the submarine.

ATAS overcomes the “temperature gradient”, since it is towed by a cable that extends deep below the surface, into the cooler layers where submarines lurk. With the sensors themselves in the colder water layers, there is no “temperature differential”. Even the faintest return signal from a submarine is detected.

The navy will fit ATAS externally onto the rear of its warships, which have been built for this reason with an empty compartment at the rear.

With this contract, Atlas Elektronik has taken pole position for supplying the navy a range of high-end sonars. Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which is required to build ten ATAS with foreign partnership, has been encouraged by the navy to tie up with Atlas so that sonar equipment is standardised across warships.

BEL is learnt to be in discussions with Atlas for building ten ATAS for three Shivalik-class frigates (INS Shivalik, Satpura and Sahyadri), three Kolkata-class destroyers (Kolkata, Kochi and Chennai), and four Kamorta-class anti-submarine corvettes (INS Kamorta, Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti).

That leaves 20 warships that will remain in naval service for some years. These include: three aircraft carriers (INS Vikramaditya, Vikrant and Vishal); three Brahmaputra class frigates (INS Brahmaputra, Betwa and Beas); three Talwar-class follow-on frigates (INS Teg, Tarkash and Trikand); four Project 15-B destroyers (unnamed, under construction); and seven Project 17-A frigates (unnamed, contract being negotiated).

Given its first-mover advantage, the infrastructure and partnerships it will build and its already demonstrated price advantage, Atlas hopes to supply sonar systems for these and for other smaller surface warships and submarines. In April, the MoD tendered for 16 Anti Submarine Warfare Shallow Water Craft (ASWC), which need sophisticated sonar with electronically controlled beams.

Atlas Elektronik sources say they are eager to establish a joint venture company with either BEL or an Indian private sector company to build sonars in India. That would grant majority ownership of 51 per cent to the Indian entity.

ATAS import has been blocked since the mid-1990s because the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) was developing an indigenous ATAS called Nagan. In 2012, the Nagan project was officially shut down and work began on another system called ALTAS. With this making slow progress, the DRDO finally okayed import.

In November 2012, two years ago, Atlas was declared the lowest bidder. That was followed by a string of complaints to the MoD against Atlas, apparently motivated, since the MoD found no wrongdoing. Even so, with the ministry painstakingly investigating every complaint, each caused a 3-4 month delay. Earlier this year, with the elections impending, the United Progressive Alliance decided to leave the signing to the next government.

Atlas Elektronik is owned 51 per cent by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH (KMW) and 49 per cent by Airbus Defence & Space. 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Parrikar starts artillery procurement; no sanction for buying more Pilatus trainers

Indian vendors, like Tata Power, are geared up for the mounted gun project with products like this

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 14

At an apex meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tried to revive the flagging purchase of artillery for an army that has bought no modern guns since 1987, when the procurement environment was deeply scarred by the Bofors scandal.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, chairing his first DAC meeting, sanctioned the start of what could be another tortuous, multi-year procurement of 814 mounted gun systems (MGS) for an estimated Rs 15,750 crore ($3 billion).

These 155 millimetre/52 calibre guns are being bought in the “Buy & Make (Indian)” category of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). In this, Indian companies will establish joint ventures with foreign gun-makers; which will build the guns in India. The DAC ruled that the first 100 MGS can be imported ready-built, while the remaining 714 must be fabricated in India.

Indian vendors have long awaited this tender, with technology partnerships tied up and ready. The frontrunners are: L&T, with French company, Nexter; Bharat Forge with Israeli company, Elbit; Tata Power SED with South African company, Denel; and BEML or Punj Lloyd with a Slovakian gun company.

Over the last two decades, artillery procurement has seen many false starts. Numerous tenders have been floated in five categories of 155 millimetre guns. These include the purchase of (a) 1,580 towed guns; (b) 100 tracked (self-propelled) guns; (c) 180 wheeled (self-propelled) guns; and 145 ultralight howitzers.

This variety caters for diverse operating scenarios. Towed guns are for regular use in plains and mountains; tracked (self-propelled) guns are mounted in armoured vehicles to support tank formations; wheeled (self-propelled) guns are for fast-moving, non-armoured formations; while the ultralight howitzers, which can be lifted by helicopters to remote locations are for mountain divisions. The MGS is a regular 155-millimetre gun fitted onto a high mobility vehicle. This allows it to move and come into action quicker than a conventional towed gun.

Yet these guns have one thing in common: the MoD has not bought a single one. Several gun trials are still continuing.

Separately, the MoD has ordered several indigenous gun programmes. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) is supplying 114 Dhanush 155-millimetre/45-calibre guns. These are based on the technology transferred by Swedish gun maker, Bofors AG as part of the controversial procurement of 410 Bofors guns in the late 1980s. If these guns perform well, this order could rise to 414 guns.

Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation is spearheading the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG) project, to build a more powerful 155-millimetre/52-calibre gun, with an ambitious range of 60 kilometres, and a weight of just 12 tonnes. This all-Indian project includes private sector players like L&T, Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED.

The DAC meeting also reviewed, but postponed decision on, the Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal to order 38 additional PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft from Swiss company, Pilatus, which has already won a contract to supply 75 aircraft for Swiss Francs 577 million (Rs 3,727 crore).

While the IAF has pressed hard for exercising the “options clause” on the Pilatus contract, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) told the DAC today that its indigenous project to build the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) is well along, and the home-grown trainer would make its first flight next year.

The DAC also heard that IAF training is continuing on the Pilatus trainers already ordered; the HTT-40 would be maintained cheaply by HAL; the Indian trainer could be armed and sold to buyers like Afghanistan, which cannot be done with foreign aircraft due to “end user restrictions”; and the HTT-40 is in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” philosophy.

Furthermore, in 2009, the DAC had itself cleared the purchase of 181 basic trainers in two separate categories --- 75 trainers in the “Buy Global” category; and 106 built by HAL in the “Make Indian” category. The DAC asked why the IAF was now proposing a new “Buy & Make” category procurement to build the Pilatus in India.

The defence minister ordered the IAF to explain this change, which would be reviewed at a future DAC meeting. Parrikar said the DAC’s tradition of monthly meetings did not preclude more frequent meetings for urgent matters.

On November 26, HAL will conduct its first detailed briefing of the new defence minister, where Parrikar will be brought up-to-date with the progress on the HTT-40. HAL sources say the development is complete, the construction of the first trainer is well under way and it will make its first flight by mid-2015. 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Pilatus or HAL’s trainer: Parrikar’s first “Make” decision

A design graphic of the HTT-40, which HAL says will make its first flight next year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21 Nov 14

In his first television interview as defence minister, aired on November 14, Manohar Parrikar regretted the military’s “craze for importing everything”, including relatively low-tech weaponry that could be designed and built in India.

“First priority has to be to identify (equipment) for “Indian Make” and then only for the imports, wherever required”, stated Parrikar.

On Saturday, Parrikar’s resolve will be tested at his first Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting, which clears high-value military procurements. The DAC will decide on the Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal for importing 38 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft, even as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) designs an Indian equivalent, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40).

HAL credibly claims it can build the HTT-40 basic trainer, having demonstrated design skills on the far more sophisticated Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The first HTT-40 will fly next year, says HAL.

HAL presents the HTT-40 as a cheaper, better trainer than the PC-7 Mark II. It is built to Indian specifications, can be upgraded over its 30-year service life as technology advances, and maintained and overhauled more cheaply than a foreign trainer.

HAL also points out it can fit sensors and weapons on the HTT-40 to make it a “light attack aircraft”, prohibited by the “end-use conditions” on foreign trainers like the Pilatus.

Arming the HTT-40 would facilitate export to countries like Afghanistan, which desperately wants light attack aircraft to support Afghan soldiers combating the Taliban. Currently, Brazil is building twenty light trainers --- the A-29 Super Tucano --- for the Afghan Air Force, at American cost.

The MoD acknowledges HAL’s logic. On September 29, 2009 the ministry decided to procure the IAF’s requirement of 181 basic trainers from two sources --- 75 bought off-the-shelf from the global market so that IAF training could continue; while HAL would develop and build 106 HTT-40s under the “Make” procedure.

The IAF, however, has consistently undermined this arrangement since May 24, 2012, when it signed a Swiss Francs 577 million (Rs 3,727 crore) contract with Pilatus for 75 trainers. As Business Standard reported (July 29, 2013, “Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”) former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, wrote to then defence minister, AK Antony, asking him to exercise an “Option Clause” in the contract with Pilatus to procure 38 more PC-7 Mk IIs; and then also buy the remaining 68 trainers from Pilatus as a “Repeat Procurement”, which requires no trials.

For Pilatus, that would have amounted to a windfall of some Swiss Francs 700-800 million (Rs 4,500-5,150 crore). For HAL, and for India, it would mean the doors being slammed on the indigenous HTT-40 project.

Browne told Antony the HTT-40 was too expensive, claiming it would cost Rs 43.59 crore at 2011 prices. In contrast, said the IAF chief, the PC-7 Mark II cost just Rs 30 crore.

Incredibly, the air chief deliberately understated the rupee cost of the PC-7 Mark II. In fact, its price of Swiss Francs 6.09 million amounted to Rs 40 crore, because of the depreciating rupee.

With the MoD refusing to oblige Pilatus with an order for more trainers, the IAF then approached HAL to build the PC-7 Mark II with technology from Pilatus. HAL, which was making headway on the HTT-40, flatly rejected the IAF proposal.

A rattled IAF then decided to go it alone. On October 8, 2013, Browne bizarrely stated that the IAF’s base repair depots (BRDs) --- which are meant to overhaul aircraft and engines --- would build the PC-7 Mark II in partnership with Pilatus. The MoD simply ignored that proposal.

Rebuffed, the IAF then looked towards the private sector. In March, with elections impending, the IAF floated a “Request for Information” --- a pre-tender enquiry --- inviting Indian companies to partner Pilatus and submit preliminary bids to supply the IAF with 106 PC-7 Mk II trainers. In the MoD’s procurement rulebook, this is termed a “Buy & Make (Indian)” acquisition.

In all this, the IAF apparently lost sight of the fact that the DAC had cleared two procurements in two separate categories --- 75 trainers in “Buy Global” and 106 in “Make Indian”.

Defence Minister Parrikar will make a far-reaching decision in Saturday’s DAC meeting. Sanctioning the purchase of 38 more PC-7 Mark IIs from Pilatus would whittle down HAL’s “Make” project from 106 HTT-40s to just 68, undermining the business case for an Indian production line.

“Pilatus is waiting. If India exercises the option for 38 more PC-7 Mark II, the remaining 68 trainers will probably also be built in Switzerland. The HTT-40 project will suffer a mortal blow,” says respected aviation expert, Pushpindar Singh.

(Tomorrow: IAF's Pilatus fleet faces maintenance crunch)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

India and Australia inch closer on defence ties

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Nov 14

As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, Australia viewed India with wariness, given the dynamics of the Cold War. Australia worried that a powerful Indian Navy would uphold Soviet Union interests in the Indian Ocean. And India’s naval build up did not sit well with Canberra’s advocacy of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace (IOZP).

All that is now history, as is evident from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just concluded trip to Australia. With an assertive China racing ahead of Australia, Japan and India, the interests of these lesser powers have sharply converged.

At first this convergence was hesitant and apologetic. In 2007, when China questioned why the American, Australian, Japanese, Indian and Singaporean navies were training together in Exercise Malabar, New Delhi acknowledged Beijing’s ire by reverting to bilateral Indo-US Malabar exercises, with Japan occasionally participating.

The non-confrontationist United Progressive Alliance defence minister, AK Antony, also curbed India’s military diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific, apparently to placate Beijing.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has emphatically abandoned that reticence. Last month, during the prime minister’s visit to the US, New Delhi and Washington jointly backed the need for free passage in the South China Sea, and agreed to “upgrade” Malabar.

Now, at the close of Mr Modi’s three-day visit to Australia, New Delhi and Canberra announced a new “Framework for Security Cooperation” that will guide close collaboration in defence, counter-terrorism, cyber security and maritime security.

A joint statement announced: “Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abbott decided to extend defence cooperation to cover research, development and industry engagement. They agreed to hold regular meetings at the level of the Defence Minister (sic), conduct regular maritime exercises and convene regular Navy to Navy, Air Force to Air Force and Army to Army staff talks.”

Even so, the two sides face structural challenges in translating the new framework into actual security cooperation. India’s focus is on the Indian Ocean, while Australia looks towards East Asia and the Pacific. Australia is a close US ally; while New Delhi steadfastly ploughs an independent and non-confrontationist furrow, which Canberra sees as pusillanimity. Australia has been ambivalent about its relationship with China. Kevin Rudd, who was prime minister from 2007-2010 and then again briefly in 2013, strongly backed an “Asian Australia” and close ties with China, causing unease in New Delhi and other regional capitals.

In contrast, Australia’s current prime minister has displayed no such ambiguity. During his visit to New Delhi in September, the two countries announced they would hold their first bilateral maritime exercise in 2015, which is likely to extend into joint training on a regular basis. The Indian Navy is keen on making this a sophisticated exercise that coordinates combat drills instead of a non-controversial rather than a ceremonial one that takes shelter behind the rubric of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and search and rescue (SAR) operations.

 That Australia is ready for a substantive engagement is evident from its 2013 Defence White Paper, which emphasised the need to build stronger defence relations with India. A “Country Strategy Document” followed that in short order, identifying the Indian Navy as a crucial maritime partner.

Australian analysts like David Brewster, an analyst with Gateway House, Mumbai, argue that forums like the Indian Ocean Rim – Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) provide opportunities for India-Australia security cooperation; as does the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), an Indian initiative that promotes interaction between regional navies.

There is also scope for cooperation in anti-proliferation initiatives relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). “Australia’s involvement in the Australia Group (which it chairs) can be an opportunity to champion the inclusion of India in the Group and other international non-proliferation regimes”, says Brewster.

That Mr Modi sees Australia as an important partner was made clear during his barnstorming speech to a joint sitting of Australia’s parliament in Canberra, where he won over the audience with humour and cricket analogies.

“It has taken a Prime Minister of India 28 years to come to Australia. It should never have been so. And, this will change. Australia will not be at the periphery of our vision, but at the centre of our thought”, said Mr Modi.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A full-time job in South Block

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Nov 14

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken five months to appoint a full-time defence minister. Now Manohar Parrikar will oversee the defence of India, dealing with a potential “two-and-a-half front” challenge from Pakistan, China and several internal insurgencies. He will be constrained by limited funds since the government’s primary ambition to boost the economy allows for only modest increments to defence spending. Nor can Mr Parrikar, a newcomer to defence, draw upon any existing vision for transformative change. All he has to guide him are slogans from a myopic strategic community, which apparently believes that military readiness consists of bluster, threats, backward shuffles and the unhindered disbursement of vast sums to international arms vendors.

On the plus side, the new defence minister will have a full day to devote to his charge, unlike his predecessor, Arun Jaitley, who was unfairly saddled with this job in addition to his own full-time assignment as finance minister. Mr Parrikar, furthermore, is a metallurgist from the Indian Institute of Technology, an outstanding qualification for a man who will be expected to boost indigenous defence research and development (R&D) and manufacture. As chief minister of Goa, he has proven his ability to administer and govern. Finally, he is reputed to be honest, a rare enough quality today to rate a mention. One hopes that, like his Congress Party predecessor, AK Antony, he is not both honest and indecisive.

The new defence minister could choose to function like most of his predecessors. This would involve ceding to the army, navy and air force chiefs the unfettered right to run their services as they deem fit; while the ministry controls the money and procures military equipment. This operating style --- if so this abdication of ministerial responsibility can be termed --- would be justifiable only in a security emergency so imminent that there is no place for long-term planning. This is clearly not so for India. Yet, our paranoid public narrative of dire external threat, along with the crashing unfamiliarity of the political class with military matters, warps the higher management of defence. There is no explicit enunciation or discussion of outcomes that the military must ensure, and no evaluation of its readiness to achieve those goals. Instead, military preparedness is evaluated mainly in the currency of arms purchases. Mr Antony was never criticised when his service chiefs expressed their inability to retaliate militarily against Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai blasts. Ironically, criticism centred on his failure to spend his ministry’s capital budgets.

Mr Parrikar must start by reminding his military that they exist as an instrument of deterrence and that they must have plans pre-prepared to discharge that role. As the army chief in 1999, General VP Malik, famously said before the Kargil conflict, “We will fight with what we have got.” Even when full-scale war is not feasible or desirable in response to, say, a major terrorist attack launched from foreign soil, or ingress into Indian territory, the defence minister must ensure that clear, pre-determined deterrent capability is in place for various eventualities and that the military is trained and equipped for those. If, in the face of dire provocation, the military chiefs merely look down at their shoes, this abject failure is the responsibility of the defence minister.

If Mr Parrikar goes by the “BJP Election Manifesto 2014” that was released in April, he will only feel confused. Congress-like, the BJP has viewed security in holistic terms --- maintaining “social cohesion and harmony” as a component of national security along with “military security; economic security; cyber security; energy, food and water and health security.” The promise to “revise and update” India's nuclear doctrine will presumably create more deterrence, placing less reliance on an unaffordable conventional build up. Another part of the Manifesto inverts cause and effect, by promising to “Modernize armed forces, and increase the R&D in defence, with a goal of developing indigenous defence technologies and fast tracking of defence purchases.”

Instead, Mr Parrikar should start afresh, read extensively, consult independently and think far outside the box because all those who would brief him are deeply invested in the status quo. While fast-tracking procurement sounds good in a manifesto, the embarrassing truth is that our pockets are empty. Of this year’s capital allocation of Rs 94,588 crore, over 90 per cent is pre-committed towards instalments for contracts concluded in previous years. Instead of grandstanding over unaffordable purchases like the $20 billion Rafale fighter, Mr Parrikar should initiate a project to increase the operational availability of the Sukhoi-30MKI fleet from the current 50 per cent, to a more respectable 80 per cent. That alone will put 80 Su-30MKIs into the sky, dramatically eroding the argument for the Rafale. Simultaneously, a strategic decision to promote the indigenous Tejas fighter would implement the “Make in India” directive, while also making up fleet numbers with cheap, utility fighters. Just as rejuvenating the Indian Railways network comes before expensive bullet train lines, existing weapons systems should be revitalised rather than buying expensive new kit.

The new defence minister will surely ask how the army hopes to be a modern warfighting force while spending just one rupee out of five on equipment. With 82 per cent of the army’s Rs 113,334 crore budget going on revenue expenditure, of which Rs 65,808 crore goes on the payroll of 12 lakh soldiers, just Rs 20,665 crore is left for equipment modernisation. This is becoming even more lopsided with 80,000 more soldiers sanctioned for a new mountain strike corps, and the 7th Pay Commission already considering wage enhancements. Contrast this with China, where 17 lakh soldiers were demobilised to free up funds for modern equipment.

Raising new divisions lets peacetime governments appear muscular and defence oriented. Only during war --- as in 1962 --- does the folly of ill-equipped soldiers translate painfully into national humiliation. For too long, defence ministers and generals have served out their time, keeping their fingers crossed that the music does not stop while they are holding the parcel. Mr Parrikar has the opportunity to scorn populism and drive the fundamental restructuring that Indian defence needs.

India's 36th defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, says transparent and swift decisions are his “specialty”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Nov 14

Since May 26, when Arun Jaitley took charge of the ministry of defence (MoD) in addition to his primary job as finance minister, the elegant Room No 104 in South Block, New Delhi --- the defence minister’s office --- has been occupied only in the afternoons, when Jaitley would cross the road from North Block.

At 4.15 p.m. on Monday, in a flurry of activity and camera flashes, Defence Minister Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar entered the room, accepted a bouquet of welcome from the defence secretary, and seated himself without ado in one of the most powerful chairs in the country.

Thanking the prime minister for “showing confidence” by entrusting him with “this very important and sensitive ministry”, Parrikar candidly admitted that he had much to learn about defence.

“I’m coming from a state. Though (I have) exposures and good administrative experience… the type of requirement at national level may be at a different connotation or a different class”, he said.

Side-stepping a question about whether his training as a metallurgist in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai equipped him for handling defence production, Parrikar responded, “I feel that, as much as possible, we should manufacture here in India. Any country with a good manufacturing base… can come up economically by generating a lot of employment.”

Flagging the shortage of technological skills in the country, Parrikar said he would make use of the new Ministry of Skills Development, which Rajiv Pratap Rudy heads after being sworn in today as minister with independent charge.

Terming “very unfortunate” that equipment requirements of the armed forces have not been adequately met so far, Parrikar expressed confidence he could combine transparency with expeditious procurement.

“Whatever (acquisition) is there will be very transparent, but (will be a) fast process. I think that is one of my specialties, but let me understand (the process) first.”

Insisting he needed some time to get to grips with his new job, the defence minister nevertheless indicated that he was worried by the spate of accidents on naval warships, the most recent being the sinking of a vessel off Visakhapatnam (Vizag) on November 6 due to flooding.

In what the MoD would see as a good omen, reports came in from Israel while Mr Parrikar was assuming office, announcing the first successful test of the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which the Defence R&D Organisation is developing in partnership with Israeli Aerospace Industries. Due to three years of delay in developing the LR-SAM, several frontline naval warships have been operating without protection against enemy anti-ship missiles.

Manohar Parrikar is the first IIT graduate to be the chief minister of a state, and now the defence minister. He passed out from IIT Mumbai in the same batch as Nandan Nilekani, the former UIDAI chairman. Parriker is a long-time RSS member, and was a sanghchalak (local director). He was active in the Ram Janambhoomi agitation.