Military with no weapons October 13, 2010 8:16:15 PM Ashok K Mehta Indiaâ€™s defence forces are getting increasingly crippled as Saint Antony refuses to sanction the purchase of urgently needed weapons Over the next five years, India will spend $ 50 billion on arms purchases, including the daring joint development and production of the fifth generation fighters with Russia. This would suggest that Russia might no longer be in the race for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft as defence acquisition involves political balancing. Still 70 per cent of all our equipment and dependency will remain Russian. As Finance Minister, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised that once the economy grew, funds for defence modernisation would increase incrementally. Thatâ€™s what is likely to happen after a two-decade drought in military modernisation. Given the track record, defence acquisition will be further degraded by the overkill in probity and the Byzantine procedures. On August 25 this year, heads of five defence companies from the US, the UK Germany, France and Canada wrote to Defence Minister AK Antony for better structured and more supplier-friendly defence procurement policy. The real questions are whether the buying spree will enhance self-reliance, improve deterrence and strengthen India's clout in international affairs. So far, at least, India has underutilised its military capability for a variety of domestic political and cultural reasons, not the least, the lack of strategic thinking. A new book, Arming Without Aiming: India's Military Modernisation by Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta of the Brookings Institution has done some excellent mind-reading of Indian policy planning failures to develop military capabilities commensurate with its rising power and also exposed the warts in planning. It is not surprising that despite terrorist attacks on Parliament and in Mumbai and several lesser strikes across the country over the last two decades, India has not crafted a suitable response to cross-border terrorism. The international community is astonished at the amazing levels of tolerance and military restraint shown by New Delhi â€” making a virtue of necessity, its strategic restraint and patience. The authors say that Indiaâ€™s rise is welcome (except in Pakistan) as it is not seen as an assertive power. Is strategic restraint, the term coined by Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh during Operation Parakram, an euphemism for lack of appropriate military capabilities? Twice in that year, India came close to crossing the start line but held back, according to insiders, as neither the Air Force nor the Army was deemed fit or ready for punitive operations. It is the duty of Governments to keep the armed forces in a state of operational preparedness with relevant equipment and technologies. So it may not just be the culture of military restraint but equally the lack of defence planning. The authors argue that Indiaâ€™s defence acquisition process is â€˜amazingly convolutedâ€™ and coupled with its preference to acquire technology and build weapons itself has led to deep problems. The preference is also to add and expand existing structures than engage in reform. This is true as since independence there has been no defence review and the armed forces have continued to operate in a political vacuum virtually decoupled from decision-making. This has resulted in erratic and spasmodic defence modernisation unrelated to developing challenges and their priorities but contingent upon availability of funds. Commenting on the book, Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment has noted that Indiaâ€™s defence policy was in crisis as there is â€˜internal sclerosisâ€™ in Indiaâ€™s internal defence thinking. Despite the Group of Ministers report after Kargil, key reforms like appointing a Chief of Defence Staff, remain in abeyance and integration is only lip-serviced. Another profundity from Tellis is that while the Indian state has the money, it does not have the capacity to spend it efficiently. To this self-explanatory charge can be added that funds for modernisation cannot be utilised in full due to avoidable road blocks. Tellis notes â€œhow civil-military relations restrain military modernisation and this is not accidental but deliberateâ€. Every year, an average of Rs5,000 to Rs 8,000 crore is returned to the Finance Ministry months before the end of the fiscal which helps to balance the Government's books. Tongue in cheek every year, the Finance Minister ends his ritual two-line statement on defence allocation with the caveat that â€œmore money will be provided if requiredâ€. This is followed by thumping applause! But no amount of military modernisation will help unless there is new strategic thinking and political will to shape the environment to Indiaâ€™s advantage. For a rising power, a strong military is an asset if it is employed gainfully to promote political and diplomatic objectives. Cohen says: â€œWe don't think that new hardware and weapons will make that much of a difference as diplomacy and new strategic thinking are important.â€ The challenge for New Delhi is transforming the strategic environment. Interestingly, the book contains a chapter on Defence Modernisation and Internal Threat. This probably is the most relevant contribution to Indiaâ€™s severe domestic problems ranging from insurgencies in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East to the Maoist threat which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first flagged in 2004 and has since repeatedly called the most serious internal security threat facing the country. Unfortunately, we continue to look outwards without addressing cogently, the threats from within, being fixated with Pakistan. Indiaâ€™s defence budget has shot up astonishingly from nearly Rs50,000 crore in 1999 to Rs1,50,000 crore in 2010 and is growing exponentially at nearly 10 per cent but still remains far below two per cent of the GDP against the prescribed three per cent. Nearly 40 per cent of the budget goes towards military modernisation and maintenance. Given the recommendations in the book, India must revisit its defence policy, implement outstanding defence reforms, including scrapping the laughable system of Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, and appointing a Chief of Defence Staff. Despite Indiaâ€™s, in Tellisâ€™s words, â€œstrong cultural impulses towards restraintâ€ the dominant short-term military requirement is creating a credible response to a terrorist strike from Pakistan short of full-scale war. One hopes that Home Minister P Chidambaramâ€™s threat of a â€˜swift and decisive responseâ€™ transfers into visible military capability embodied as a deterrent. Diplomacy and deterrence will work best when the military is encouraged in new thinking through useful strategic and political guidance. This must become a two-way street with a free flow of ideas and innovations. Arming Without Aiming is certainly not what the Army teaches its soldiers. It is ek goli ek dushman.