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September 8, 1999


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Issues 99/ Colonel John Taylor (retd)

The next government will have to do more than just find a replacement for George Fernandes!

The Kargil conflict has suddenly brought into sharp focus the need to beef up all aspects of our security. Pakistan has proved beyond doubt that she is capable of penetrating Indian territory by land, sea and air in areas of her own choosing. This is an extremely alarming scenario. Today we do not have to debate which country is India's No 1 threat. Our threat perceptions are now well spelt out.

The next government has its tasks well identified. The country's security needs must occupy the top slot on its agenda. After the political colouring being given by all parties to the Kargil war in the present election campaign, the next government will have to do more than just find a replacement for George Fernandes!

Issues That Need to be Addressed

National security comes First, Always and Every Time. There can be no compromise on this. The issues which need the next government's attention are:-

a. Modernising The Services. The war in Kargil has effectively highlighted that besides bravery and raw courage our officers and jawans need to be better equipped both in respect of arms and equipment. Imagine a rag-tag band of militants were better equipped than the fourth largest army in the world -- what can be more insulting or demoralising!

The defence budget needs to be hiked from its present levels. The defence budget needs an infusion of at least Rs 20,000 crores every year. As a powerful fighting force, the country has to keep pace with technology. Over and above this, the average gestation period for any defence deal is 10 to 15 years.

The directorate of perspective planning, under the defence ministry, plans for the services requirements 15 years in advance. However, the only major weapon system purchased recently is the Bofors gun. Thank heavens for that! It saved the day for us during the Kargil war!

The gap between planning and actual purchase has been increasing. Add inflation and the depreciating rupee to this and the difference becomes awesome. This wide gap has to be drastically reduced, if not totally eliminated. Defence analysts feel the defence budget has to be increased to at least 3% of GDP. The present defence budget is about Rs 42,000 crores.

Acquiring the fleet of multi-role Sukhoi-30 planes from Russia will cost the government a whopping Rs 7,000 crores. Acquiring war planes and ships along with accessories for the air force and navy is an expensive proposition. For instance, the British and French Advance Jet Trainer costs anything between $ 16 million and 18 million. An aircraft carrier carries a minimum price tag of Rs 2,000 crores.

Our army is equally badly off -- their equipment can only be termed as outdated! The replacement process has begun, but it will take time -- at least another five years assuming we get additional funds and we have a change of heart or rather a change in the rigid mindset amongst our decision makers.

The shopping list for all three services is long, and time is running out. Even when I was in service, which was more than five years ago, these lists were ready and with the government. Little or nothing has been acquired so far. We still need the following:-

Main Battle Tank
Night Vision Equipment
Light Helicopters
Self propelled Guns
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Ground Sensors
State of the Art Communication Equipment
Thermal Imaging Systems
Sophisticated Grenade Launchers
High Altitude /Snow Equipment
Mine protection Vehicles
Air OPs (Aerial Observation Posts)


Aircraft Carrier
Speed Boats for the Coast Guard


Mirage 2000
Airborne Warning and Control Systems
Refueling Aircraft
Ground to Air and
Air to Air missiles

The biggest deficiency and what money cannot buy is those wonderful daredevils. The young officers who take the battle to the enemy and defy all odds -- the best battle winning factor. Units, especially the infantry, have as few as 10 officers instead of the authorised 27 officers. Where have all the young men gone? I fear they have gone to the private sector, every one of them!

Nuclear Doctrine

The National Security Advisory Board's recommendations on how our nuclear policy should be shaped, suggests we have a credible minimum deterrent which would be based on mobile delivery platforms (land, sea and air). Unfortunately, the Board has not specified what that minimum deterrent is. There are two schools of thought; one which feel India needs to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons, more for reasons of prestige; projecting the image of a strong India. The other view is that India restricts itself to building only a credible minimum deterrent.

India claims its acquisition of nuclear weapons is for purposes of deterrence only and not because they confer prestige (or India flexing her muscles as viewed by the West). So India should follow the policy of why spend more when you can manage with less. Acquiring nuclear weapons is a very expensive proposition. Today even in the US, strategists are advocating a stockpile of only 200 to 300 nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent in its global role.

At the same time we need to ensure that the minimum deterrent is credible and must survive the first strike by any adversary and we already have two of them in our immediate neighbourhood. In the West (the NATO alliance), the latest thinking is to shift to submarine-launched nuclear weapons. China and Russia are also thinking on these lines. Therefore, the next government will need to plan to acquire nuclear powered submarines for the Indian navy as an essential ingredient of the future.

Diplomatic Initiatives

It took the Kargil war to make the caretaker government (and all other previous governments) realise the importance of a strong diplomatic initiative in defusing a difficult war-like situation. The next government will have to consolidate on the present goodwill existing between the US and other Western countries and China. It was never so good.

Faux pas like giving loans to Iraq can be avoided. Like any good move, timing is the essential factor and we never seem to get this right! We have to convince our neighbours not to allow Bodo and ULFA militants to use their territory or allow the ISI to operate from there. Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal can easily be won over.

Coordination and Acquisition Of Intelligence

This is our weakest link. When I fought the 1965 ,1971 and Op Pawan (the IPKF operation in Sri Lanka) it was like playing blindman's bluff -- with the scarf tied only over our eyes. When Pakistani troops were thin on the ground they managed to depict a strong presence (initial ops in 1965 and 1971 in west Pakistan) and a weak presence when they have a strong reception party (Kargil is a classical example). Pakistan always knows what is going to be our next move. They act, we always react.

Over and above this, inter-agency turf wars, one-upmanship and professional rivalry only make matters worse. Instead of this, our intelligence agencies must counter the ISI who have made inroads in the North-East (especially in Assam), Gujarat, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and almost every other state. This has to be addressed and sorted out once and for all as it is threatening our national security.

Due to the major intelligence failures in Kargil, today we are considering spending Rs 18,000 crores a year to keep Pakistani militants out of the Kargil sector alone! Do we have that kind of money to spare with the economy in the state that it is?

Square Peg in a Round Hole Syndrome

Let the right man do the right job. Simple logic, but our government does not heed it! There is a steady demoralisation in our armed forces and the chain of command and control. The two main reasons:-

a.Drying up of funds for and defence requirement.

b.Domination of civilian bureaucrats in the defence ministry.

A lack of funds lead to a cut of up to 60 per cent to 70 per cent in spares, supplies and stores of ordnance origin. This has directly affected the fighting capability of the three services. Civilian bureaucrats in the defence ministry have taken more and more decisions that should have been left to the three services. Today, the army (and the other two services) have virtually lost their say in deciding the weapons they will fight with!! The next government needs to address this very important aspect. They owe that much to the armed forces from whom they always expect victory.

Colonel John Taylor, who has served on the Sino-Indian frontier and in Sri Lanka, is a frequent contributor on defence matters to these pages.


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