In contemporary and projected defence and security environment, India faces challenges of a possible two front scenario to compete, contest and/or combat two adversaries China and Pakistan.
Military operations will be waged primarily in the land, maritime and aerospace domain – while other attendant mediums will facilitate the same completing what is seen as a multi domain operational scenario. The land and maritime spheres will be see activation in a future scenario.
Conduct of multi-domain operations requires focused capability building which is not being covered herein where the objective is to outline the mismatch of priorities of defence acquisition and capability build up.
Essential Capability requirements of the Armed Forces
India’s major capability gaps are well known. A 3.5 generation military faces an adversary which has similar military technology profile. There are four to four and a half generation systems which are far too low in numbers to make a significant impact, thus there is a premium on these and will be employed with caution. China is rapidly advancing capabilities in terms of generational shift as well as numbers with a view to match the United States. This when developed be adequate for combating India.
In platform based capabilities the deficits are well established primarily in the spectrum of strike potential, lethality and survivability. In numbers this broadly translates to combat fighter deficiency in the Indian Air Force (IAF), limited medium close support artillery and ground based air defence potential of the Indian Army and submarine and strike potential of the Indian Navy. There are others as well.
The primary objective of the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 has been defined to equip the armed forces with the present and future capabilities based on the overall requirements.
This would entail focus on major acquisitions through development of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) base, planned utilization of the budget for capital acquisitions with measurement of outcomes achieved on an annual basis summarized every five years and reviewed through long term integrated perspective plan – going under varied names now but with the same purpose.
Desired Defence Acquisition Priorities
Defence acquisition priorities could be expected to be based on very broadly the paradigm outlined above. While indigenization is a laudable objective programmes such as strategic partnership agreement were designed to build OEM capabilities in key areas such as submarines, combat aircraft and so on. The SPA programme design appears to be too complex for the Indian acquisition system – ministry of defence, the services and private defence industry to execute. Now there are indications that this may well have been abandoned.
Programmes such as Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCV), Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) have good potential but limited resource allocations in terms of acquisition expertise as well as resources implies that these are on a permanent slow burner.
While progress has been achieved in the Light Combat Aircraft series and development of Advance Medium Combat Aircraft [AMCA] by the DRDO and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) combine production capabilities required given IAF’s declining fighter potential will have to be at least 32-36 per year that is double the existing assembly line. This will require major investment with the infrastructure existing in terms of HAL assembly line in multiple plants such as Bengaluru and Nashik, building potential will be essential. This is just a glimpse of the larger panorama of requirements.
Presently focus of the Ministry of Defence on building potential of OEMs is diffused into other areas such as Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) which by itself is a laudable scheme but contribution to supporting the OEMs will remain limited. Peripheral requirements of the services in terms of drones, surveillance, maintenance and so on can be created through the iDEX. Encouraging start ups however has taken away too much energy of the Ministry of Defence production process system without achieving major capability accretion.
Exports is another area which is the primary objective set by the MOD and much progress no doubt is achieved in terms of upscaling to Rs 15,000 Crore in the past five years.
This has to be based on surplus capacities that are available in the defence production ecosystem after the armed forces capabilities have been met. For instance with large scale deficiencies of combat fighters in the Indian Air Force (IAF) planning exports of the Tejas LCA to meet demands of other countries is clearly and example of misplaced of priorities.
Finally in terms of planning of capital acquisitions and judicious utilization of financial resources, the spectacle of the Ministry of Defence issuing multiple contracts to large number of public sector companies and some private companies in March this year demonstrated an attempt to avoid surrendering and deploying budgets that could not be utilized for purposes for which this was requisitioned.
Such an exercise of ploughing in money in contracts in the last few weeks of the financial year is not unknown and has been seriously objected to by Parliamentary Committee on Defence in the past. In March 2023 contracts worth Rs 55,237 Crore were inked by the Ministry of Defence details of which are as linked.
For enhancement of capabilities of the armed forces to 4th/4.5 generation military to overmatch potential adversaries, there is a requirement to focus on production of platforms making up serious gaps in combat potential, effective planning and utilization of financial resources allocated for the capital budget and monitoring of the same by the Ministry of Defence as well as oversight by Prime Minister’s Office rather than awaiting indictment by Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) which comes spaced at a time differential.
This may be a utopian aspiration to seek but the alternative will to accept the deleterious impact on vital national interests.