Establishment of the Defence Planning Committee in India Under the NSA

Setting up DPC appears to be a hurried step perhaps because of the recent presentation made to the PM by Dr Subhash Bhamre, MoS for Defence that ‘Make in India’ is struggling due to lack of accountability amongst the bureaucracy

Issue: 3 / 2018By Lt General P.C. Katoch (Retd)

Four years after coming to office, the Modi government sprung a surprise on the nation by announcing the Defence Planning Committee (DPC), described as new ‘Strategic Think Tank’, to formulate national military and security strategy, and oversee foreign acquisitions and sales. It is well known that UPA had neglected the defence in their preceding decade long rule. Ironically, the four year rule of NDA II did not see much change other than emphasis on ‘Make in India’.

Setting up DPC appears to be a hurried step perhaps because of the recent presentation made to the PM by Dr Subhash Bhamre, MoS for Defence that ‘Make in India’ is struggling due to lack of accountability amongst the bureaucracy. Approaching general elections could also have contributed in setting up DPC, indicating government interest in defence that hitherto was limited to ‘Make in India’. However, in the present form, DPC leaves a whole lot of questions unanswered and may end up as yet another committee.

The DPC

Headed by NSA, the DPC is to be a permanent body consisting of three Service Chiefs (one of whom is rotating Chairman of COSC) Secretaries of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Expenditure. The CISC heading HQ IDS is Member Secretary who will service the DPC. HQ IDS has five departments: Doctrine, Organisation and Training; Perspective Plans and Force Structures; Intelligence; Operations, and; Medical. One post each for MEA and DRDO is authorised in HQ IDS but remain generally vacant. Main task of the DPS are to formulate: one, national military and security strategy, and; two, oversee foreign acquisitions and sales. A further breakdown has been enumerated as: refine recommendations for defence procurement, taking longer view of acquisitions and how they fit into current and future scenarios; smoothen defence acquisitions by reconciling conflicting claims of defence PSU manufacturers and the three services who are pressing for armament upgrades; make defence planning and strategy a more integrated and forward looking process, providing key inputs to define security priorities; examine “ways and means” across ministries to develop capabilities and meet national goals; address persistent criticism of India’s defence planning that it lacks centralised and organised planning integrating civilian and defence agencies and is often confined to silos; align long-term goals with procurement and doctrines through mandate to take up “capability development planning” and place it before the Cabinet Committee for Security for approval, and; evaluate foreign policy imperatives” and chalk out a strategy for international engagement that includes boosting ‘Make in India’ exports and foreign assistance programs.

DPC is to function through four subcommittees that provide inputs for senior functionaries and assess unconventional and emerging threats apart from developing more regular defence concepts. Specific inputs provided by the DPC are to be put up to the Defence Minister. The Committee’s charge will also include inter-connected subjects like: defence diplomacy; manufacturing and policy and strategy that can bring together expertise in the government to one table, and; to some extent, fill void of National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC ). In effect, the four sub-committees of DPC are similar to that of IDS. DPC has four sub-committees: Policy and Strategy; Planning and Capability Development; Defence Diplomacy and Defence Manufacturing. The last two would have been in IDS had the MEA and DRDO posted officers to HQ IDS instead of deliberately keeping these slots vacant. The DPC will produce position papers (which MoD and IDS are already doing) and forward these to the Defence Minister. How all this will sharpen defence planning and capability building is hard to visualize. Even the Operational Directive of Defence Minister is written by the IDS, not by CCS or NSC. DPC also appears heavily biased towards ‘Make in India’, acquisitions, manufacturing and exports; which is the very job of MoD with the Department of Defence Production (DoDP) integral to it. How creating another layer of DPC above the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will improve the system is matter of conjecture. Significantly, DPC doesn’t include Home Secretary, indicating little understanding of hybrid warfare. Besides, DPC filling void of NCTC can only be considered a joke.

Cart before the Horse

Instead of first establishing Integrated Theatre Commands (ITC s), appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and merging MoD with HQ IDS, the DPC is akin to putting the cart before the horse, bypassing the horse, burying the issue of appointing CDS, with ambiguity in defence planning and higher political management. With the DPC instituted, what will be the role now of the National Security Council (NSC) and its Secretariat (NSCS), the Strategic Policy Group (SPG) and the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB)? The Kargil Review Committee (KRC ) recommendations for restructuring defence,, endorsed by Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Deputy Prime Minister, included establishment of CDS and HQ IDS that was to be part of MoD to provide requisite military expertise. CAPF deployment on borders was recommended to augment army, and placed under command the latter.

But the deep state didn’t permit HQ IDS-MoD merger and establishment of CDS despite Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying in 2005 government had decided who the CDS will be, and Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar stating in 2015 that CDS is “coming soon”. CAPF deployment even in ‘sensitive’ border areas wasn’t placed under army. HQ IDS established for being part of MoD, was kept separate. DPC follows same track by making HQ IDS as the Secretariat (why not the NSC?). The GoM recommendation for early establishment of CDS was diluted by UPA II by bringing up the issue of Permanent Chairman COSC. Now Modi government has apparently buried the issue of CDS through DPC, with NSA already being referred to as de-facto CDS, ultimate aim being as and when Theatre Commands come up, Theatre Commanders report directly to NSA in absence of CDS, which will be most ridiculous.

India’s defence set up has suffered peculiarities like: no National Security Strategy (NSS) and Strategic Defence Review (SDR); defense procurement planning without NSS-SDR; military representation lacking in higher defense structures; MoD ‘without’ military professionals; Services HQ termed “attached offices” like in British times; Defence Secretary (not Defence Minister) charged with country’s defence; 70 per cent defence equipment imported in past decades despite 50+ DRDO labs, 9 DPSUs, 42 Ordnance Factories (OF) - overall manpower I,80,044; little military representation in DRDO-DPSUs-OFB despite being users; multiple forces along international borders with different chains of command; police and central armed police forces (CAPF) placed above military.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has repeatedly pointed to corruption and nepotism in DRDO, which is directly under MoD, and a government-appointed experts committee recommended shutting down DRDO laboratories and major DRDO overhaul, and privatisation. But DRDO is the golden goose for MoD, therefore, 15 years to produce a rifle, 30 years to produce ‘Nag’ missile, and forcing military to buy combat uniform at three times the price compared to civil sources hardly matter. A former ambassador, who first joined IAS and got posted to MoD says his first brief was to forget all else, just concentrate on what equipment is in pipeline and how much money can be made. Arguably, no defence deal is without kickbacks albeit in country like China, money goes to the party, not individual. But this is one reason military is kept away from MoD and DRDO in India. The second reason is politicians bank on bureaucrats, with latter lacking professional knowledge of matters military. Besides, there has been periodic change of Defence Ministers since 2014.

While the DPC has become fait accompli, India needs following urgently: define NSS and order SDR; revise Allocation of Business & Transaction of Business Rules Act 1961, making Defence Minister responsible for Defence and Services HQ integral to MoD; merge MoD and HQ IDS completely; appoint CDS to synergize military and usher true Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) under directions political authority; Service Chiefs as members of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS); Deputy NSA (s) from military if NSA with military background is too scary; military representation in Strategic Policy Group, NSCS, NSAB and military advisors in MEA and MHA; military representation at policy, design and decisionmaking levels in governmental defenseindustrial complex; country’s land borders placed under military or at least MoD, as the entire seacoast is.

The bogey of no ‘military consensus’ on CDS was negated in the above mentioned conference chaired by then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2005. The spurious scare of military coup is raised sometime knowing full well military is too disciplined. But stories are cooked by the deep state of troop movement from Agra-Hisar, albeit enough troops are stationed in Delhi. Another excuse for not appointing CDS is that there is no political consensus. But the Modi Government shut down the Planning Commission without discussion, replacing it with Niti Aayog. So why can’t MoD be replaced by a Department of Defence, manned in majority by military professionals? These are the bare minimum essentials - imperative to meet threat scenarios. Aside from defining the NSS, the NSA needs to focus on optimizing our considerable Special Forces potential in all our areas of strategic interests, rather than only direct type of action like ‘surgical strikes’.

Command and Control of DPC

It is also unclear who the DPC will be accountable to. The indications are that at best it is planned to be accountable to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which boils down to the political leadership of the time. This would be incorrect and amount to ‘not’ being accountable— dictated by whims and fancies of a political party. The DPC must be officially made accountable to the Parliament. Besides, what will be the relationship between the DPC and Parliament’s Standing Committee for Defence – both operating in isolation?

Conclusion

The DPC is hardly the panacea to address the woes of India’s defence. The DPC may also become a recipe for clash between the NSA and the Defence Minister at a future date—perhaps some years from now. Unless the missing defence reforms, as mentioned above, are undertaken in conjunction DPC and latter made accountable to Parliament, it will not achieve its true potential.