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Why Modi govt needs to focus on affordable, sustainable and prioritized modernization of Indian armed forces?

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By Lt Gen A B Shivane.

Inadequate budgetary support, decision paralysis, lack of accountability and responsibility,
frustrating procurement cycles and weak defence industrial base are only some of the ills.
The key remedy is that the trajectory of defence budget which has hit rock bottom of 1962
debacle, be gradually reversed to attain 2.5 to 3% of GDP. Further, defence budget needs to
dovetail a fifteen-year assured financial perspective with inbuilt non-lapsabilty.

Greater accountability and mixed uniform and civil manning of MoD is essential for
accountability. Even the defence services need to review their modernisation strategy to a
more pragmatic model. Accordingly, Equipment Modernization Strategy must address the
strategic, technological and fiscal environments and build our equipping priorities based on
value, vulnerability and risks in temporal terms. To build and maintain the desired
capabilities, we must focus on affordable, sustainable, prioritized and cost effective
modernisation decisions which integrate mature technologies and incremental
improvements, while investing in emerging technologies for the future in a spiral
approach.

Inadequacies in the Present Approach to Modernisation
Although modernisation is an ongoing process however, there are inadequacies and
infirmities in the present, which are listed under:-

The present approach is personality-oriented approach and not an institutionalized
approach, resulting in frequent cancellations / review even of cases, sometimes at advance
stage resulting in waste of time and manhours retarding capabilities.

In the present dispensation, budget seems to be driving modernization and not vice
versa or a balance between these conflicting requirements. Resultantly schemes which may
have manifested to a contract stage after years of effort are not progressed / diluted due to
insufficient budget.

Modernisation endeavours and QRs (Qualitative Requirements) are predominantly
driven by acquisition of state-of-the-art capabilities which are either unrealistic or cost
prohibitive. Lack of pragmatism and quest for top of the line capability often result in
denial of even available mature technologies. More often than not the procurement and
kitting cycle is longer than the technological cycle due to sluggish processes and time
insensitivity.

While there is a scaling committee in place, but the quest for uniform scaling a large
military is cost exorbitant and often at the cost of another capability.

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The hard disk memory of defence equipment scams of the past has given way for a
risk averse culture in the processing and decision-making chain, especially of high value
procurements which merit either a MoF or CCS approval. Thus, while there is accountability
for decisions there is no accountability for indecisiveness and time eg FICV case.

Modernisation, expansion and sustenance are not balanced within the meagre
budgetary allocation. Expansion and modernisation cannot go hand in hand. Further,
modernisation and sustenance are two sides of the same coin. This balance needs to be
addressed to obviate voids and foster prioritised modernisation needs.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
Modernisation will be to balance capability, sustainability, and readiness within the
allocated resources to achieve the desired ends. This requires us to build our equipping
priorities based on value, vulnerability and risks in temporal terms. The contours of such a
strategy will entail:-

Tiered Modernisation. This approach prioritises in terms of progressive capabilities
and tiered modernisation while mitigating the risks of low funding reality.

Spiral Approach to Technology Induction. The need is to encourage indigenous
solutions and integrate mature technologies with incremental improvements, while
investing in future disruptive technologies.

Risk – Vulnerability Analysis. Calibrated modernisation relates to prioritized
modernisation based on acquisitions adding maximum value to combat effectiveness,
mitigating critical vulnerabilities and accepting certain risks in temporal terms.

Cost Informed Decisions. Modernisation decisions must be both affordable and cost
effective within the overall budget to include life cycle costs. The opportunity cost of over-
spending to close a specific high cost gap is that we will not be able to afford closing
several other gaps; thus, we must make cost informed decisions to manage best bang for
the buck .

(The author is a distinguished Armoured Corps officer and is presently appointed as Consultant MoD/OFB. Views expressed are personal.)