Selective Military Reforms – Why not holistic?

September 4, 2017
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Based on recommendations of the government-appointed Lt Gen D B Shekatkar Committee "Enhancing Combat Capability and Rebalancing Defence Expenditure of the Armed Forces", government has approved 65 of the 188 Committee recommendations mainly pertain to Army that included redeploying 57,000 personnel.

The approved reforms include:

  1. Optimization of Signals Establishments;
  2. Restructuring of repair echelons in Army;
  3. Redeployment of Ordnance echelons;
  4. Better utilization of Supply and Transport echelons and Animal Transport units;
  5. Closure of Military Farms and Army postal establishments in peace locations;
  6. Enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in Army;
  7. Improving the efficiency of the NCC, plus retired officers and jawans to replace serving personnel for running NCC;
  8. Performance audit of non-combat organizations under MoD, plus Defence Estates, Defence Accounts, DGQA, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), DRDO be accountable;
  9. Establish joint services war college for training middle-level officers;
  10. 'Roll On' plan for fresh acquisitions be introduced to overcome 'surrendering' funds at the end of every financial year, and;
  11. Financial powers of all three chiefs and vice chiefs be enhanced further to quicken the pace of acquisitions.

These reforms, termed Phase 1, are to be completed by end 2019. Significantly, the Committee had stated that if all 188 recommendations are effected within five years, it would result in saving 25,000 cr that could be utilized for modernizing the Armed Forces. MoD sent only 99 of the 188 recommendations to Services HQ to work out the implementation plan, of which 65 sent to the Army have been approved, while balance 34 are to be taken up in Phase 2. It is unclear how many, if not all, of the 89 recommendations not sent to the Services will be dumped. Of the 57,000 personnel being redeployed, 31,000 are civilian-defence officials. Was there scope of phasing out the latter after attaining normal retirement? Their redeployment may aggravate functional problems Army is already facing with civilian-defence officials paid more than their military counterparts based on which they claim superiority over same ranks. Additionally, creation of new posts in AFHQ Civil Service will play catalyst to the problem. With nationalism in focus, why not 'combatize' AFHQ Civil Service? Performance audit of non-combat organizations under MoD and making organizations like Defence Estates, Defence Accounts, DGQA, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), DRDO accountable is inherent responsibility of MoD, which cannot be termed reforms. Similarly, 'Roll On' plan for fresh acquisitions to overcome 'surrendering' funds at the end of every FY is misnomer, as it leaves loopholes. Why not simply say that unutilized defence budget will be carried forward to next FY, as was recommended by a former defence minister, as also in reports by various Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence? There is need to guard against changes in manning of NCC from becoming 'political' appointments, as has happened in 'some' Zila Sainik Welfare establishments. Enhancing financial powers of Chiefs and Vice Chiefs 'reduces' red-tape but if the overall defence budget continues to be negative, like the current and previous one, then enhanced powers don't leave much to play around. Army would have worked out the implementation plan for the rest of the issues mentioned above; optimizing relevant components for boosting combat capabilities including force multipliers like intelligence, information systems, cyber warfare, electronic warfare, and optimizing logistics and maintenance.

But at the end of it all, this announcement is kneejerk, devoid of any holistic and strategic sense – obviously based on selective bureaucratic advice. Why have the reforms not been addressed top down, starting with the Higher Defence Organizations (HDO) and the MoD? What has been approved suits the bureaucracy perfectly, including the redeployment of civilian-defence officers. Ironically, the government having been in office three years plus has not even commenced the process to define a national security strategy because that will make the bureaucracy accountable.

The way reorganization of MoD is being orchestrated too is obvious. As per nes, middle-level appointments in MoD being are being identified for manning by military officers. At the same time, Cabinet has approved creation of 7 posts of Principal Directors (PDs) and 36 posts of Director on regular basis of in the AFHQ Civil Service, MoD. With higher pay and allowances, these PD's will claim to be senior to Lieutenant Generals / equivalent of the military – so welcome to more obstructionism, red tape and bureaucratic control in future. The proposal for CDS / Permanent Chairman COSC appears in limbo presently, but even if it comes through it will be without full operational powers. Besides, the CCS note on which HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) was raised is explicit in saying "As and when the CDS is established, he will have equal voting rights as the Service Chiefs, and if two Service Chiefs disagree, MoD will arbitrate", implying the CDS can hardly speak as one voice to the government, given the bureaucratic finesse of 'divide and rule'. There is no news about the Theatre Commands either. HQ IDS was raised for being merged with MoD but that did not happen, and will not unless the political authority stops being subservient to the bureaucracy. The Kargil Review Committee and the follow up Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the Deputy Prime Minister-cum Home Minister during NDA I, had both recommended not only establishment of the CDS but also DQQA (Director General Quality Assurance) and DGAFMS (Directorate General Armed Forces Medical Services) to be brought under HQ IDS, but MoD did not permit this – for very obvious reasons. Further, we may see similar kneejerk announcement with respect to reforms in the Navy and Air Force as Phase II, but sans military integration. Without reorganization of HDO including MoD, without integrating the military, reforms as this one will only make our enemies happy.