New Think Tank for military strategy planning?

April 20, 2018 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Media is agog with news about setting up of the Defence Planning Committee (DPC), described as a new “strategic Think Tank” to formulate:

  • one, national military and security strategy, and;
  • two, oversee foreign acquisitions and sales.

This is to make defence preparedness much more than an acquisition-centric exercise. The Committee will reportedly have a cross-ministry mandate, headed by the National Security Advisor (NSA), and members being the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, three Service Chiefs, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC) as its members. Tasks of the Committee as reported in media include:

  • Formulate national military and security strategy.
  • 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 centralized and organized 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.
  • “Evaluate foreign policy imperatives” and chalk out a strategy for international engagement that includes boosting Make in India exports and foreign assistance programs.

The Committee is to function through various sub-committees that provide inputs for senior functionaries and assess unconventional and emerging threats apart from developing more regular defence concepts. Specific inputs provided to the Committee are to be put up to the Defence Minister in the form of reports, quickening the process of approvals and time lines. 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).

The media has hailed the DPC as a great initiative albeit on first glance it gives the impression more of being a Defence Procurement and Marketing Committee, but whatever the aim, the following need to be closely examined:

  • National military and security strategy must flow out of a cohesive National Security Strategy (NSS), which the government has failed to define over last four years, as all predecessor governments. Military and Security Strategy cannot be formulated in isolation. Formulating the draft NSS and putting it up for CCS approval should have been the top task of NSA in 2014.
  • Defence Procurements cannot be planned without a Military and Security Strategy and a Comprehensive Defence Review (CDR), both of which are missing.
  • In absence of NSS and CDR, functioning of the DPC will be same as Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). Creating another layer of DPC above the DAC will only delay decisions, not improve them.
  • The only military professionals in this bureaucrat-heavy DPC are the three Chiefs (who should be part of the CCS) and the CISC, which does not augur anything better than the disjointed higher defence set up that is already existing.
  • The dedicated secretariat for the DPC obviously will be the National Security Advisory Board or the National Security Council Secretariat both of which are accessible to the NSA, who has been asking for and taking presentation on equipment holdings and procurements directly from the Vice Chiefs of the three Services.
  • DPC is duplication for what is task of the MoD. It will not only lengthen the process but also recipe for clash between the two at future date.
  • There can’t be bigger joke than saying DPC will fill up void of the NCTC to whatever extent.

If the government is really serious about defence beyond ‘Make in India’, shopping and defence exports, and that is a big if, then it should realize that setting up of the DPC will not serve much purpose. Instead, following actions need to be taken:

  • Strengthen MoD by merging HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) into it, which was the very basis on which HQ IDS was raised. This would give adequate military professional clout to MoD to address India’s defence holistically. MoD should also have representation from MEA and MHA to provide for integrated planning.
  • On two different occasions, during two different governments, HQ IDS gave presentations to two different NSAs how military can help define the NSS, but the NSAs shied away because the NSS and follow up Military Strategy will bring responsibility to both the MoD and the NSA. Let that happen now. The NSA can then define the NSS (which should logically have a non-classified and classified portions) and take it up for approval of CCS.
  • The country needed a Chief of Defence Staff a decade back, but if the government cannot overcome bureaucratic stonewalling, then the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee should be tasked to head a CDR and for working out the military strategy once the NSS is defined.
  • There is no shortcut to having a NCTC, which should be linked to all states where state-level SCTCs must be established. Then only, the Centre will be able to take control of the insurgencies and terrorism in the country.