If Mr. Antony is in the vicinity, a pretty speech can’t be far behind.
Defence Minister AK Antony was the Chief Guest during the presentation of the the Field Marshal Cariappa Annual Memorial Lecture (themed “National Security and Military Modernization”), marking Infantry Day celebrations. Excerpts of his address follow:
Our strategic, geopolitical situation and the compulsions of history pose unique challenges for our country. Some nations are keen to incite threats to our unity and integrity. The prevalent security environment necessitates securing our land, air and sea borders to effectively guard against traditional threats to our land borders, defending our airspace and protection of our maritime energy supply routes. Our neighbours are building their military capabilities at a feverish pace. Thus, to successfully meet such challenges, the need for us to be vigilant and prepared at all times goes without saying and is unquestionable.
Our Government is alive to the urgent need to quicken the pace of modernization of our Armed Forces. We have initiated a number of measures to provide an impetus to defence procurement. Defence Ministry is in the process of implementing a new procurement policy, which would be even more effective and quicker than the current DPP-2008.
We should leverage the strengths of both – the Defence PSUs and the private sector to achieve our objectives in the realm of defence.
Last but not the least, I would like to flag one issue of real concern. Even with a large industrial infrastructure, we are still importing about 70 per cent of our defence requirements. We are still far off from establishing ourselves as a major defence equipment manufacturing nation. Our efforts to reduce the import content of our defence requirements are not yielding the desired results. Given our economic status, this is not a very desirable state of affairs. If modernization is to be more meaningful, it must go hand-in-hand with indigenization. [Press Information Bureau]
So really, what is our Defence Minister of half a decade telling us here? From “[t]he prevalent security environment necessitates securing our land, air and sea borders…” (thank you, by the way, Mr. Minister, this is a real eye-opener) to “the need for us to be vigilant and prepared at all times goes without saying and is unquestionable” (I prostrate myself before you for so divine a revelation), there is nothing that Mr. Antony has said that will give hope to those who despair over the state of India’s defense preparedness.
Beware the man who says he is “in the process” of doing something, for not only has he not started doing what he should, he also has no intention of completing it. India’s defense procurement is broken. Not only do the services regularly underspend their allocated budgetary capital, procurement is shackled by provisions capping FDI in defense at 26 per cent. And nothing the Defense Minister has said or done in the recent past indicates that this will be changed. Yet, he says that the new procurement procedure would allow “more effective and quicker” transactions than DPP-2008. Indeed.
Further, we continue to assign priority to indigenization in defense. But this is misplaced thinking. Indigenization is only relevant if domestic industries possess the expertise, capacity, incentivization and backing needed to thrive, be profitable, and address the needs of the services. The private sector has slowly started making its presence felt — the Arihant project is a good example — in an industry that it was effectively shut out of, for decades, but it is still curtailed by systemic inefficiencies. And innovation and profitability are not even incentivized in DPSUs. Yet, India’s Defence Minister suggests that India leverage the strengths of DPSUs (which have, by his own admission, not met the requirements of the armed forces) and a very shackled private sector to meet our defense needs. Given the current state of affairs, how does he expect this to yield effective results?
And when Mr. Antony stands up and says that there is a need for us to be “vigilant and prepared at all times,” is this a mere philosophical statement, or does he actually plan to do something at the lamentable state of India’s defense preparedness? It is just as well that Mr. Antony works in government. With this sort of track record and reputation, he might have been summarily dismissed a week before reporting to duty in the private sector.