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Monday, November 10, 2014
Manohar Parrikar needs to modernize military arsenal on a war footing
NEW DELHI: It was a no-brainer that the gigantic defence ministry, with its complexities and national security imperatives, required a full-time Raksha Mantri. It was all the more critical after eight years of a "holding operation" by the risk-averse A K Antony. When he took "additional charge" of defence in May, finance minister Arun Jaitley made it clear that it was a stopgap arrangement.
Now, that Manohar Parrikar is the new defence minister, Jaitley will not have to divide his attention between North and South Blocks. Jaitley has done some ground work, which ranges from clearing several long-pending projects worth Rs 1,20,000 crore to pushing for indigenous manufacture of helicopters to submarines. Apart from a nuanced blacklisting policy to replace the older indiscriminate one, the FDI cap in defence production too has been raised to 49% from the earlier 26%. But it'll take a lot more to ensure Modi's 'Make in India' rhetoric is actually translated into concrete action on the ground to build a robust defence industry base. India cannot afford to remain in the strategically-vulnerable position of being the world's largest arms importer, sourcing over 65% of its military hardware from abroad.
Forces continue to battle operational shortages, from submarines, fighters and helicopters to howitzers, air defence weapons and night-vision devices, despite India having spent Rs 83,458 crore on importing weapons in the last three years. Then, systemic reforms are required to revamp the country's moribund higher defence management. There is need to bridge the civil-military divide by integrating Service HQs with the MoD, create tri-Service commands for space, cyber and special operations, streamline cum- bersome arms procurement procedures, and overhaul the tardy functioning of DRDO and its 50 labs, five defence PSUs, four shipyards and 39 ordnance factories.
The pace of border infrastructure development is another vital matter. Only 18 of the 73 "strategic'' roads, identified for construction along the Line of Actual Control with China a decade ago, have been completed till now. Construction of the 14 "strategic" railway lines is yet to kick off. There are also the highly- emotive issues like the National War Memorial or the yet-to-be-implemented policy of one-rank, one-pension for 14 lakh serving and almost 30 lakh retired military person- nel spread across the country.