The defence ministry has been a source of worry as key decisions were put off under the risk-averse UPA minister A K Antony. As a result, procurement policies remain long-winded affecting acquisition of much-needed military hardware. Indigenous production has also limped along.

On top of this, the relationship between the civil and military leadership has at best been awkward, at worst, strained. The challenges facing the new minister are many.

The top priorities are:

* Boost indigenous defence R&D and production by revamping DRDO and its 50 labs, five defence PSUs, four shipyards and 39 ordnance factories as well as encourage the private sector to enter arms production. India still imports 65% of its military hardware and software.

* Streamline cumbersome arms procurement procedures to fasttrack acquisitions and reduce corruption. Also re-examine policies for offsets, transfer of technology and the ban on agents. Projects for new submarines, howitzers, fi ghters , helicopters, night-fi ghting capabilities, air-defence weapons and the like have been stuck for years due to politico-bureaucratic lethargy.

* Reform the country’s higher defence management, with measures ranging from creating a post like the chief of defence staff to truly integrating Service HQs with the defence ministry. “Cross-staffing”, or posting military officers to MoD at the director/joint secretary-levels, is an idea whose time has come.

* Ensure faster build-up of both the new mountain strike corps as well as military infrastructure like the longidentified 73 strategic roads and 14 railway lines, helipads and advance landing grounds, along the Line of Actual Control to counter China. Boost force-levels and infrastructure at Andaman & Nicobar Command, apart from creating three new tri-Service commands for space, cyber and special operations.

* Complete India’s nuclear weapons triad by faster induction of nuclear submarine INS Arihant and its follow-on sister ships with longrange missiles. Land and air legs are already in place with Agni ballistic missiles and fi ghter-bombers .

* Hike budgeted defence expenditure to at least 2.5% of GDP, instead of letting it wallow around just 1.7 to 1.9%. Cut the flab in the armed forces, wimprove the teeth-to-tail ratio.

* Step up welfare of ex-servicemen. The UPA-II regime opportunistically announced the grant of the long-demanded “one rank, one pension” principle in the run-up to the elections, but it has not been implemented yet.


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