From a “sorry state of India’s combat preparedness”, as claimed by former Army Chief General VK Singh and the Parliamentary Standing Committee admitting “critical shortages” in 2012, India’s armed forces have come a long way under Prime Minister Narendra’s Modi’s rule.
Defence and military affairs has been a key focus area of the Modi Government over the last eight years and there is no doubt that the three Services – Army, Navy and the Air Force – are today better equipped and more prepared to fight a conventional war than they were in 2014. Prime Minister Modi has brought about a paradigm shift in the working of the Defence Ministry, not only by streamlining the defence purchases and a new emphasis on selfreliance in defence purchases, but also brining about radical structural changes in the armed forces. It was under him that the Centre brought in the biggest change in decades – creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for a united armed force over individual Services working in silos.
The creation of the CDS was recommended by the Kargil Review Committee, but its recommendations were gathering dust during the ten years of UPA rule. The CDS now ensures synergised working of the armed forces to enhance their combat capability and is also the principle advisor of the Government on military affairs.
As former Army Commander Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) put it,” What has really worked for the armed forces is that they are now out of a decision paralysis that had hit them during the UPA-II Government.” Several other standalone reforms, such as the entry of women in combat roles in the armed services, have been spurred by the Modi Government. The Government has also increased the financial powers given to the Service Headquarters to buy items they deem necessary without having to go through the long and convoluted procurement process filled with red-tapism.
The Modi Government has gone in for several key purchases that were pending for years. Be it the new SiG 716 rifles from the US for the infantry, the Rafale jets from France for the Air Force or the Chinook heavy lift and Apache attack helicopters or the S 400 air defence system from Russia, it has pushed for better equipment.
The big indigenous purchases include the K9 Vajra guns, which have added to the artillery fire power, besides the push for missile capabilities, both nuclear and conventional.
The Agniveer recruitment reform brought by the current dispensation must be contextualised in the backdrop of the larger canvas of defence reforms and a reorganisation of the armed forces into theatre commands to promote jointness and synergy.
These and several other recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee, such as the establishment of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), implementation of ‘One Rank One Pension’ after 40 years, establishment of the Defence Space and Cyber Agencies, Special Operations Division, and the corporatisation of the ordnance factories have already been implemented by the Modi Government.
The Agnipath scheme heralds a new era of bold reforms to strengthen India’s defence preparedness. This recruitment reform will help in right-sizing the armed forces and is prevalent globally in many countries. Further, considering Beijing’s expansionist agenda, it will certainly tend to increase more military pressure on the disputed border. According to experts, the Agnipath scheme can prove to be a masterstroke to answer China, as India’s youth and tech-savvy Agniveers will prove to be a real threat to the Dragon on the LAC.
These radical reforms were long overdue and are in the interest of the country’s preparedness in the face of emerging threats. This momentum will have to be sustained, for which an effective institutionalised interface between the Ministry of Defence, the Services, and the private sector is required at the policy-making level.