Managing the nation's defence, somehow
Nine officers and men dead in the last six months in two submarine accidents with one submarine written off and another grounded.
Who is responsible for the death of these persons and the loss of expensive vital equipment? What did we tell their families? That someone somewhere kept tossing files while the political masters showed little concern?
Presumably we will pay off the families and clear our sarkari conscience. Apart from the human loss and recurring tragedy which is born of an attitude of a government that refuses to take its responsibilities seriously, there are other serious questions and worries.
The Navy, with its aging fleet, was increasingly deployed on coast guard anti-terror duties and not for its primary role, preparing for the defence of the nation in times of war
True Admiral Joshi did the honourable thing by resigning and accepting moral responsibility. But what about the government? It accepted the resignation with an alacrity which makes one suspicious that it did so to avoid taking responsibility for its continued neglect and cavalier indifference in handling vital issues of defence and security of the nation.
Who else is responsible for the state of affairs of our security apparatus? We have shortages of fighter aircraft, artillery guns, naval vessels. We have shortages of manpower in the armed forces, paramilitaries and intelligence services.
Why do these incidents keep happening? What did successive governments do to secure the nation after Mumbai 1993, Kargil 1999, New Delhi 2001 or Mumbai 2008, beyond cannibalising existing establishments?
Did we do anything to improve the calibre of the recruits, their numbers, training and acquisition and maintenance of equipment in consonance with today’s needs and adequate for future threats? In the Sindhuratna case, was there neglect or was there sabotage. And many more questions, perhaps, which experts could divine.
15 years ago the cabinet had drawn up a 30-year submarine modernisation plan to have 24 submarines by 2030. Half-way through this period we now have more than half of the 14 submarines which have completed three-fourths of their operational lives. What is more, the Navy, with its aging fleet, was increasingly deployed on coast guard anti-terror duties and not for its primary role, preparing for the defence of the nation in times of war.
What better testimony to our collective incompetence and disinterest in our enhancing the country’s security systems. Four years ago, the Navy pointed out that the submarine fleet was getting vulnerable as the batteries would be outliving their life but red-tape prevented indigenous replacements. Sindhuratna was an accident waiting to happen.
There has to be a professional political and bureaucratic approach to these vital issues. The philosophy is manage somehow, rather than seriously repair and upgrade systems. The security of the nation and that of the men and women who are willing to give up their tomorrow for our today is a high moral responsibility and cannot be left to improvisation or indecision.
We seem to have enough money to dole out for projects named after our departed leaders because these will fetch votes but very little to secure the nation as security is not relevant for election prospects. We need to address our problems for now and for the future, thus anticipate what systems we want and work to acquire them.
It is true that some of the problems lie within our system including the forces themselves. Inexperience in governance among transient civil servants rapidly rotating between two unrelated jobs is matched by war battle inexperience of the generals whose knowledge is now more and more theoretical while the political leaders are more concerned with their electoral prospects than the defence of the nation.
The consequence of this is an unending battle of egos in the corridors of power. The day of the generalist civil servant was over a few decades ago.
The entire system is now far more complicated, systems are far more technology driven, the linkages are far greater and requires continued in depth expertise built over a number of years. This also leads to superficial assessments and faulty decisions.
There is much to be said for a greater component of armed forces in the MoD and a greater presence of civilians in the armed forces for them to understand what it means to be posted in Siachen or in the deserts of Rajasthan or distant Walong, to be on the high seas for weeks or undersea for days, to experience g-force in a fighter aircraft.
The desk may give theoretical knowledge but it gives no experience and therefore does not inculcate empathy. Unless we reinvent systems, and ourselves rapidly, we wait for the next disaster.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)