The formation of a new Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the National Security Advisor is a timely step towards ensuring a coordinated response to any threat to India’s national security and defence. It has apparently taken the all- important matter of defence planning out of the sluggish bureaucratic procedures and given a direct say to the chiefs of Defence Services in policy formulation. The decision has come not a day too soon. We live in an age where an adversary has been conducting a ‘proxy war’ against us using the instrumentality of cross border terrorism and it is only appropriate that the NSA representing the PMO should be chairing the DPC – a committee at the national apex responsible for an integral approach to defence and security. Amongst its prime functions is the overseeing of the defence build up, strengthening of defence and security capabilities on the borders as also on our homeland and framing of a national security policy.
The notification defining the tasks of the DPC states that it will prepare draft reports on national security strategy, international defence engagement strategy, roadmap to build a defence manufacturing ecosystem, strategy to boost defence exports and priority capability development plans that will then be submitted to the defence minister. Each of these will require active contribution from the defence chiefs including a considered view of the chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, a seamless inter ministerial coordination and a swift decision making process involving the defence minister and the prime minister. The present National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is the main architect of the new Indo-US convergence on issues of security that has seen president Donald Trump squarely condemning Pakistan for providing safe havens to Terrorists across the Islamic spectrum - from Taliban to Lashkar-e-Toiba and ending the chronic policy of the US administration of making a distinction between ‘good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ at the cost of India.
It is this common grid of understanding on security and defence that is likely to lead to Trump regime relaxing restrictions on the sale of Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg in a range of 300 km for India. Doval has also played a key role in handling security relations of India with China, Russia, Israel and Saudi Arabia, to our advantage and was therefore Prime Minister Modi’s natural choice for heading the DPC.
The new committee is starting off on a welcome note of urgency - the lead players under the NSA are the three defence chiefs and the defence secretary with foreign secretary and the expenditure secretary chipping in to understand their roles and responsibility for compliance. The Strategic Policy Group (SPG) headed by cabinet secretary that earlier drove policy on security and defence will no doubt help to expeditiously execute the DPC projects in the new arrangements. The initiative is in line with the Modi regime’s trust and confidence in defence forces and its determination to make up for lost time in achieving the optimal defence and security preparedness in view of the current threat scenario facing India.
India needs a new national security roadmap – considering the wide spectrum of dangers that arose from our neighbourhood and beyond and it is high time we gave up the piecemeal, uncoordinated and bureaucracy- centric approach to as serious a matter as security and defence. Prime Minister Modi has to be complemented for being so focused on it and finding an empowered and efficient looking arrangement and the right person to entrust it with, at this critical juncture for the nation. The subgroups being formed to study different facets of the task will no doubt present the best options and suggest the speedy pathways to achieve the objectives concerned. The mission has to be large enough to cover both the present as well as the anticipated scene in the future. At the same time, the roadmap must define the priorities of the moment since everything may not be achieved at one go. Defence and security policy needs to be executed as much by our diplomatic establishment as by our defence forces and the national security set up. There cannot be an unnecessary quibbling on raising and using resources. It should be remembered that an average Indian attaches highest priority to national security and is even prepared to push his or her personal and economic difficulties to the background to support an honest effort of the government to repel any dangers posed to it by external and internal forces.
The Defence Planning Committee would be concerned with the challenge of executing a mountain warfare on our northern borders that might require use of UAVs, making a punitive response to infiltration of terrorists from across LOC or IB by Pakistan that might utilise drones for identifying the launch pads on the other side, and upgrading our Navy for the defence of Indian Ocean right through the Indo- Pacific region.
The national security strategy has to focus on establishing the ‘triad’ concept in all theatres of war and the new DPC under the NSA will be able to dispense with any unevenness created by the absence of a common Chief of Defence for Army, Navy and Air Force. Defence procurement can also be toned up keeping in view the calls of a united defence. The biggest advantage of the new body at the national apex is that policy decisions of strategic importance and project execution for defence in a given time frame will be realised without bureaucratic delays and with full utilisation of the inputs from the defence chiefs - all of this being carried out on the express authority of prime minister Modi – the chief of the political executive governing our democratic state.
(The writer is a former director at Intelligence Bureau)