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11th Y.B. Chavan Memorial Lecture Delivered by Dr. Ajay Kumar, Defence Secretary on "India’s Defence Policy: Contours and Challenges"

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  • Dr. Ajay Kumar, Defence Secretary, Ministry of Defence
    December 03, 2020

    Defence Policy

    • Defence policy involves decisions in the context of the international security environment and the domestic constraints and motivations. The contours of Strategic decisions are defined by the context of international politics and structural decisions are governed by the domestic context. Strategic decisions deal with threats and challenges of the alliances, balance of power, nuclear weapons, transnational terrorism, and war and peace. Structural decisions deal with the issues like modernisation of armed forces, procurement of weapons within overall ambit of availability of fiscal resource and decision-making structures. These strategic and structural variables are not independent but mutually interactive. For instance, India’s arms acquisition and our approaches for enhancing deterrence involve both the strategic and structural constraints, i.e., at the strategic level our approach towards enhancing the credibility of deterrence through capability acquisition must take into account the structural constraints of fiscal resource availability.
    • Over the years, the importance of defence policy in India’s national security studies has increased a great deal because of the continuity and multiplicity of external threats – both military and non-military. Threats and challenges from the emerging international security system dictate better political and strategic management of defence. External and domestic environments in the context of India’s defence policy making are not competing but mutually interactive influences. A credible and an affordable defence will depend a great deal on our ability to craft resilient strategic approach within the overarching influence of both external and internal determinants.  
    • Defence Policy encompasses all aspects of operations, HR issues  including recruitment, training, Acquisition, maintenance,  Financial Planning,  planning for taking care of erstwhile soldiers, land related policies. Important task is to balance the budget so that there are monies for upgradation and modernization, infusion of new tech and new age weapons/platforms as well as monies for taking care of men and women. This also touches upon pension to the veterans and correct ratio short service and permanent components in the Armed Forces.
    • Let us look at some examples of Policy domain of Defence.


    • Directives of the Govt.  as general guiding principles to prepare for  and fight a war. A new dimension of “response short of war” and “proxy war” has also emerged now.
    • It is imperative to bring in greater jointness and integration in our defence forces. A major reform process has been initiated with the formation of first CDS in the country and the formation of Department of Military Affairs this year.
    • Development of border infrastructure in an important part of our operational capability. We are ramping up our border infrastructure with the twin objective of meeting the developmental needs of border areas as well as our strategic requirements.

    Human Resources

    • The need to preserve our territorial integrity against the existing challenges and secure our larger strategic interests requires the maintaining, equipping and sustaining of an optimum defence force. This leads us to the following questions:
      • What is the optimum size of a defence force for a country like ours ?
      • What is the right force mix?
      • What would be the appropriate command structure?
    • These questions defy easy answers. It would however not be incorrect to say that the size and complement that met the requirement 10-20 years ago may not be what is needed in the present. Similarly, the way we are currently structured may not allow us to respond adequately to future challenges. Technology and improved connectivity and communication are great enablers as well as game changers. Any exercise to optimise the force structure has to be cognisant of these possibilities.
    • These are the issues that the Ministry of Defence is currently trying to address.

    Arming and Modernizing the Forces

    • Arming and modernizing our Armed Forces involves determining the right capabilities and technologies that allow the services to deliver the operational directives. Here again, the need for greater and rigorous prioritisation cannot be over emphasised, keeping the overall role and mandate of individual service.
    • As new dimensions of war is unfolding in the Cyber, Space and Information warfare  fields, every country has to  invest in hardware, software as well as skilled manpower.  These are rapidly changing areas and hence constant upgradation is required.
    • Even in the conventional areas, new generation of submarines, ships, torpedoes fighters, helicopters, tanks, artillery guns and missiles, unmanned aerial and undersea equipments are getting developed. All these need to be inducted and that too requires funds.
    • Maintenance of these assets, stocking to the optimum level also requires policy interventions.

    Atma Nirbhar Bharat in Defence

    • A country with our scale of defence requirements cannot afford the dependencies that have been generated over the years, putting us in the league of biggest arms importers of the world. The answer lies in greater self reliance. Atmanirbhar Bharat is a key foundation of our defence policy. India cannot emerge as a major defence player, unless we create the requisite self-reliance within the defence industry and emerge as a manufacturing hub.
    • Indigenous production of our defence requirements is the ideal situation and has to be the long term vision for India.
    • The defence and aerospace sector is a USD 300 Billion opportunity of which presently we form a small pie. India needs to increase its share in the sector. For India to be able to make its mark in a global stage of defence production ecosystem, we need to promote our private sector in defence and aerospace while increasing the efficiency and productivity of our public sector.
    • It was very encouraging to see the response to the last Defence Expo at Lucknow, which saw the largest number of delegates from across the world but also the largest ever participation by Indian industry.
    • The decision to create a defence corridor in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu will go a long way in achieving the vision outlined.
    • The decision to increase FDI in Defence, improvement in Ease of Doing Business rankings are all indicators that we are progressing well.
    • The recently announced negative list and the participation of private players in the defence manufacturing field are also encouraging indicators towards achieving self-reliance in defence manufacture
    • The key to Atma Nirbhar or self-reliance in defence is design and development of technologies and equipment. We cannot achieve self-reliance through production based on ToT. In this task, there is need to use all our national capabilities whether in public sector, private sector, academia, start-ups. In last two three years we have seen significantly greater interest than ever in the past in the Indian DPSUs and industry to design and develop defence equipment. This has been evidenced from several Make-2 projects. Suo-motto proposals under Make-2 have, for the first time enabled the industry to offer items to Services which they have developed even if there is no specific request for offer for the same. 
    • DRDO has also now started associating industry partners from design stage itself as against using them as mere production partners. Under Mission Raksha Gyanshakti, Indian DPSUs have filed over 1000 patents in last 2 years.  
    • Startups are key to our overall R&D effort in the country. After the launch of iDEx in April 2018, we have seen increasing appreciation of the potential of start-ups in defence domain. Today, apart from iDEX, DRDO through its Technology Development Fund, Services through their Design Bureaus, DPSUs and OFB are all working with start-ups in multiple design and development projects.
    • We are also trying to foster a closer relationship with academia in effort to promote the defence ecosystem.
    • We are also witnessing an increase in export of defence equipment and this is likely to enlarge further in the coming years. It is also noteworthy that the growth of defence export has largely been driven by private sector. For the first time, this year India figured in SIPRI’s list of defence exporters.
    • A key policy effort is to increase ease of doing business for defence industry. Several steps have been taken in this regard and I do not wish to list them all. Increasingly, procurements are based on open competition rather than nomination basis. Online clearances for export, online clearances for NOCs of various types have helped bring greater transparency and faster clearances. We are working towards implementation of Public Financial Management System in defence which will also bring greater ease in payment systems in defence. Several procedural steps have been streamlined under Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 which reduces the burden of Testing and Trials on indigenously produced items.

    Fiscal  Management 

    • Government has reiterated from time to time that funds will be made available for all essential requirements of defence and availability of resources will not be a constraint for planning and implementing defence policies. That said, the funds are not unlimited and there are competing demands on the kitty. This leads us to the issue of prioritising expenditure and eliminating wastages.
    • Reforms are needed to carry out greater integration, which will reduce expenditure and also reorient manpower in order to achieve better teeth to tail ratio for the armed forces. The recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee are under examination and implementation.
    • Improvements have also been carried out in procurement procedures to further streamline the process. The new DAP 2020 is an effort in that direction. This will reduce the procurement cycle time, make procedures more transparent and efficient.
    • Enhanced delegation of powers has been made to further reduce the procurement timelines and the associated costs.
    • Encouraging outsourcing in non core areas is also being encouraged
    • Greater use of technology to improve overall efficiency, better utilisation of resources and fiscal management.

    Forging partnerships

    • Our defence relationship are based on
      • Free, Open, Inclusive amd rules based order
      • Economic growth to meet aspirations of i.3 billion people of India and about 2 billion people of the region
      • Emergence of India not a threat to anyone. Nor do we get threatened by anyone
    • Our maritime and national interests also require maintenance of stability in our immediate neighbourhood as also preservation of a rule based order in not just the Indian Ocean Region but the Indo-Pacific.
    • The recent years have seen an increase in our engagement with likeminded nations and signing of some key agreements that facilitate greater synergy and interoperability.
    • The recently concluded Malabar Exercise is one such example of our international collaboration and engagement.
    • Defence training is another important area in our international partnerships. We are steadily looking to increase our footprint with respect to training slots that we offer to Friendly Foreign countries. In this direction we recently increased the seats on offer in NDC from 100 to 120. Most of these will go for foreign participants.


    • Defence policy has acquired tremendous amount of importance in current national and global scenario. We are cognizant of the same and we are trying to respond to the challenge.  It is this recognition that is manifested in several new initiatives and reform processes which the Government has started in the defence sector. However, the process of reform within defence is far from complete.
    • In these times of fast changing technologies and a dynamic world scenario, we need to continuously fine tune our responses on a real time basis and be ever alert to deal with emerging situations.
    • With the objective of getting the benefit of advice based on specialized knowledge and their wide networks, we have initiated a process of working with think tanks and research centres on a diverse range of defence policy issues. We are greatly encouraged by their response and their valuable inputs and look to continue with the process.

    Thank You