India should consider Net Assessment and Defence Economics Analysis as viable approaches
In the recently concluded 19th party congress of the Communist party of China (CPC), Xi Jinping has consolidated political and military power in China. He has, using a phased reforms approach and incremental policies, streamlined commands and reduced force size of the PLA but simultaneously also improved force efficiency and mobility. We need no further literature or numbers to remind us of the complete turnaround in China’s defence industry over the last decade. Foreign policy across the globe is being reordered as countries watch USA and North Korea’s interchanges warily. Changes in force structures, defence budgets and force reorganisations across different nations have been triggered by economic slowdowns and stagnation. All of which portend significant change to strategic, military and geopolitical objectives.
In contrast, India is still grappling with force modernisation plans. The government is in conversation with the private sector, both domestic and foreign OEMs, in order to push the Make in India objectives of indigenisation and self-reliance. Despite all these efforts there is little progress on ‘Make’ projects, no significant uptick in FDI and the strategic partnership model is only in the initial phases of implementation (with potential issues that need to be addressed in due course). As many as 65 of 99 (of a total of 188) recommendations of the Shekatkar committee have been approved by the ministry of defence (MoD) and the army, and these reforms are scheduled to be completed by December 31, 2019 1.
The pace of policy reform pursued by the government is necessary and commendable. However, one aspect that is missing in this entire matrix is planning and reform in decision-making processes. Policy reform is pursued only when systemic inefficiencies have caused administrative and financial burdens that cannot be ignored any longer. Convention and institutional ideals are mainstays of most organisations, but they cannot be touted as an excuse for unorganised decision-making within them. Military planning has always had to take into account, political, economic and social conditions. This makes military planning a multidisciplinary exercise involving strategic, foreign, public and economic policy considerations. Militaries across the globe have reviewed and consolidated their policy and operations planning processes post World War II and during the post-cold War as well as postmodern eras. The process of review, consolidation and more importantly introspection led to the creation of the net assessment framework.
Net assessment, as opposed to organisational research and systems analysis (ORSA), involves researching possible paths ahead (contingencies) with careful consideration to strategic interactions, longer time periods (generational or long term planning), bureaucratic behaviour and agency as well as a multifaceted approach to addressing strategic asymmetries.2 India not only has significant strategic asymmetries to address but also a byzantine bureaucracy and increasingly frayed civil-military relations to deal with. Given this complex set of circumstances and the fact that there is a Directorate of Net Assessment (DNA) at the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), it is perhaps time for India to undertake some research on military affairs under the net assessment framework.
The HQ IDS celebrated its 17th Raising Day in October.3 In the 17 years since its establishment, the HQ has reportedly taken initiatives to make good on their motto of ‘Victory through Jointness’. The debate surrounding not just the levels of preparedness of the armed forces, but also their capacity for joint operations makes it necessary to examine whether the initiatives taken by the HQ have been effective and if so, to what extent. One of the initiatives taken by HQ IDS was the release of the Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) in April this year.4 This doctrine was long overdue and its strengths and flaws have been discussed by eminent analysts and policymakers since its release. Critique of the Joint Doctrine has included everything from its poor grammar to only a vague strategic focus.5 Notwithstanding all critique, it is a first step in declaring India’s security objectives and strategic stance publicly.6 This first step is important to debating what truly entails national security objectives and national security strategy in the Indian context.
For the Joint Doctrine to be a foundational document for change, processes of planning, operational and administrative integration need to be initiated in the armed forces and defence establishment of the nation. At the very least, the tip of the iceberg of problems that needs to be dealt with has been acknowledged among ministerial and force high commands. However, given the history of baggage that comes with the armed forces and MoD, course corrections are only possible when a review of processes used till now is carried out and contingencies for their reform are taken into account. This is where the net assessment framework and defence economics analysis can come in handy to both the government and the armed forces.
One example that can illustrate the utility of both net assessment and defence economics analysis for India’s defence capabilities is the defence budget planning and allocation process. The budget planning process has been a fairly bottom-up approach for the armed forces and MoD thus far. The various departments, directorates and arms of the forces provide their budget estimates which are based on amounts allocated in previous years. These estimates are then consolidated and consulted on by the MoD and MoF approves allocations based on amounts allocated in previous years. While this bottom-up approach seems fair and useful at first glance, there are significant issues with it. The approach here is allocations being made on the basis of ceilings, arbitrarily set by trends established in previous years. It does not take into account immediate needs and emergency contingencies. Though this is presumably something that is left to the planning sensibilities of directorates and arms of the forces. However, the observation can be made that this has not been beneficial either to the forces or the government as the defence bill keeps mounting.
The nation’s economy has been subject to strictures that are aimed at meeting our fiscal deficit target. An understanding of these strictures does not seem to be reflected in respective decision making processes. Military and civilian bureaucracies seem to have settled themselves into their own perceptions of what is required for the defence capabilities of India. The economics of defence entails making the most of the resources available.7 This is in contrast to the more widely accepted idea that economics in defence can only mean calling for cuts or adjustments to budgets. These may be eventual steps, but what need to be addressed first are the processes of strategising, prioritising and decision making. As Andrew Marshall, the father of the net assessment framework, argued, developing practically applicable models of decision-making processes in governments and military bureaucracies is arguably the best way to course correct and forge a path ahead.8
It must be noted that apart from the immediate neighbourhood and regional strategic perspectives, global social, political and economic trends factor in to a nation’s decisions and capabilities. Force structure and operationalisation depends in turn on strategic perspectives and priorities. If both analysis and reform thus far have not brought about fruitful results, then it is perhaps time to get back to the drawing board and reconfigure how research on defence capabilities is conducted. It may stand the nation in better stead to invest in making better, more holistic decisions with regard to defence. Given the current thrust on indigenisation, integration and preparedness, introducing net assessment and defence economics analysis will improve diagnostics. After all, knowing what the problems are makes us better prepared to address them. The basic infrastructure for such research is already in place in the form of the DNA at the HQ IDS. All it will take is some political and military initiative to mobilise it.
Palkar is senior research associate, Pahle India Foundation.
1‘Ministry of Defence approves first phase of reforms in the Armed Forces’, Press Information Bureau, 30th August 2017. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=170365
2Bracken, Paul. ‘Net Assessment: A Practical Guide’, Parameters, United States Army War College, Spring 2006: pg. 92-96.
3‘Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff celebrates its 17th Raising Day’, Press Information Bureau, 1st October 2017. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=171296
4‘Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC, Chairman COSC & CNS Releases Joint Doctrine Indian Armed Forces – 2017’, Press Information Bureau, 25th April 2017. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=161274
5Sudarshan Shrikhande. ‘Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces – Wholly Informational, Hardly Doctrinal’. The Wire, 8th May 2017. https://thewire.in/133347/joint-doctrine-indian-armed-forces-wholly-informational-hardly-doctrinal/
6Patrick Bratton and David Smith. ‘India’s Joint Doctrine: Hopeless Muddle, or the Start of Strategic Articulation?’. War Room, United States Army War College, 6th June 2017. https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/indias-joint-doctrine-hopeless-muddle-start-strategic-articulation/
7Charles Hitch and Roland McKean. ‘Summary’ in The Economics of Defense in the Nuclear Age. RAND Corporation, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts: pg. v.
8John M Schutte. ‘Casting Net Assessment’, Drew Paper No. 16, Air Force Research Institute, Air Force University Press, Alabama, February 2015: pg. 62.