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Defining a New Conceptual Framework: Defence Economic Infrastructure

Varun Bhaskar is Research Intern at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • September 20, 2010

    Defence planning like any other sector of the government is limited by the vocabulary of planners. Bureaucrats, academics and politicians can only discuss and provide solutions to a problem after it is identified and defined. A recent discussion at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses about dilemmas faced by the Border Roads Organization (BRO) exposed the deficiency of a theoretical framework.

    The discussion brought to light several administrative, equipment, financial, and personnel problems faced by the organization. Solutions to administration, finances and personnel were quickly developed because there were frameworks to develop models within the organization on these three issues. However, BRO’s equipment dilemma remains unresolved. One participant highlighted the lack of resolution and astutely linked the lack of a solution to the inability to accurately conceptualize the macro-economic issues that underpin the equipment predicament.

    The discussion centred on the inadequacy of high altitude transport to move construction gear efficiently and the lack of specialized items to equip construction personnel with. Although enlightening, the debate settled on the former problem while accidentally neglecting the latter. One participant pointed out that the inability to meet the BRO’s needs was neither new nor unique but constituted a wider problem within the whole defence sector. He further suggested that the entire issue could be focused on under the umbrella of Defence Economic Infrastructure (DEI). Regrettably, time constraints prevented the elucidation of that terminology.

    The current discussion about economics and defence in Indian defence circles is focused on Defence Economics (DE). DE is a specialized branch of planning that analyzes finances and creates models for efficient spending. The field is essentially focused on improving the money management of the defence sector and preventing waste or fraud. DE, while extremely beneficial, is highly limited in its scope and only has the ability to discuss finances, while ignoring supply and demand in the defence sector.

    DEI, also called Integrated Economics, defines two specific concepts in the defence sector. First, it discusses the needs of defence forces, ranging from the BRO’s transport requirements to the boots worn by infantry soldiers; second, it details the supply-side which is the means of meeting needs. DEI espouses the coordination of knowledge with production. The key idea here is the need for specialized equipment and knowledge. The discussion, although centred on transport, should have also addressed the lack of high altitude transport within the context of specialized departmental needs and how to overcome that shortfall.

    The cycle begins with the specific departmental need, in this case the BRO’s need for high altitude transport, which is registered and documented. The documentation is then sent to the research sector where it is analyzed and matched with ongoing theoretical research. Once a match is found, applied technological research begins. At this stage researchers design more powerful engines for heavy-lift copters or lighter construction equipment. One participant used the US Marine Core’s Unmanned Ground Vehicle known as the Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE) as an example of this supply meeting demand. The MULE is designed to carry heavy loads through difficult terrain. Industrial designers then take the applied research and develop a functional product for testing. During the testing stage the product is placed with deployed personnel who study its functions and provide professional input for necessary improvements. Finally, after all testing is completed, the product is delivered for mass production and deployment.

    Defence Economic Infrastructure is a system that all industrialized nations use to concentrate their economies to produce defence goods. The integration between departmental needs and production potential allows rapid adaptation to field demands. Additionally, the more integrated the system becomes the faster needs are met. The US system is now able to predict, with varying degrees of accuracy, future demands and begin the planning process. That has allowed the US defence sector to advance at lightning pace compared to the defence sectors of other major powers. Admittedly, that level of integration created a potential needs scenario where the government began spending on perceived needs rather than actual field demands.

    In India, the BRO’s needs have not been met because there is no infrastructure in place to meet them. Furthermore, no solution could be advocated because of the lack of a conceptual framework to conduct an open discussion. If basic equipment shortfalls that the defence sectors face are to be addressed, then Indian defence planners need to use the DEI framework to create solution models. Although important, this addition to India’s defence vocabulary is not intended to serve as a panacea; rather, it is meant to provide a communicative tool to help various departments plan for the future.