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Discontinuance of National Five Year Plans – Time to Revaluate Defence Planning

Mr Amit Cowshish is a former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence and former Distinguished Fellow, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for Detailed Profile
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  • April 11, 2016

    The era of five-year plans is going to be over at the end of the current financial year, which also coincides with the last year of the 12th national five-year plan. With this, the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure will also become a thing of the past.1

    While there is no symbiotic linkage between national plans and defence plans, the fact remains that the two have been moving in tandem for more than 35 years.2 Hence it would be fair to ask if the discontinuance of national five-year plans has any implication for defence planning.

    Given that the titular relationship will snap with the discontinuance of the national five-year plan, the national and defence plans could chart their own course here onward. This provides the Ministry of Defence (MoD) an opportunity to rethink the entire issue of defence planning, beginning with the question of whether it should persist with the existing three-tiered architecture of defence planning. This question assumes significance as the current Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2012-27, which forms the bedrock of defence planning, is due to be reformulated to cover the period 2017-32, beginning 1 April 2017. At the same time, the current 12th Defence Five Year Plan (DFYP) is also due to be replaced by the 13th plan for the period 2017-22 from the same date, along with the Services Capital Acquisition Plan (SCAP), which is an important segment of the DFYP.

    The two-year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAPs), which bring up the rear of the three-tiered defence planning process, are culled out from SCAP. Therefore, the next AAP is also due to be adopted from 1 April next year. However, since AAP flows from SCAP, it would be difficult to draw up the next AAP without the next SCAP being in place.

    This makes it important to decide upon how to go about future defence planning.

    Considering that planning is a very extensive and time-consuming exercise, it is possible that work has already started for drawing up these plans. If so, there is no reason to halt the process pending a decision on whether or not to continue with the existing system, for, no matter what form and shape it takes, defence planning cannot be done away with and no effort put in at this stage will go waste.

    It would be tempting to continue with the existing system of defence planning, for nothing appeals to the bureaucracy – civilian or military – more than the continuance of the status quo. It can also be argued that since there is a linkage anyway between the national and defence plans, the discontinuation of the former is no reason to consider any change in the latter. But that will be a somewhat myopic view to take.

    Defence planning has had a troubled history since its inception, in spite of several experiments with the structures and processes of planning. It will, therefore, be in the fitness of things to re-evaluate the existing architecture of planning. While it would be presumptuous to offer any quick-fix solutions, any re-evaluation must take into account at least four issues concerning defence planning which have been its bane.

    One, the existing structures are not capable of handling defence planning in a holistic manner. This is not a comment on Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), which is responsible for putting together the defence plans on the basis of inputs from the individual services. There has to be an overarching full-time structure, fully empowered to formulate the plans and monitor their execution, which HQ IDS is not. An idea which has often been floated in the past is to set up a defence planning board within the MoD under the chairmanship of the Defence Minister, but with a junior minister being in full-time exclusive charge of the board. Needless to say, the board will need to be allowed substantial flexibility to carry out its task.

    Two, the present system of planning is too disjointed. There is no all-embracing defence plan. The defence plans, as we know them, relate only to the future plans of the armed forces. There are separate plans for research and development, ordnance factories, border roads, coast guard, and so on. There is a need to synergise the efforts of all these organisations to achieve jointness and ensure optimum utilisation of resources. This should be possible if the entire task of planning is handled by a planning board.

    Three, the veil of secrecy that shrouds defence plans at present will have to be lifted in a substantial measure without compromising on the imperatives of national security. This means that the objectives and goals of each plan will need to be laid down in terms of specific and measurable outcomes. Further, execution of the plans will have to be closely monitored with reference to laid down milestones and benchmarks, with no shying away from mid-course corrections. It would be desirable to place as much information as possible in the public domain to prevent misgivings and misunderstandings.

    Four, defence plans are generally based on unrealistic assumptions about the availability of funds. Even in the face of clear indication from the Ministry of Finance (MoF) as regards the quantum of annual increase in budgetary allocations that could be assumed for the purpose of planning, recent defence plans did not conform to those indications. Financial sustainability of the plans is the key to their efficient execution.

    It will take some time to examine these and several other issues that are bound to come up during the revaluation of the present system of defence planning. It would help if MoD sets up a task force, or ask a think tank, such as the IDSA which it fully funds, to study the issue in its entirety, consult various stakeholders and suggest a workable model for defence planning.

    Meanwhile, it would be appropriate to draw up a good contingency plan for the current and the next two years to address the immediate concerns regarding voids in military capabilities and war wastage reserve, serviceability of the in-service equipment, and state of repair of the infrastructure. These are the areas in which some perceptible progress can be made in the immediate future, if the plan is workable and it is executed assiduously.

    “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week”, said George S. Patton. It is as apt for the present situation as it was for the times in which he lived.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.