Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Paying for security

This isn't a post with my opinions in it; just a couple of news reports that I found very interesting. Unfortunately for our Armed Forces, this year hasn't been a good one for them, personally that is. After getting peanuts from the Budget (where else do you think Chidu-burr-rum, our educated and erudite, but ultimately spineless Finance Minister got the money for his sops to buy votes next year?), they've been screwed over by the Pay Commission.

The Armed Forces, after years of silent forbearing, finally decided that enough was enough - the men, at least. Thankfully, the Government, alarmed by the 200 high grade officers who put in their papers, decided to take a look and placate them. The Defence budget though, was somewhat forgotten...

In all the hoopla about the budget, most channels only had time to say that the defence budget had been hiked. What they conveniently forgot to mention was that overall percentage-wise, the budget actually fell, and alarmingly, to less than 2% of GDP. India should ideally spend around 3% of GDP on defence. This is a truly terrifying prospect when we consider that China is spending three times our own spending on its forces; and combined with its clamour over Tawang, the hard-nosed rhetoric from Beijing and its expanding tentacles across our Sphere of influence, it should have woken up the government to the threat that's been knocking on our door for some time now. Unfortunately, the sloth over essential defence deals seems to suggest otherwise.

Now, finally, the MPs have taken up the issue in parliament:
http://www.zeenews.com/articles.asp?aid=438237&sid=NAT


MPs want defence spending to match buildup by Pak, China

Concerned over the "sharp decline" in India's air and naval assets, members in Lok Sabha on Tuesday demanded a hike in defence spending to match the military build up by China and Pakistan. This was for the first time in more than 10 years that Lok Sabha took up for voting the Demands for Grants of the Defence Ministry which were earlier guillotined along with most of the Demands for Grants.

Participating in the discussion, members made a strong pitch for hiking India's defence spending in GDP terms to speed up acquisitions and modernisation of the armed forces. They said though India's defence spending had been considerably increased, the country had yet not been able to bring its air and naval power to the authorised level.

"This is a matter of grave concern," T P S Rawat, a retired Lt Gen and a new BJP member, said initiating the debate and demanded that the military expenditure be sustained at three per cent of the GDP for some years to enable India to equip its forces with advanced weapons systems and platforms.

Pointing out that in 2004-05 the defence budget was 2.41 per cent of the GDP, while for the current fiscal it was just 1.99 per cent of the GDP, Rawat said such a trend would have adverse impact on defence preparedness of the country.

He said government should bear in mind the budgetary allocations of Pakistan (3.5 per cent of GDP) and China (4.3 per cent of GDP) which are developing nuclear arsenal and anti-missile technologies, a potential threat to the country.

Lets hope that the Government actually takes their advice. There are far too many critical requirements that are being strangled by red-tape and corruption. I'm scared, I admit. Scared at the prospect that we may actually end up losing a war to Pakistan. And I'm sorry to say, if we do have a war within the next 3-4 years, there isn't really much we have to win it with. General Malik's quote, "We'll fight with what we have", will be the only thing that our Generals will have to say then; except that we won't be fighting men on mountaintops with only assault rifles and stingers.

1. Helicopters - The Helicopter deal, which is meant to replace the old Chetaks, and is essential for heliborne operations and transport of supplies. Apart from being essential to keep our Jawans in Siachen and other areas well supplied, in times of war, Military Utility Helicopters play a critical role in quickly moving troops and supplies to areas where they are needed most, moving the wounded out, and acting as critical elements in any high intensity, high mobility warfare.

2. Artillery - Artillery isn't the flashiest element in any operation, but its the most important. The Gulf War wasn't won by Tanks. It was won by Artillery. Kargil was won by the Bofors; the 1967 Nathu-La attacks by the Chinese were beaten back by our strong artillery. The problem is, we only have 350 155 mm guns left. So if there is indeed a war, we won't have anything to stop the enemy; our troops will not get critical fire support. In short, we'll lose. As for wheeled and Self Propelled Artillery pieces, the less said, the better.

Of course, this doesn't really concern our Soniaji, who is more worried about her Munna and her reputation rather than the lives of our Jawans. I can only pray that the next government actually cares.

3. Aircraft - The Chief of Air Staff, ACM Major has warned us that at this rate, our IAF will end up worse than the PAF. This is something that everyone should heed, not ignore as a Cassandra warning. Even when we were strong, Pakistan never hesitated to attack at the smallest sign of weakness. Imagine if we're weaker than them. What if an Islamist government comes to power in Islamabad? We need aircraft, and fast - the 126 aircraft MRCA has taken too long already. Right now, nothing short of a whipping is needed to get our procurement machinery on its wheels.

As for pay, its disgusting that we don't even care for our soldiers who willingly lay down their lives for our safety and prosperity. Forget honoring them, we don't even care to pay them well... And they have most justifiably complained. It is a testament to their dedication and values that they haven't revolted. But having heard their complaints and woes, its only a matter of time before they quit in disgust or throw down their weapons.

And its not only our soldiers, but our scientists as well. The Week has this report:

Brain damage
Strategic scientists feel short-changed by Pay Commission
By R. Prasannan

It was meant to be a cure-all pill. But the Sixth Pay Commission seems to have hit the brain badly. The country's space, atomic and defence scientists-who have launched satellites, are sending a moon probe, building missiles, rockets, warships and tanks-are the most disappointed lot. Worse still, they feel that the Pay Commission's recommendations would render their advanced labs into training ground for foreign companies.

As it is, the strategic science departments have a high attrition rate. Around one-sixteenth of those who join are leaving the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which has 41 labs dealing with globally-denied missile science to cutting edge-technologies in food preservation. Atomic energy has a sanctioned strength of 35,519 posts, but only 32,855 personnel. The Department of Space is supposed to have 17,386 personnel, but is making do with 14,058.

Scientists feel that the pay panel has given them little more than this lip-service. "There had been proposals to offer incentives to strategic scientists. But I don't see anything of that kind. I think we have missed another opportunity," said Dr Amitav Mallik, former DRDO scientist and member of the National Security Advisory Board.

Scientists had suggested that they be paid one per cent of the contract value of technologies transferred to the industry. This has been rejected. No luck also for a demand for incentives for publishing scientific papers, or for a paltry Rs 20,000-price for filing a patent. Interestingly, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research shares with its own scientists 60 per cent of the royalty received from technologies transferred to industries. A similar demand by strategic scientists has been rejected.

To prevent intellectual stagnation, scientists had demanded that the bright ones among them be encouraged to go on sabbaticals, as university teachers are. The commission rejected this and instead recommended contract appointments to bring about flexibility between government and private sectors. Even a demand for adjunct appointments, as visiting professors in universities, has been turned down.

Scientists point out that very few of their demands have actually been for money. The perks they were asking for were aimed at intellectual advancement, and a more academic career life. "Most demands, on the other hand, were for enhancing the quality of scientific talent available to strategic science laboratories. But the commission seems to have looked at them merely from an accountant's point of view," said an Ahmedabad-based space scientist.

Scientists are peeved that they continue to be treated like administrative personnel. Like the armed forces who have got their special status recognised through a military service pay, they had asked for an intellectual capital pay. This could be effected by amalgamating the three strategic science departments into an India Technical Service with different pay scales and perks. The demands have not even been discussed, though the commission pays lip-service to "the pre-eminent status" of the three strategic scientific services with a separate chapter on them.

Scientists point out that since their promotion system is merit and performance-based, their salaries should reflect the intellectual effort they have to put in. "At higher levels, promotions take place after evaluation by scientists from outside the departments. Since the scrutiny and evaluation is stricter, their work also demands better remuneration," said Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

Even a demand for a hazard allowance for those working on explosives (given to ordnance factory workers) has been turned down. Instead the commission said they could be given insurance, which scientists consider as blood money. Similarly, armed forces personnel deputed to posts like Leh in Ladakh get a high altitude allowance, but defence scientists working along with them in the same field research laboratory don't. "We also go on submarines, work on risky airborne experiments, and conduct field trials in deserts," said a DRDO scientist. He recalled the crash of the experimental Aerial Surveillance Platform 10 years ago in which half a dozen scientists, who were fitting a rodome on an experimental aircraft, died. "If test pilots are given an allowance for flying unproven aircraft, why can't we be extended the same allowance?" he asked.

Many of the younger scientists even suspect that the recommendations have been tailored to suit the interests of multinational R&D companies. "There are not even half a dozen companies in the world who can build jet engines," said a scientist at the Centre for Airborne Systems, Bangalore. "I have been working here for 15 years for the sheer pleasure of being part of a team that develops systems that you won't get even in Europe. I have spurned offers from Lockheed Martin and British Aerospace. I bought my first Maruti three years back. Even a receptionist in those companies drives better cars." Lockheed Martin may get him this year; next year he may be driving a Mercedes. (read more)

And you wonder why DRDO struggles so much?

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