The challenges faced by India's new Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
Of all surprises that Modi sprang at us during the cabinet reshuffle, appointing Nirmala Sitharaman defence minister was the biggest of them all. This decision has been widely lauded as Sitharaman is India's first full-time female defence minister and second after former PM Indira Gandhi to hold the portfolio. Sitharaman faces an uphill task in the ministry. We list some challenges she faces.
Sitharaman must restructure the Indian military by creating the post of chief of defence staff to be the principal advisor to the government on defense matters. She must also get professionals on board for policy-making. Intelligence gathering needs streamlining while the officers-to-soldier ratio needs improvement. More collaboration with the national security advisor on major policy decisions is also needed.
The army urgently needs modern weapons and equipment. Domestic defense research, development and production units need to provide reliable weapons in a time-bound fashion. Recent CAG reports point to critical shortages in the armed forces' arms and ammunition, affecting defense preparedness which must be tackled. Sitharaman must also work towards reducing India's reliance on expensive imports for defense equipment and boost indigenization.
The army has expressed dissatisfaction for not receiving parity with civilians in the Seventh Pay Commission. Inadequate housing and grievance redressal mechanisms for soldiers might be made a priority to keep up the morale. Concerns over pensions must also be addressed. Sitharaman might push for a greater role for women in combat roles even as India gets its first women fighter pilots.
The India-Pakistan border has witnessed frequent ceasefire violations. Containing the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, especially in Kashmir, has been a major problem. China's growing military ambitions have also caused concern in India. The recent standoff at Doklam is case in point. Sitharaman might have to undertake swift action to deal with the threat of the Chinese military and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.