Some time after Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists attacked Parliament in December 2001, the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed what is known to defence service bosses as the “war book.”
The war book is a document through which the head of government tells his main service chiefs that war may be round the corner, and they should make their requirements for arms, ammunition and spares clear and start scouting around for them both at home and abroad.
In the end, 2001-02, despite an armed military standoff all along the border with Pakistan, did not end in a war, thanks to pressure from the US and other countries that fretted about the unpredictability of two nuclear-armed nations going to war.
In 2020, where the threat is looking even worse with China on our northern borders, and with the Pakistani border also live with frequent firings across the line of control, one does not know if Narendra Modi has also signed the war book, assuming it is still in vogue.
In his Mann Ki Baat yesterday (28 June), Modi said that India will give a befitting response to whoever “eyes” its territory. In recent weeks, India has also begun seeking commitments of arms, ammo and spares from friends, including Israel (an air defence system), France (more Rafales to be front loaded in the delivery schedule), US and Russia (more weapons and ammunition).
This writer was informed about the existence of a war book by a retired senior commander of the Indian Navy some years ago in a private conversation. He had said that when they went around scouting for spares and ammo after Vajpayee signed the war book, Israel was one of the few nations to respond positively with help. This time, apparently, more countries are willing to help India, since China has emerged as a Frankenstein for most countries in the Asia-Pacific.
In an evolving situation, and especially at a time where the Indian defence forces have anyway been given more procurement autonomy and there is now a permanent Chief of Defence Staff (currently Bipin Rawat, the last army chief), the war book may not be as important a document as it was previously, when the bureaucracy had more powers than the military brass.
The Defence Ministry now has two main nodes, the department of defence, headed by the traditional defence secretary, and the department of military affairs, headed by the chief of defence staff. While the former will reign supreme in peace time, when war is a possibility, one would expect the chief of defence staff (CDS) to gain greater importance, especially given Rawat’s strong equations with the current political leadership.
The need for a war book would be even lesser if India had indigenised its military equipment needs faster in the past. The armed forces, whether it is the army or the air force or even the navy, have often been guilty of pitching their GSQR (general staff qualitative requirements) so high that no domestic manufacturer can meet them. Hence the need for pricey imports, foreign jaunts, and the insertion of dubious arms merchants as middlemen in deals.
Last month, well before the situation on the China borders worsened, General Rawat made it clear that in order to indigenise faster, even 70 per cent GSQR should do. He told The Times of India: “We should boost Make in India by hand-holding our domestic industry even if they deliver weapons with only 70 percent of the GSQRs in the beginning… given the opportunity, they will eventually deliver cutting-edge technology.”
Under Modi, the efforts to procure more weaponry and aircraft from domestic sources has accelerated, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has been given a huge order to deliver the Tejas light combat aircraft. Several squadrons (with upto 120 aircraft) will be created with this domestically built machine by 2026.
The war book may at some point become a relic of history once Make in India succeeds in becoming substantially atmanirbhar in defence procurement.
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