Delivering the 23rd Colonel Pyara Lal Memorial Lecture for 2019 organised by the United Service Institution of India, former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba shared what he felt were the three essential ingredients for developing military capabilities and nourishing partnerships as an enabler in protecting our national interest in current times.
Speaking on the topic “Building Military Capability, Developing New Partnerships and Protecting National Interests in an Uncertain World Order’, he hoped that these three vital elements would go a long way to better prepare us for future defence challenges.
Firstly, he pointed out that ‘optimisation of resources’ should be high on our collective agenda, given the diverse nature of socio-economic challenges that our country faces.
“Resource availability to meet national security needs would continue to be a challenge. Also given the fact that capacity building and cost sustenance are an expensive proposition, we need to look at innovative ways and measures to enhance sharing of our resources,” he said.
“In order to ensure every rupee committed to building the military should give the nation manifold returns of that, the services would have to institutionally address the issue of optimisation.”
In this regard, he acknowledged that much progress had been made in recent times in the establishment of the joint logistics node and joint training institutions, which were raised with the primary aim of optimising resources. But a lot more still needed to be done by the three armed forces to accord it with the required impetus. He also felt that the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was a welcome step and the decision would also enable the services to drive the process forward.
The second aspect, he felt, was the need to focus our efforts on achieving self-reliance in defence production.
“We need to develop self-reliance, particularly in the field of core technologies involving weapons, censors and propulsion systems. Within core technologies, we really need to concentrate on aero engines. This is something which even China is struggling with. And once China masters and makes a capable aero engine, we are in trouble.”
“Self-reliance in defence production provides a country with immense flexibility to commit resources in a calibrated manner and to modify and customize the deliverables to the requirement of time,” the former Navy Chief said.
In other words, he felt that domestic capability in defence production would give us independence, and in the absence of it, dependence on external factors will continue to limit our strategic choices in the future.
Thirdly and lastly, Admiral Lanba stressed on the need to leverage our partnerships by enhancing inter-operability between militaries of the region.
“This should be one of the key military parts, given the dynamic and diverse nature of challenges the region faces today. It would be imperative to maintain a high degree of military-to-military cooperation. Along with enhanced interoperability, I also feel a strong need to focus on establishing a robust, reliable and real-time information sharing mechanism with partner states. This aspect assumes special significance given the speed at which local security threats can assume a national, regional or even a global character,” he emphasised.
Information sharing, he felt, was not only important but essential for our collective security interest. He shared the example of Information Fusion Center for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) of the Indian Navy which was commissioned in December 2018, to further India’s commitment towards achieving collective maritime security in the IOR.
“Given the facility has significant potential for enhancing the security of the entire Indian Ocean Region, 20 country and multinational constructs are already partnering with the Indian Navy initiative, making it a one-time convergence centre for the entire Indian Ocean Region maritime activity. The centre brings out a fortnightly bulletin which is shared with everybody who is a member of the initiative. It brings out information about the merchant navy traffic, the ships in the waters, shows fishing activity, and also where all illegal fishing is going on. This information is available to all partners. This collaborative initiative highlights the tangible gains derived from trusted partnerships.”
Admiral Sunil Lanba concluded by saying that “federation” was the new world order today, considering the trends in motion that spell trouble.
“What we are seeing today resembles the mid-nineteenth century in important ways. But I strongly believe that the world is not yet on the edge of a systemic crisis. It is upon those in the policymaking to make sure the crisis never materializes. Be it as an outcome of competing interests, hyper-nationalism or even cumulative effect of climate change, all I can say that even in an uncertain world, our collective endeavour should be to aim for a certain future.”