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Editorial: Building Up Indian Defense

Jun. 2, 2014 - 02:41PM   |  
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Narendra Modi’s election as India’s new prime minister has buoyed hopes for a brighter future across the country, including its beleaguered defense sector.

The good news is Modi has pledged more money for defense and reforms to improve how that money is spent.

The bad news is that the task ahead will be a monumental challenge.

For the time being, Acting Defense Minister Arun Jaitley is doing double duty, as he is also serving as finance minister. It is unclear how long he’ll be expected to hold both posts, but it’s important he starts laying the groundwork for the complex and difficult changes ahead.

First, Modi and Jaitley must make good on the new prime minister’s campaign promises to increase defense spending. India is a vast country with an antiquated military. Sustained and strategic investment in all aspects of military equipment, from soldier systems to vehicles, aircraft and ships, is vital if India is to stand up to its neighbors and fulfill its duties.

Second, India’s defense acquisition system has to be reformed to increase transparency and eliminate any hint of corruption.

Third, long-stalled acquisition programs have to be accelerated to speed the introduction of needed systems, especially the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program. France’s Dassault Rafale became the preferred bidder in the competition more than two years ago — but the contract has yet to be finalized.

Fourth, the country’s vast and inefficient state-owned industrial structure must be opened to real domestic and international competition. That means reducing or eliminating foreign-ownership restrictions that keep US and European firms from investing more wholeheartedly in India.

Fifth, senior military leaders must be given a greater voice in Defence Ministry policy making.

None of these changes will be easy. But they are vital to improving India’s capabilities as its neighbor China becomes stronger and more assertive.

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