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Back as Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley will have to come out all guns blazing

jaitley-storyNEW DELHI: Finance minister Arun Jaitley promised continuity in the country’s overall defence policy after taking additional charge of the defence ministry, amid concerns over the delay in several military modernisation projects as well as finalisation of the “strategic partnership” policy for the private sector in indigenous defence production. “The ministry has a distinct responsibility regarding the country’s security and armed forces, procurement for defence equipment etc. I have taken a reporting of the situation. We have a continuous government and I will take it up from where Manohar Parrikar (who was sworn as Goa CM) has left it,” said Jaitley. Jaitley, of course, is familiar with the functioning of the gigantic defence ministry as he had also held the portfolio, in addition to his primary charge of the finance ministry, for the first six months after the Modi government came to office in May 2014. Like before, Jaitley is expected to hold the dual charge for some time till PM Narendra Modi finalises who will succeed Parrikar. Jaitley, on taking charge at South Block, held preliminary discussions with minister of state for defence Subhash Bhamre, defence secretary G Mohan Kumar and other top officials as well as the three Service chiefs — Admiral Sunil Lanba, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa and General Bipin Rawat. there are several challenges confronting the new defence minister, which include the need to strengthen the fledgling defence production sector, plug huge operational gaps in military capabilities, usher in much needed reforms in higher defence management and fix the civil-military divide. During his stint as the defence minister for slightly over two years, Parrikar did initiate reforms on several fronts but many are yet to be taken to their logical conclusions. The post of a chief of defence staff to inject synergy among the armed forces in terms of policy, planning and procurements, for instance, is yet to be created. Similar is the long-pending case for new unified commands to handle the critical areas of space, cyberspace and special operations, as also theatre commands in the future.

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