itself in the subcontinent
• relations. The more China’s trade surplus with India has swelled—jumping from $2 billion in 2002 to more than $30 billion now—the greater has been its condescension toward India. To make matters worse, the insidious, V.K. Krishna Menon-style shadow has returned to haunt Indian defence management and policy. India has never had more clueless defence and foreign ministers or a weaker Prime Minister with a credibility problem than it does today.
In fact, as it aims to mould a Sinocentric Asia, China is hinting that its real geopolitical contest is more with India than with the distant US. The countries around India have become battlegrounds for China’s moves to encircle India. From a military invasion in 1962 and a subsequent cartographic aggression, China is moving towards a hydrological aggression and a multipronged strategic squeeze of India. China’s damming of rivers flowing from Tibet to India are highlighting Indian vulnerability on the water front even before India has plugged its disadvantage on the nuclear front by building a credible but minimal deterrent.
Whether Beijing actually sets out to teach India “the final lesson” by launching a 1962-style attack will depend on several factors. They include India’s domestic political situation, its defence preparedness, and the availability for China of a propitious international timing of the type the Cuban missile crisis provided in 1962. If India does not want to be caught napping again, it has to come out of the present political paralysis and inject greater realism into its China policy, which today bears a close resemblance to a studied imitation of an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Their replacements, modern long-range surface-to-air missiles from Israel, are still years away from induction.
The army’s solution for China’s looming threat has been a Government sanction for adding four more mountain divisions of 12,000 soldiers each. Two of these divisions will form part of a new mountain strike corps to mount an offensive into Tibet. Yet, a tardy acquisition programme threatens to derail even this modest addition to its offensive strategy. Among the key equipment this new strike corps requires are heavy-lift helicopters, gunships, howitzers and modern communication systems.
The army has not bought a single new 155 mm howitzer since 1987 when the last of the 410 Bofors guns were delivered. Its Field Artillery Modernisation Plan, which aims at buying 2,200 155 mm guns for Rs 22,000 crore, is running a decade behind schedule. A cumbersome defence acquisition procedure ensures it takes up to eight years to buy a weapons system. The army earmarks roughly $4 billion (Rs 1,80,000 crore) each year for buying new military hardware. “Our funds are getting utilised but not in a visible way that would greatly increase our firepower or offset our deficiencies,” says an army official.
Unlike the US military, the Indian Army does not post its best officers to the armament acquisition sections at its 10 ‘line directorates’ like infantry, artillery and armoured corps. The best officers still go to Military Operations and the Military Secretary’s branch (which handles postings and promotions). A 2002 internal army study found that eight of these 10 line directorate heads were on the verge of retirement. The acquisition wings continue to get low priority. The army’s director general (weapons and equipment) retires at the end of October. Officers often do brief two-year tenures in the highly-specialised acquisition branches. “We need quality acquisition staff with longer tenures. An efficient acquisition organisation not only expedites procurement but also saves time,” says Major General Mrinal Suman.
Clearly, the army needs nothing short of a radical overhaul to contend with its trans-himalayan adversary.