it­self in the sub­con­ti­nent

India Today - - THE BIG STORY - Re­search, New Delhi with Kaushik Deka

• 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.

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