Mod­erni­sa­tion of Forces

Are the In­dian forces ad­e­quately equipped to con­front the chal­lenge posed by Pak­istan or more im­por­tantly, by Pak­istan and China act­ing in col­lu­sion?

SP's Aviation - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - — By Air Mar­shal B.K. Pandey (Retd)

HOS­TILE AC­TIV­ITY BY EL­E­MENTS in the Pak­istan-oc­cu­pied Kash­mir (PoK), in­im­i­cal to the se­cu­rity in­ter­ests of the nation ei­ther by them­selves or with ac­tive sup­port by the not-so-friendly neigh­bour Pak­istan, has been on the rise es­pe­cially in re­cent times. In re­sponse to the ter­ror strike by the Pak­istan-sup­ported el­e­ments on an In­dian mil­i­tary base in Uri on Septem­ber 18, 2016, in which 19 In­dian soldiers per­ished, the Special Forces of the In­dian Army car­ried out a ‘sur­gi­cal strike’ with no­table suc­cess. How­ever, there was an in­el­e­gant at­tempt by the op­po­si­tion to gain political mileage from the sur­gi­cal strike and put the BJP gov­ern­ment on the back­foot. But what is of con­cern is that in­stead of a salu­tary ef­fect of the sur­gi­cal strike on the en­emy, the hos­tile el­e­ments have be­come even more ag­gres­sive and ac­tive all along the line of con­trol. While the Kash­mir Val­ley con­tin­ues to burn with ever-in­creas­ing fe­roc­ity, cease­fire vi­o­la­tions by Pak­istani forces remain un­abated and ca­su­al­ties amongst In­dian forces have been on the rise.

It is abun­dantly clear that the Kash­mir Val­ley is In­dia’s Achilles’ heel and Pak­istan will leave no stone un­turned to ex­ploit this weak­ness through proxy war. As In­dia is not in a po­si­tion to re­pay Pak­istan in the same coin, the most ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse would be a mas­sive re­tal­i­a­tion by con­ven­tional forces to be de­liv­ered as a crush­ing blow. The ques­tion is whether the In­dian armed forces are ad­e­quately equipped to con­front the chal­lenge posed by Pak­istan or more im­por­tantly, by Pak­istan and China act­ing in col­lu­sion.

As per media re­ports, at the Air Force Com­man­ders’ Con­fer­ence, Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff of the In­dian Air Force (IAF), di­rected the com­man­ders to “prepare for short du­ra­tion, but in­tense wars of 10 days in case of Pak­istan and 15 days with China to main­tain ra­zor-sharp oper­a­tional pre­pared­ness and en­hanced com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness.” The pre­cise state of oper­a­tional pre­pared­ness, how­ever, can be as­sessed only af­ter a thor­ough eval­u­a­tion of threats and chal­lenges the nation faces, as­sets avail­able for com­bat and ca­pa­bil­ity of sup­port el­e­ments.

From the in­for­ma­tion avail­able in the pub­lic do­main, as against the re­quire­ment of 45 com­bat squadrons to cope with a two-front war, the IAF cur­rently has 32 squadrons, 10 squadrons short of the au­tho­rised strength of 42 squadrons. Ef­forts were on by the IAF since 2002 to ac­quire un­der the newly crafted De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP), a mod­ern fourth-gen­er­a­tion com­bat plat­form in large numbers. The Rafale air­craft from Das­sault Avi­a­tion was selected but ow­ing to in­sur­mount­able im­ped­i­ments, the project was fi­nally aban­doned in 2015. So much for the pro­cure­ment process! Par­tial relief to the IAF was pro­vided by a di­rect deal with the French Gov­ern­ment for 36 Rafale jets to be de­liv­ered by 2020. Mean­while, the IAF will phase out a few squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27 air­craft that are al­ready ob­so­lete. The rate pro­duc­tion of the light com­bat air­craft (LCA) Te­jas Mk I and IA is ex­tremely low and it may take well over a decade for the IAF to in­duct the six squadrons that are on or­der. The more ca­pa­ble LCA Mk II is nowhere on the hori­zon.

Mean­while, the Ministry of De­fence ini­ti­ated a project to man­u­fac­ture in In­dia with col­lab­o­ra­tion with a for­eign orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer (OEM), a re­puted sin­gle-en­gine fighter air­craft. The plat­form selected was the F-16, a prod­uct from Lock­heed Martin of the United States. The OEM is pre­pared to trans­fer its only ex­ist­ing pro­duc­tion line in the US to In­dia and man­u­fac­ture the Block 70 ver­sion which is the lat­est, in large numbers for the IAF as also for other cus­tomers across the globe. For the IAF this was the prover­bial light at the end of the tun­nel. How­ever, nearly a year has passed since the pro­posal was ini­ti­ated, but the project ap­pears to be shrouded in un­cer­tainty on ac­count of the pol­icy im­per­a­tives of the Donald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mean­while, the com­bat fleet of the IAF con­tin­ues to dwin­dle. The plight of the In­dian Army is no better. While ad­dress­ing a de­fence think tank re­cently, Gen­eral Bipin Rawat, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), said, “Spend­ing on de­fence is con­sid­ered a bur­den by many in the coun­try and the mil­i­tary is not get­ting its due share.” This state­ment by the COAS is an in­di­ca­tion that the In­dian Army may not be equipped well enough to fight a full-scale war.

Un­less the gov­ern­ment ac­cords the right pri­or­ity to­wards timely and sys­tem­atic mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian armed forces, al­lo­cates the funds re­quired and re­struc­tures the DPP to ad­dress proac­tively the im­per­a­tives of na­tional se­cu­rity, the ca­pa­bil­ity of the armed forces will remain un­der­mined.


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