Need for strategic vision
Siachen is said to be the world’s highest battlefield where India and Pakistan have been engaged in a conflict for nearly three decades. The snow-capped mountainous terrain continues to be of strategic importance to India. However, it is somewhat disconcerting that the political leadership is working towards ‘demilitarisation’ of the Siachen region.
Peace initiatives are welcome, but walking into a trap, egged on by considerations other than national security, is going to be ‘suicidal’ for India, especially when our neighbourhood cannot be trusted. The higher echelons of the Indian armed forces have expressed in no uncertain terms that ‘demilitarisation’ of Siachen would not be in the strategic and security interest of the nation. Besides, control over Siachen has been established, as in the words of Winston Churchill, through “blood, toil, tears and sweat of the Indian soldier.”
In this issue, Lt General (Retd) P.C. Katoch has taken strong exception to the Indian Government’s move to demilitarise the region stating that withdrawal from Siachen would dilute the resolution passed by the Indian Parliament in 1994 that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. We continue to go wrong, with or without counsel, as he cites how Jawaharlal Nehru trusted the Chinese of his own volition, whereas the current leadership has a coterie of advisers. We just hope that wiser counsel prevails.
Moving from the snowy regions, we come to another turf war, between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army on whether the latter should have its own fleet of attack helicopters. The government has finally settled the matter in favour of the Army. Air Marshal (Retd) B.K. Pandey in his analysis of the imbroglio states that the decision may not end the turf war.
However, for a fighting-fit air force, among other things, a crucial requirement is the availability of trainer aircraft, be it basic, intermediate or combat. As far as the IAF is concerned, it has had to ‘manage’ with different aircraft for training needs. That the IAF has ‘managed’ it well so far, despite the limitations, is highly commendable.
Only recently has the government cleared the procurement of 75 Pilatus basic trainer aircraft for the IAF which since 2009 has been without one. As for intermediate jet trainers (IJT), the story is the same. Similarly, the induction of advanced jet trainers (AJTs) has been an arduous process. In 2004, India picked BAE’s Hawk. The first 24 Hawk Mk.132 AJTs were delivered by BAE, while deliveries on 42 aircraft which are being licence-built by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited have got delayed. When India first sought the AJTs, the Yak-130 was on the radar, but it had not completed evaluation. Now the Yak-130 is ready and the Russians are looking at India all over again.
Talking about delays, we hear that the Indo-Russian fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) will be fully certified and ready for induction only by 2020, three years later than that the IAF had planned for. Moving from IAF to Indian Navy, they too are awaiting the induction of Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) aircraft carrier since 2008. It is behind schedule by four years and has had a cost over run of $1.3 billion. Such delays severely impact the modernisation plans of the armed forces.