‘Crit­i­cal Hol­low­ness’

Brigadier Gurmeet Kan­wal on In­dia’s De­fence Pre­pared­ness

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Aviation Defence & In India -

With at­tempts at in­fil­tra­tion be­ing made vir­tu­ally ev­ery night and fre­quent ex­changes of small arms and ar­tillery fire, the Line of Con­trol (LoC) with Pak­istan is more ac­tive than it has been in the last five years. The num­ber of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Kash­mir has also risen sharply this sum­mer. The stand-off with the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army ( PLA) at Dok­lam has stretched to two months. The rhetoric be­ing spewed out by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment-con­trolled me­dia is get­ting shriller by the day. The China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC) now un­der con­struc­tion will lead to fur­ther in­crease in their mil­i­tary col­lu­sion.

The net ef­fect of In­dia’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment will be that the coun­try will be con­fronted with a two-front sit­u­a­tion dur­ing fu­ture con­flict. With the dogs of war bark­ing in the dis­tance, in July, the comptroller and au­di­tor gen­eral (CAG) of In­dia re­leased a dis­qui­et­ing re­port about con­tin­u­ing am­mu­ni­tion shortages. There are large-scale de­fi­cien­cies in other im­por­tant mil­i­tary items of equip­ment as well. Ad­dress­ing the in­ad­e­qua­cies in the state of In­dia’s de­fence pre­pared­ness, termed as ‘crit­i­cal hol­low­ness’ by for­mer army chief Gen­eral VK Singh, mer­its the gov­ern­ment’s ur­gent at­ten­tion.

De­fi­cien­cies in am­mu­ni­tion have an ad­verse im­pact on the abil­ity to sus­tain mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions over the pe­riod of time that is nec­es­sary. Ac­cord­ing to the CAG, in March 2013, 50 per cent of the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of weapons (in­clud­ing tanks and ar­tillery guns) had stocks for less than ten days of fight­ing. Since then, there has been some im­prove­ment, but for 40 per cent of its weapons, the army still holds stocks for less than ten days of con­flict.

The Kargil con­flict in 1999 lasted 50 days and we must ac­knowl­edge that any fu­ture bor­der con­flict may also be pro­longed. Dur­ing the Kargil con­flict, 50,000 rounds of 155 mm ar­tillery am­mu­ni­tion had to be im­ported from South Africa. The oc­cur­rence of such a crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion dur­ing a time of cri­sis must be avoided through a pru­dent re­plen­ish­ment and stock­ing pol­icy.

The army’s sis­ter ser­vices are no bet­ter off. While the In­dian navy is far from ac­quir­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a blue wa­ter navy, the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army navy is get­ting ready to sail into the In­dian Ocean, and is ac­quir­ing bases and port fa­cil­i­ties in fast-for­ward mode. Over the last five years, the In­dian navy has had ma­jor ac­ci­dents on board sub­marines INS Sind­hu­rak­shak and INS Sind­hu­ratna. In an­other ac­ci­dent, sub­ma­rine bat­ter­ies that should have been re­placed much ear­lier were still be­ing

used due to in­or­di­nately long ac­qui­si­tion pro­ce­dures. Mean­while, the in­dige­nous pro­duc­tion of six Scor­pene sub­marines has been de­layed by al­most five years.

From its peak at 39 squadrons over a decade ago, the fight­ing strength of the In­dian air force has gone down to 32-33 squadrons, whereas 42-45 squadrons will ac­tu­ally be re­quired to meet fu­ture threats and chal­lenges. Ob­so­les­cent fighter air­craft like MiG-21s and MiG-27s and vin­tage he­li­copters are still in ser­vice. The hold­ing of sur­face- to- air mis­sile sys­tems for air de­fence op­er­a­tions is grossly in­ad­e­quate as in­dige­nous re­search and de­vel­op­ment projects have been plagued by time and cost over­runs. The for­ti­fi­ca­tion of for­ward air bases against ter­ror­ist at­tacks has not yet been com­pleted, de­spite the at­tack on Pathankot Air Force Sta­tion in Jan­uary 2016.

The con­tin­u­a­tion in ser­vice of ob­so­lete and ob­so­les­cent weapons and equip­ment also af­fects the coun­try’s de­fence pre­pared­ness as fighter and bomber air­craft are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to main­tain to­wards the end of the life cy­cle. Mod­erni­sa­tion of the armed forces has been stag­nat­ing due to the in­ad­e­quacy of funds, the black­list­ing of sev­eral de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ers and bu­reau­cratic red tape that stymies the ac­qui­si­tion process. How­ever, sev­eral prag­matic amend­ments were ap­proved by Manohar Par­rikar, then de­fence min­is­ter, in the new De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure to stream­line pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures and en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion of the pri­vate sec­tor in de­fence man­u­fac­ture.

De­fence pro­cure­ment projects worth over Rs 150,000 crore have been ac­corded ‘ac­cep­tance of ne­ces­sity’, or ap­proval in prin­ci­ple, by the NDA gov­ern­ment, but it will take up to five years be­fore de­liv­er­ies of the weapons sys­tems be­gin. And, like in the UPA regime, sig­nif­i­cantly large amounts of funds con­tinue to be sur­ren­dered un­spent from the cap­i­tal bud­get.

In the army, ar­tillery mod­erni­sa­tion has been stag­nat­ing. There is an ur­gent need to ac­quire ap­prox­i­mately 3,000 pieces of 155 mm/ 52- cal­i­bre guns to re­place ob­so­les­cent towed and self- pro­pelled guns and how­itzers. So far a con­tract has been signed only for 145 pieces of M777 155 mm/ 39- cal­i­bre how­itzers from the US. An­other con­tract for 114 pieces of 155 mm/45-cal­i­bre Dhanush how­itzers based on the Bo­fors de­sign is ex­pected to be signed with the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries Board shortly if the gun clears all tri­als. Air de­fence and army avi­a­tion units are also equipped with ob­so­lete equip­ment that has sub­stan­tially re­duced their com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness and cre­ated vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

Mod­ern wars are fought mostly dur­ing the hours of dark­ness, but a large num­ber of the army’s ar­moured fight­ing ve­hi­cles – tanks and in­fantry com­bat ve­hi­cles – are still ‘night blind’. Only about 650 T-90S tanks of Rus­sian ori­gin have gen­uine night fight­ing ca­pa­bil­ity. The in­fantry bat­tal­ions need over 30,000 third gen­er­a­tion night vi­sion de­vices, new as­sault ri­fles – a sol­dier’s ba­sic weapon, car­bines for close quar­ter bat­tle, gen­eral pur­pose ma­chine guns, light­weight anti-ma­teriel ri­fles, mine pro­tected ve­hi­cles, 390,000 bal­lis­tic hel­mets, and 180,000 light­weight bul­let proof jack­ets.

The navy is in the process of com­mis­sion­ing an air­craft car­rier at Kochi to re­place the air­craft car­rier INS Vi­raat and is build­ing six Scor­pene sub­marines at Mazagon Dock. It is also build­ing 22 de­stroy­ers, frigates, corvettes, fast at­tack craft, land­ing ships and sup­port ships. How­ever, In­dia’s mar­itime se­cu­rity chal­lenges are grow­ing and the navy not only needs to mod­ernise but also ex­pand its foot­print in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion along with the navies of In­dia’s strate­gic part­ners.

The mod­erni­sa­tion plans of the air force are mak­ing progress, but at a snail’s pace. The Medium Multi-Role Com­bat Air­craft (MMRCA) project to ac­quire 126 fighter air­craft to re­place ob­so­lete MiG21s is scrapped, with the ex­cep­tion of the pur­chase of 36 Rafale fighters from France. Lock­heed Martin (F-16) and Boe­ing (F-18) have jumped into the fray again with of­fers to pro­duce their fighter air­craft lo­cally with trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy.

The IAF also re­quires sev­eral ad­di­tional AWACS early warn­ing air­craft, six mid-air re­fu­elling tankers, 56 trans­porter planes, 20 ad­vance jet train­ers, 38 ba­sic train­ers, 48 medium-lift he­li­copters, re­con­nais­sance and sur­veil­lance he­li­copters, sur­face-to-air mis­sile sys­tems and elec­tronic war­fare suites. All three Ser­vices need to up­grade their C4ISR ca­pa­bil­i­ties to pre­pare for ef­fects­based op­er­a­tions in a net­work- cen­tric en­vi­ron­ment and to match ever in­creas­ing Chi­nese mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The planned ac­qui­si­tions are cap­i­tal in­ten­sive and the present de­fence bud­get can­not sup­port many of them. The de­fence bud­get has dipped to 1.56% of the coun­try’s pro­jected GDP for 2017-18 – the low­est level since the dis­as­trous 1962 war with China. It must be pro­gres­sively raised to 3.0% of the GDP if In­dia is to build the de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties that it needs to meet fu­ture threats and chal­lenges and dis­charge its grow­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as a re­gional power in South­ern Asia.

The gov­ern­ment has re­cently sanc­tioned some funds and del­e­gated fi­nan­cial pow­ers to the three ser­vices to ac­quire the where­withal nec­es­sary for com­bat readi­ness. How­ever, un­less the re­main­ing de­fi­cien­cies in weapons, am­mu­ni­tion and equip­ment are also made up quickly, the man­age­ment of the de­fence bud­get im­proves by an or­der of mag­ni­tude and the de­fence pro­cure­ment process is stream­lined fur­ther, thoughts of crit­i­cal hol­low­ness in de­fence pre­pared­ness will con­tinue to haunt In­dia’s de­fence plan­ners.

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