The Indian Army, which is observing its 65th Army Day today to mark the appointment of an Indian as the country’s first post-Independence Army Chief, is facing a grave crisis that involves serious deficiencies in equipment and a decline in internal health.
IN a private conversation during the late 1990s, a Defence Attache posted in an embassy of an advanced western democracy in New Delhi, who had also previously studied at India’s Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, remarked that the Indian Army is ‘a first class antiquated Army’.
For the Army as also the other services, the 1990s was a severely difficult decade. There had been minimal modernisation of the armed forces due to a combination of factors that had comprised a severe resource crunch (that had subsequently led to the liberalising of the economy) and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which had been India’s long standing traditional supplier of defence equipment. This had been compounded by a simultaneous atrophy through much of the 1990s in India’s decision making for purchase of armaments following the black listing of Bofors, a Swedish company that had paid kickbacks to middlemen for selling 155 mm howitzer guns to the Indian Army in the mid-1980s.
The resource crunch of the 1990s is since long over. Due to some pragmatic foreign policy changes, India is now sourcing weapons from alternative suppliers, notably Israel, the United States and Europe. Then again, Russia has since managed to re-assemble and re-integrate its military industrial complex that had earlier got fragmented with the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Yet, there has not been much change in the Indian Army’s ‘antiquity’ notwithstanding that following the 1999 Kargil War New Delhi has embarked on a major defence modernisation programme that entails purchase of armaments and weapon platforms worth billions of dollars, mostly from foreign vendors. Rather, if anything, there seems to have been a steady and gradual decline in both the Army’s conventional capability and its internal health both of which are a cause for serious concern.
Severe equipment deficiencies
The Indian Army’s war fighting capability remains adversely affected by serious equipment deficiencies – from big ticket items such as artillery guns and ammunition to smaller but vital items like bullet proof jackets. Bringing out the gravity of the problem in his letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 12th March 2012, former Army Chief, General Vijay Kumar Singh, had described the state of the artillery, air defence, infantry and even the armoured corps – all key fighting arms of the Army– as ‘alarming’. Tanks, he had written, were ‘devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks’;‘the air defence was 97 per cent obsolete’;‘the infantry lacked night fighting capabilities’ and ‘the Special Forces were woefully short of essential weapons’. Worse, he referred to the ‘lack of urgency at all levels’ on matters of national security and the ‘hollowness’ in the system arising from the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments created by vendors.