Defence cuts may hit national security

Recently defence minister A K Anthony dropped a bombshell when he announced that there would be huge cuts in the defence budget. The cuts are reportedly as high as Rs 14,000 crore. The minister attributed the spending cut to global recession, stating that India is not an island and that fluctuations in the global economy do affect our nation as well. While nobody would dispute the economic truism in that statement, one is forced to review the current status of our armed forces in terms of our defence preparedness and to observe how such substantial cuts in the defence budget would affect our national security.

Defence procurement in India has always been riddled with nightmares. In many ways it has been perennially jinxed. It takes ages for the process to be completed and it is very often afflicted by allegations of corruption. The armed forces have taken serious measures to tackle corruption, especially the army while under Gen V K Singh intiated court martial proceedings against very high ranking officers including  three star generals. While there has been some headway in fighting corruption, policy making and procurement projects have been seriously affected as officials are scared to take risks in the fear that they would be hounded with allegations. Anthony orders a probe on every complaint he receives, causing delays in nearly every project. Even anonymous complaints are being probed. Any foreign power that wishes to weaken us could take advantage of this (the lurking fear is that they already may have).

Increasing worry

There is an increasing worry that many proposed projects may not see the light of day. The Navy has been requesting advanced submarines under a proposal dubbed as  Project 75-I. This new line of six submarines would possess AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) capability. AIP increases the mission life of a submarine by around three times. The capability enables a submarine to generate air onboard without the need to surface for breathing to recharge its batteries. At present, none of the Indian submarines have this capability, and most of them can only be under water for only three days. The irony is that this proposal has been around for years and the ministry of defence (MOD) is yet to initiate the formal process by announcing the global tender or RPF (request for proposal)!
The Airforce has not fared any better. The 20 billion $ MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 French Rafale fighters has been delayed for ages. The RFP for this project was issued way back in August 2007 after years of delay, but it is yet to be finally inked. The joint Army- Airforce proposal for nearly 200 light utility helicopters has been stalled. The leading contenders were the Russian Kamov Ka-226T and the Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec. The uncertainty over this project is appaling especially when the armed forces are desperately trying to replace the existing Cheetah and Chetak fleets.

We live in an environment which is very prone to conflict. We face serious challenges from a rather unstable Pakistan on the Western front and an increasingly belligerent China on the Eastern front. How prepared are we to faced either one of them? How prepared are we to fight a two front war if both of them declare war on us? These are very uncomfortable questions and our discomfort increases when we know that our armed forces are not getting the equipment they desperately seek.

The recent border clashes with Pakistan that resulted in the beheading of two Indian soldiers urge us to remain cautious. The Pakistani army chief Gen Kayani has always stated that its military operations will remain ‘India Centric’. China has a close military relationship with Pakistan (evinced recently in the help they rendered to Pakistan in constructing the strategically located Gwadar Port near the Straits of Hormuz). China has always been taunting us with numerous border incursions. The Chinese are constantly testing our resolve on the Eastern Front. Will the 37 divisions of the Indian Army be enough to deal with the combined might of both Pakistan and China? What are we doing to counter the rapid modernization of the Chinese armed forces, especially their Navy which is virtually a blue water Navy now? When was the last time we conducted serious war games on the eastern front?

While it is true that we do not face any immediate threat of war, we should never take this situation for granted. Our suave diplomacy may be able to achieve an everlasting peace with our unpredictable neighbours , this should not influence our armed forces as they have to always prepare for the likelihood of a two front war. How they will deal with that situation in the face of ever increasing defence cuts is anybody’s guess.

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