Inadequate preparedness

The inadequacy of the intelligence and reconnai-ssance systems, with an adverse impact, adds to the army’s difficulties.

Defence preparedness is a function of the training and morale of the combatants, the suitability of the force structure, the efficacy of the weapons with which the force is armed, the adequacy of the supporting equipment, the availability of the right quantities of ammunition and explosives, and the serviceability state of the war machinery. Due to critical deficiencies in several of these elements, the present state of defence preparedness – particularly that of the army – leaves a lot to be desired.
More than anything else, the former Army Chief, Gen V K Singh’s leaked letter to the Prime Minister and the CAG’s report, both of 2012, revealed that the state of defence preparedness is a cause for serious concern. Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has noted these developments with concern. Attributing the deficiencies to ‘hollowness’ in the defence procurement system, Gen V K Singh reportedly wrote in his letter to the PM, ‘The state of the major (fighting) arms i.e. Mechanised Forces, Artillery, Air Defence, Infantry and Special Forces, as well as the Engineers and Signals, is indeed alarming.’

The major issues raised by the COAS include the following: the army’s entire tank fleet is ‘devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks,’ the air defence equipment is ‘97% obsolete and it doesn’t give the deemed confidence to protect…from the air,’ the infantry is crippled with ‘deficiencies of crew served weapon’ and lacks ‘night fighting’ capabilities, the elite Special Forces are ‘woefully short of ‘essential weapons,’ and there are ‘large-scale voids’ in critical surveillance. 
Perhaps the country’s precarious financial condition in the early-1990s did not allow PM Narsimha Rao to provide the necessary funds to immediately make up the shortage. The critical deficiencies remained and a few years later when the Kargil conflict took place, the whole nation heard the COAS, General V P Malik, make the chilling statement on national TV, “We will fight with what we have.”

Approximately 250,000 rounds of artillery ammunition were fired in the 50-day Kargil war. It is well known that India had to scramble to import 50,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition for its Bofors guns, besides other weapons and equipment during the Kargil conflict. Stocks of tank ammunition and those for other artillery and air defence guns were also low and it was just as well that the fighting remained limited to the Kargil sector and did not spill over to the rest of the LoC or the plains.

Government orders authorise the stocking of sufficient ammunition to fight a large-scale war for 50 to 60 days. This is known as the ‘war reserve’. As the Army Chief’s letter and the CAG report bring out, not enough new stocks were apparently procured to make up even the ammunition expended during the Kargil conflict. Stocks of several critical varieties of ammunition for tanks and artillery guns have reportedly fallen to as low as less than 10 days war reserves. Also, ammunition has a shelf life of about 12 to 15 years, at the end of which it is no longer usable for combat but can still be used for training. Hence, the shortages continue to increase every year if action is not taken to constantly make up the deficiency.

Stagnant process

The other major issue highlighted in the letter written by the COAS, pertains to the continuation in service of obsolescent weapons and equipment and the stagnation in the process of military modernisation aimed at upgrading the army’s war-fighting capabilities. While the COAS pointed out several operational deficiencies, the most critical ones include the complete lack of artillery modernisation since the Bofors 155mm howitzer was purchased in the mid-1980s, ‘night blindness’ of the army’s infantry battalions and mechanised forces, and the fact that the air defence guns and missile systems are 97 per cent obsolescent. The inadequacy of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, with an adverse impact on command and control during war, adds to the army’s difficulties.

This sorry state of affairs has come about because of the flawed defence planning and acquisition processes in existence, a grossly inadequate defence budget and the inability to fully spend even the megre funds that are allotted. Funds are surrendered quite often due to bureaucratic red tape – civilian as well as military, scams in defence procurement and the frequent blacklisting of defence firms accused of adopting unfair means to win contracts.

Long-term defence planning is the charter of the apex body of the National Security Council which meets rarely due to the preoccupation of the PM and other members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) with day to day crisis management. As such, the 15-years Long-term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) and five-year Defence Plan do not receive the required attention.

The MoD must take stock of the army’s preparedness for war and internal security challenges. The defence budget has dipped below 2.0 per cent of the country’s GDP despite the fact that the Service Chiefs and Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence have repeatedly recommended that it should be raised to at least 3.0 per cent if India is to build the defence capabilities that it will need to face the emerging threats and challenges and discharge its growing responsibilities as a regional power in Southern Asia.

The inability of the defence procurement and production processes to deliver results, the unbelievably low levels of defence indigenisation, the shortfall in production and the poor quality of weapons, equipment and ammunition produced by ordnance factories and the shoddy performance of the quality control organisations, need to be carefully examined.

(The author is a Delhi-based strategic analyst)

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