Stagnating Modernisation Plans

As an ancient civilisation but a young nation that is still in the process of nation building, India faces many threats and challenges to its external and internal security. The foremost among these are the long-festering dispute over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with Pakistan and the unresolved territorial and boundary dispute with China. Since its independence from the British on August 15, 1947, India has been forced to fight four wars with Pakistan (1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999) and one with China (1962). India's internal security environment has been vitiated by a 'proxy war' through which Pakistan has fuelled an uprising in J&K since 1988-89. Various militant movements in India's north-eastern states and the rising tide of Maoist terrorism in large parts of Central India have also contributed to internal instability. India's regional security is marked by instability in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Despite these tensions, India has maintained its coherence and its GDP is now growing at an annual rate in excess of eight per cent, except for the dip suffered during the financial crisis. Growth at such a rapid rate would not have been possible but for the sustained vigilance maintained by the Indian armed forces and their many sacrifices in the service of the nation over the last six decades. Modernisation Dilemma With personnel strength of approximately 1.1 million soldiers, the Indian army has made a huge contribution towards keeping the nation together, particularly in facing internal security challenges. It is a first-rate army but has been saddled for long with second-rate weapons and equipment, despite heavy operational commitments on border management and in counter-insurgency operations. The modernisation dilemma that the Indian army faces is that the budgetary support available for modernisation is grossly inadequate. It can undertake substantive modernisation only by simultaneously effecting large-scale downsizing so as to save on personnel costs, the largest chunk of the army's annual budget. However, it would not be prudent to downsize as the army's operational commitments on border management and internal security duties require large numbers of manpower-heavy infantry battalions. In his budget speech on February 28, 2011, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee set aside Rs 1,64,425 crore (US$ 36 billion) for defence during the next financial year (FY 2011-12). This is less than 2.0 per cent of the country's GDP despite the recommendations of successive Standing Committees on Defence in India's Parliament that it should be at least 3.00 per cent if the emerging threats and challenges are to successfully countered. Meanwhile, China's has increased its official defence expenditure for 2011 by 13 per cent to US$ 91.5 billion while its actual expenditure on defence is likely to be close to US$ 150 billion (3.5 per cent of its GDP). The US defence expenditure in fiscal year 2010 was US$ 530 billion, excluding funds allotted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the defence budget, an amount of Rs 69,199 crore (13.75 per cent increase, 42 per cent of the budget) has been allotted on the capital account for the acquisition of modern weapon systems in the defence budget for Financial Year 2011-12. The major weapons systems to be acquired on priority include 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft, C-17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft, 197 light helicopters and 145 Ultra-light Howitzers. It is well known that India plans to spend approximately US$ 100 billion over 10 years on defence modernisation. The army's share of the defence budget is Rs 83,415 crore (51%). Of this, Rs 64,252 crore (77%) is on account of Revenue Expenditure (pay and allowances, rations, fuel, ammunition etc) and only Rs 19,163 crore (23%) is available on the Capital Expenditure account for modernisation schemes. Because extremely limited funds are made available for modernisation and a large portion of these is surrendered year after year due to scams and bureaucratic red tape, the Indian army has almost completely missed the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Defence Minister A K Antony had admitted recently, "New procurements have commenced… but we are still lagging by 15 years.” If this state of affairs continues much longer, the quantitative military gap with China will soon become a qualitative gap as well, as China is continuing to modernise its armed forces at a rapid rate. China's defence budget has been growing at a double-digit rate annually for about a decade. Also, the slender conventional edge that the Indian army enjoys over the Pakistan army will be eroded further as Pakistan is spending considerably large sums of money on its military modernisation and is getting weapons and equipment from the United States at subsidised rates, ostensibly for fighting the so-called global war on terror. As the COAS had stated at the Army Training Command's seminar on army doctrine in December 2009, the army must prepare for a war on two fronts. Unless the budgetary support for modernisation increases substantially over the next decade, this will remain an aspirational doctrine. Chinks in the Armour While Pakistan has acquired 320 T-80 UD tanks and is on course to add Al Khalid tanks that it has co-developed with China to its armour fleet, vintage T-55 tanks continue in the Indian army's inventory despite their obsolescence. The indigenously developed Arjun MBT has not yet met the army's expectations due to recurring technological problems and cost over-runs, though the tank has entered serial production to equip two regiments. More tanks of the upgraded version (Arjun Mk II) are likely to be inducted soon. Consequently, 310 T-90S MBTs had to be imported from Russia. In December 2007, a contract was signed for an additional 347 T-90 tanks to be assembled in India. Meanwhile, a programme has been launched to modernise the T-72 M1 Ajeya MBTs that have been the mainstay of the army's Strike Corps and their armoured divisions since the 1980s. The programme seeks to upgrade the night fighting capabilities and fire control system of the tank, among other modifications. Approximately 1,700 T-72 M1s have been manufactured under license at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), Avadi. The BMP-1 and the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, which have been the mainstay of the mechanised infantry battalions for long, are now ageing and replacements need to be found soon. The replacement vehicles must be capable of being deployed for internal security duties and counter-insurgency operations in addition to their primary role in conventional conflict. Obsolescent Artillery and Air Defence Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory, modernisation of the artillery continues to lag behind. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of about 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155 mm FH-77B howitzers from Bofors of Sweden in the mid-1980s. New tenders have been floated for 155mm/ 39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains and 155mm/52-calibre long-range howitzers for the plains, as well as for self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. As re-trials have not yet commenced, it will take almost five years more for the first of the new guns to enter service. It has been reported recently that the MoD is in the process of acquiring 145 155mm/ 39-calibre M777 howitzers for the mountains through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US in a government-to-government deal. The artillery also needs large quantities of precision guided munitions (PGMs) for more accurate targeting in future battles. The present stocking levels of PGMs are reported to be rather low. A contract for the acquisition of two regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range was signed with Russia's Rosoboronexport in early-2006. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a precision strike capability, very high kill energy and maximum range of 290 km, was inducted into the army in July 2007. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures due to their high speed and very low radar cross section. The indigenously designed and manufactured Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system is likely to enter service in the near future. These three weapon systems together will provide a major boost to the artillery's ability to destroy key targets at long ranges. It is also time to now consider the induction of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) armed with air-to-surface missiles into service for air-to-ground precision attacks. The Corps of Army Air Defence is also faced with serious problems of obsolescence. The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK have all seen better days and need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The Akash and Trishul surface-to-air missiles have not yet been successfully developed by DRDO. The short-range and medium-range SAM acquisition programmes are embroiled in red tape. This is one area where the army has lagged behind seriously in its modernisation efforts. Other Fighting Arms The modernisation plans of India's cutting edge infantry battalions, which are aimed at enhancing their capability for surveillance and target acquisition at night and boosting their firepower for precise retaliation against infiltrating columns and terrorists holed up in built-up areas, are moving forward but at a snail's pace. These include plans to acquire hand-held battlefield surveillance radars (BFSRs), and hand-held thermal imaging devices (HHTIs) for observation at night. Stand-alone infra-red, seismic and acoustic sensors need to be acquired in large numbers to enable infantrymen to dominate the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and detect infiltration of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Similarly, the operational capabilities of army aviation, engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) branches need to be substantially enhanced so that the overall combat potential of the army can be improved by an order of magnitude. Modern strategic and tactical level command and control systems need to be acquired on priority basis for better synergies during conventional and sub-conventional conflict. While the Artillery Combat Command and Control system (ACCC&S) has entered service, the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) is yet to mature. The communication systems linking these C3I systems, Project ASTROIDS and the Tactical Communication System (TCS), are still in various stages of development. Despite being the largest user of space, the army does not have a dedicated military satellite to bank on. To enable the army to fight and win the nation's future wars in an era of strategic uncertainty, the government must give a major boost to the army's modernisation drive. The army's modernisation plans require substantially higher budgetary support than what has been forthcoming over the last decade, the speeding up of the weapons and equipment acquisition process and the simultaneous upgradation of recruitment standards and, consequently, personnel skills so as to be able to absorb high-tech weapon systems. Doctrine, organisation and training standards will need to keep pace with technological modernisation to make the Indian army a 21st century force to be reckoned with. Finally, the most relevant yardstick for measuring the adequacy of defence expenditure is whether or not India is getting the defensive capabilities that it needs. In view of the continuing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan and the increasing nuclear, missile and military hardware nexus between them prompting the need to prepare for a two-front future war, the emerging threats and challenges on the strategic horizon especially on the maritime security front, the lack of military modernisation and the marked obsolescence of the weapons and equipment of the armed forces, India is consistently failing to develop the capabilities that its armed forces will need in the 2015-20 time frame. Therefore, the country needs to spend much more on its defence if another military debacle like that of 1962 is to be avoided. This is one field in which complacency costs lives and imposes unacceptable burdens during future crisis situations.