Arms procurement needs fresh legs

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 manpower-heavy infantry battalions. In his Budget speech on February 28, 2011, Pranab Mukherjee set aside R1,64,425 crore ($36 billion) for defence during the next financial year (FY 2011-12). This is less than 2% of the country’s GDP, despite recommendations of successive standing committees on defence in India’s Parliament that it should be at least 3% if the emerging threats and challenges are to successfully countered. 
In the defence budget for 2011-12, an amount of Rs 69,199 crore (42% of the budget) has been allotted on the capital account for the acquisition of modern weapon systems. The major weapons systems to be acquired on priority include 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft, C-17 Globemaster heavy lift transport aircraft, 197 light helicopters and 145 ultra-light howitzers. It is well known that India plans to spend approximately $100 billion over 10 years on defence modernisation. The army’s share of the defence budget is R83,415 crore (51%). Of this, R64,252 crore (77%) is on account of revenue expenditure (pay and allowances, rations, fuel, ammunition, etc) and only R19,163 crore (23%) is available on the capital expenditure account for modernisation schemes. 
The indigenously developed Arjun main battle tank (MBT) has entered serial production to equip two regiments. Meanwhile, 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. A programme has been launched to modernise the T-72 M1 Ajeya MBTs that have been the mainstay of the army’s Strike Corps since the 1980s. The programme seeks to upgrade the night fighting capabilities and fire control system of the tank, among other modifications. 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 as well, in addition to their primary role in conventional conflict. 
During the Kargil conflict of 1999, artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory. Yet modernisation of the artillery continues to flounder. The last major acquisition 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 155 mm/39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains and 155 mm/52-calibre long-range howitzers for the plains, as well as for self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. However, it will take almost five years more for the first of the new guns to enter service. The MoD is in the process of acquiring 145 pieces of 155 mm/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 for more accurate targeting in future battles. 
A contract for the acquisition of two regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher 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. The indigenously designed and manufactured Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system is likely to enter service in the near future. It is also time to now consider the induction of unmanned combat air vehicles armed with air-to-surface missiles into service for air-to-ground precision attacks. 
The Corps of Army Air Defence also holds the vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Shilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK. All of these need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The Akash surface-to-air missile has not yet fully met the army’s qualitative requirements. The short-range and medium-range SAM acquisition programmes are embroiled in red tape. 
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, and hand-held thermal imaging devices 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 LoC with Pakistan and detect infiltration of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Similarly, the operational capabilities of army aviation, engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance & target acquisition branches and command & control systems need to be substantially enhanced so that the overall combat potential of the army can be improved by an order of magnitude. 
In view of the continuing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan and the emerging threats and challenges on the strategic horizon, especially on the maritime security front, India is consistently failing to develop the capabilities that its armed forces will need in the 2020-25 timeframe. The country needs to spend much more on 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 crisis situations. 
—The author is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi