Preparedness, military modernisation need govtt’s attention

In the remaining years in power, the Narendra Modi government must address the ‘critical hollowness’ plaguing defence preparedness. The words ‘critical hollowness’ were used by former Army Chief V K Singh in a letter he wrote to then PM Manmohan Singh in May 2012. Also, major operational void in the war establishment of the three Services must be made up early in order to enhance combat readiness. 

Large-scale deficiencies in ammunition and important items of equipment continue to adversely affect India’s readiness for war and the ability to sustain military operations over 20 to 30 days. The army reportedly has some varieties of ammunition for barely 10 days of conflict and it will cost Rs 19,000 core to replenish stocks. It may be recalled that during the Kargil conflict in 1999, 50,000 rounds of artillery ammunition had to be imported from South Africa. The occurrence of such a situation during a time of crisis must be avoided through a prudent replenishment and stocking policy.

Modernisation of the armed forces has been stagnating due to inadequacy of funds, the blacklisting of several defence manufacturers and bureaucratic red tape. A committee led by Dhirendra Singh, former home secretary, was appointed to review the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). Several pragmatic amendments have been made in DPP 2016 issued in early-April. 

While projects worth over Rs 1.15 lakh crore has been accorded ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AON) by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, actual contracts have still not been signed for most of the procurements for which AON has been given. And, like in the UPA regime, significantly large amounts of funds continue to be surrendered unspent from the capital budget.

In the army, artillery modernisation is still stagnating. There is an urgent need to acquire about 3,000 155 mm/ 52-calibre guns to replace obsolescent guns and howitzers, but not a single contract has yet been signed. Air defence and army aviation units are also burdened with obsolete equipment that has degraded their readiness for combat and created vulnerabilities. 

Modern wars are fought mostly during the hours of darkness, but most of the armoured fighting vehicles are still ‘night blind’. Only about 650 T-90S tanks of Russian origin have genuine night fighting capability. The infantry battalions need over 30,000 third generation night vision devices. 

Other requirements for infantry battalions include 66,000 assault rifles – a soldier’s basic weapon, carbines for close quarter battle, general purpose machine guns, light-weight anti-materiel rifles, mine protected vehicles, 3,90,000 ballistic helmets, and 1,80,000 lightweight bullet proof jackets.

The navy is in the process of building an air defence ship at Kochi to replace the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, six Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Docks and 22 destroyers, frigates, corvettes and other ships such as fast attack craft, landing ships and support ships. However, India’s maritime security challenges are growing and the navy not only needs to modernise but also expand its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region.

Snail’s pace
Modernisation plans of the air force are also proceeding but at a snail’s pace. The MMRCA project to acquire 126 fighter aircraft to replace obsolete MiG-21s is stuck in a groove. The government’s plans to initially purchase 36 Rafale fighters from France appears to have got bogged down while negotiating the contract.

 Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin (F-16) and Boeing (F-18) have jumped into the fray again with offers to produce their aircraft locally with transfer of technology. 

The IAF also requires two AWACS early warning aircraft, six mid-air refueller tankers, 56 transporter planes, 20 advance jet trainers, 38 basic trainers, 48 medium-lift helicopters, reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters, surface-to-air missile systems and electronic warfare suites. All three Services need to upgrade their C4I2SR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers , Intelligence, Information, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capabilities to prepare for effects-based operations in a network-centric environment and to match ever increasing Chinese capabilities. 

All of these acquisitions are capital intensive and the present defence budget cannot support these.The defence budget has dipped to 1.72% of the country’s GDP – the lowest level since the disastrous 1962 War with China. Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence and the armed forces have repeatedly recommended that it should be raised progressively to 3% of the GDP if India is to build the defence capabilities that it needs to meet future threats and challenges and discharge its growing responsibilities as a regional power in South Asia.

The budgetary allocations will continue to be surrendered unless the government sets up a rolling, non-lapsable defence modernisation fund of about Rs 1 lakh crore under the Consolidated Fund of India. The armed forces are now in the fifth year of the 12th Defence Plan (2012-17). It has still not been formally approved with full financial backing by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). The government has also not formally approved the long term integrated perspective plan (2007-22) formulated by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. Without these essential approvals, defence procurement is being undertaken through ad hoc annual procurement plans. 

These are serious lacunae as effective defence planning cannot be undertaken in a policy void. The government must commit itself to supporting long term defence plans. 

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)