Sunday, 17 May 2015

Something Rotten in the State of the Armed Forces

Air Warriors from the Indian Air Force (IAF) perform during an awareness drive in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad. (Photo: Reuters)

The Armed Forces have reasons to be pleased with the Modi Government. While the sought acquisitions are being procured, peacetime soldiering seems to be at its best. Whether the services are preparing themselves for the future war, which should be their primary task (and the sole reason for acquisitions) is an issue which is neither troubling the Government nor the Armed Forces.
By taking recourse to Government-to-Government deals and “Make in India” (indigenisation) route, the Government is clearing the procurement list of the services which is growing by the day. For example, to fight a two-front war (with Pakistan and China), the Army, in addition to its planned modernisation, wants a new mountain strike corps (90,000 troops costing Rs 1,10,000 crore to be spent over eight years).

The Air Force besides having got its combat (fighting) aircraft strength authorisation raised to 42 squadrons from 39.5 squadrons (each with 20 aircraft) has sought a plethora of force multipliers and transport aircraft. Not to be left behind the Navy wants nuclear and conventional submarines, surface ships, aircraft carriers and so on.

Dire Shortages
Recently, the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Standing Committee on Defence have lamented the lack of war preparedness, especially of the Army. But no one, least of all the Army, seems to be losing sleep over it. Both reports have said that the Army does not have necessary War Wastage Reserves (ammunition, stores and other wherewithal for war) to fight a war.
To recall, the then Army Chief General V.K. Singh in 2012 had written to the Prime Minister (the letter got leaked to the media) that the Army is not fit for war. Earlier, a desperate Army Chief, General V.P. Malik with his back to the wall, had told the media during the 1999 Kargil conflict that, ‘the Army will fight with whatever it has.’

Army’s Lethargy
The truth is that the Army does not want to spend over Rs 100,000 crore from its kitty on invisible WWR assets when it believes a war with either adversary is unlikely. The logic being that both adversaries are doing what they want, and India, having adopted a strategic defensive posture, is unlikely to retaliate against nuclear armed foes. Pakistan continues with its proxy war, and China with its border transgressions; the Modi Government has accepted these aggressions as the new “normal”.

Poor Capabilities
The moot question then is why are the Armed Forces collecting goodies for a two-front war, which is impossible to win? Before answering this, a cursory glance will show how Indian Armed Forces are way behind the adversary’s capabilities. The Pakistan military has five integrated branches: Army, Air Force, Navy, Strategic Plans Divisions (responsible for nuclear weapons), and Inter-Services-Intelligence (responsible for sub-conventional operations or terrorism).
The Chinese military has six integrated branches: Army, Air Force, Navy, Second Artillery (for nuclear weapons), Space and Cyber. Moreover, there is interoperability (ability to work together in war) between Pakistan and China. Thus, if Pakistan was to fight with India, China could help its ally with its formidable space, ballistic and cruise missiles, armed unmanned vehicles, cyber and seamless operational logistics, without showing its hand.

In a Comfort Zone
The Indian military has three branches, namely, Army, Air force and Navy, all of which work in compartmentalised fashion. Leave alone a two-front war, the Government has never asked the services to show a combined assessment of the Chinese threat based upon which acquisitions should be sought. Both the Army and the Air Force want to be in the lead rather than a supporting role in a land war; hence both desire capabilities much more than are necessary.

The Army’s added problem is its Generals who have risen in rank fighting counter-insurgency operations since 1990 in Jammu and Kashmir which is their comfort zone. They pay lip service to war preparedness which explains their preference for empire building at the cost of WWR.
The Navy, since the November 26, 2008, Mumbai terror attacks, has found comfort, visibility and status in coastal defence and anti-piracy operations rather than war preparedness. Instead of operational worthiness and rightful use of its limited expensive vessels, over which the previous Naval Chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi resigned in frustration, the Navy talks big like interdicting Chinese vessels in the Indian Ocean.

The Modi Government has abdicated its primary responsibility: to ask the three services to prepare a combined threat assessment of Pakistan and China for which acquisitions are sought. Otherwise, the defence allocations of Rs 2,46,727 crore for 2015-16 will be a wasted sum.


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