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Dismal military muscle: Threat to the Indian Union

Dismal military muscle: Threat to the Indian Union

Author: Bharat Verma
Publication: Deccan Herald
Date: January 1, 2009
URL: http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Jan12009/editpage20081231109856.asp

To meet the threat posed by authoritarian regimes on our borders, we need a technologically driven military machine.

Despite the threat to the territorial integrity of the Union being visible for decades, New Delhi continues to mismanage the military preparedness year after year by degrading it.

Pakistan and Bangladesh export radical Islam to India in an effort to destabilise it. China funds insurgent movements in the Northeast and instigate its proxies. The borders are kept on the boil between China and its proxies while Bangladesh and Pakistan continue to implode India through terrorist acts with impunity. India remains under siege. Of course, overtly these regimes pretend to work in isolation of each other so as not to alarm New Delhi.

To defend by developing offensive military capabilities is crucial against the combined threat posed by the authoritarian regimes on our borders. India unfortunately is not geographically insulated or located in safe haven like the United States. Situated within the arch of Islamic terrorism in Asia, our military preparedness should be of the highest order with immense offensive capabilities and the ability to induct large bodies of troops rapidly from one theatre to another.

While the Indian military machine is falling apart due to acute shortages, New Delhi continues to fumble under the weight of its inherent helplessness. Former Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy's counter-question after the Mumbai siege, "When your defences are weak, what are you going to coerce with?" illuminates the incompetence of South Block. The enemy could not have prayed for a more fortunate break!

Out of the sanctioned strength of 45 air force squadrons, 32 alone remain operational. In the 32 units, one third are ageing MiG-21 squadrons that are nick named "flying coffins" for their air unworthiness. The French have offered upgrades to Mirage-2000 but the project hangs fire two and a half years later, out of sheer lethargy.

Despite being warned by the IAF for many years in advance of its requirement, 126 medium multirole combat aircraft acquisitions mooted in 1999, stands delayed by at least another five years. If IAF is expected to secure 14,000 kilometers of land borders, it requires both, technological superiority as well as numbers. They are missing at this moment when the country faces deep crisis. Similarly the air defense cover suffers from lack of adequate number of radars.

This dismal scenario is equally true of the other two services. In Kargil out of 410 Bofors guns, less than 300 were functional. Lack of spare parts due to the blacklisting of the vendor after the Bofors scandal left the army high and dry. Despite repeated pleas by the army head quarters to upgrade artillery most of the air defence elements still boasts of World War II vintage equipment. After the ban on Bofors, Denel was selected after seven years and subsequently black listed.

The truth is that very few vendors make 155 mm artillery guns. If 50 per cent vendors stand black listed because someone from India allegedly wanted a kick back, then from where will India procure the guns that it does not manufacture? Obviously the military remains handicapped and incapable of securing the borders.

The story of shortages, bungling in acquisitions, bureaucratic red tape, complicated procedures, and political incompetence to appreciate relevance of military power in a society under siege is unending. For example, the navy is short of submarines but despite crying hoarse, it will not have adequate numbers for a very long period. The story of equipment shortages is endless.

Besides, there is a serious shortage of young officers at the cutting edge - the army alone needs 12,000 lieutenants, captains and majors. Neither outdated equipment can win wars, nor an ageing military profile. To add salt to the soldiers' injured pride and crippled capability, the government whittles down their status continuously by paying them less, in spite of the fact that they face the toughest conditions of service. Incredible how New Delhi's ineptitude managed to belittle one of the best fighting machines in the world?

To meet the combined threat posed by the authoritarian regimes on our borders, India requires a technologically driven lean and mean military machine. New Delhi needs to take multiple steps simultaneously on a war footing to implement rejuvenation of India's military might. The prime minister and his defence minister must appreciate the nuances involved in creating a war winning military by acquiring essentials of military knowledge.

Due to the combined threat posed on our land border, it is critical for India to develop adequate military muscle to take the war to the enemy. If the enemy is continuously permitted to attack us as in Mumbai, the Union of India may break up due to radicalisation of substantial Muslim population and the subsequent backlash of the Hindus, who are the majority. This will wreck the idea of a multi-cultural democracy. Therefore, the prime minister and his defence minister do not enjoy the option of non-governance in the matter of upkeep of the military.

- The writer is the Editor of Indian Defence Review.

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