The country’s security might be at stake.
The army’s tanks have run out of ammunition, the air defence is as good as obsolete and the infantry is short of critical weapons, General VK Singh wrote to the prime minister recently.
The letter, sent to the prime minister’s office (PMO) on March 12, asks Manmohan Singh to “pass suitable directions to enhance the preparedness of the army”.
The embattled general (the controversy over his date of birth and the Rs14-crore bribe offer) approached the PMO after he failed to get a response from the defence ministry. Ever since the general had a row with South Block — which houses the defence ministry — over his birth date, he has had to face a bureaucracy that seems reluctant to process files.
With the Manmohan Singh-led government in power since May 2004, the military has failed to make any big ticket purchases and even critical operational shortages have failed to move a stubborn bureaucracy. “The state of the major (fighting) arms i.e. Mechanised Forces, Artillery, Air Defence, Infantry and Special Forces, as well as the Engineers and Signals, is indeed alarming,” Gen Singh wrote in his letter. Some of the major issues he has raised are:
- The army’s entire tank fleet is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks”
- The air defence is “97% obsolete and it doesn’t give the deemed confidence to protect…from the air”
- The infantry is crippled with “deficiencies of crew served weapon” and lacks “night fighting” capabilities
- Elite Special Forces are “woefully short” of “essential weapons”
- There are “large-scale voids” in critical surveillance; night fighting capabilities
Gen Singh points out that the present “hollowness” in the system is a manifestation of the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments by vendors. The general’s plea is a direct indictment of the complex and slow defence procurement procedures.
Gen Singh, miffed with ordnance factories that produce weapon systems and other fighting material, felt the work quality was poor and a “lack of urgency at all levels” on matters of national security.
This is frustrating and worrying for the general because some years ago he was entrusted with preparing a comprehensive “transformation study” to modernise the army. As the GOC-in-C (Eastern Command), Singh, then a lieutenant general, had prepared a detailed report to modernise the force.
With two “inimical neighbours” and the “reality of large land borders”, Gen Singh feels such shortcomings severely erode the army’s preparedness. Therefore, there is a need to “urgently mitigate” these “critical deficiencies” that are “impacting the operational capability” of a 1.3million-strong army.