Monday, April 2, 2012

The hollow Army

The hollow Army
March 31, 2012 By Mrinal Suman
As skeletons begin to tumble out of the closet of the Indian Army, the world’s second largest standing army, and the defence establishment now face the gravest crisis in their history — a crisis of credibility, and of national security preparedness. Will this shadowy war of leaks and allegations finally help unravel one of New Delhi’s most powerful cliques — that of shady arms dealers and agents? Or, will UPA’s Mr Clean A.K. Antony end up as the fall guy?

When the Army Chief writes to the Prime Minister that he has no ammunition for his tanks, that the country’s air defence network is nearly totally degraded and calls for urgent action to take correctives, it’s a grave national security situation indeed.

Yet, the debate that has taken hold is not about that grave situation, but whether the Army Chief violated protocol by writing to the PM, that he should be sacked for leaking – without evidence that he did – that letter to the media, and the like.

By itself, such a debate explains why, over the past two decades, we have come to such a pass. A matter that affects the war-potential of the army has been trifled with by an unseemly blame-game about its leakage.

A service chief is duty-bound to keep the political leadership informed of the state of preparedness of his force at all times. Writing a letter to the Prime Minister under intimation to the defence minister does not breach protocol in any way, and it has been done by service chiefs in the past.

The Indian Army’s problem, in a nutshell, is this: All militaries in the world seek the best equipment they can afford. But even the richest countries cannot afford to have an inventory full of the latest and best. Rather, militaries seek to maintain a well-balanced equipment profile at all times. Perhaps, a mix of 30 per cent modern, 40 per cent matured and 30 per cent obsolescent equipment.

Disconcertingly, in our case, as much as 85 per cent of the equipment with the Indian military today is decades-old and need to be replaced/upgraded. Yet, due to a number of impediments — including corruption in military procurement and attempts to curb it by blacklisting arms manufacturers — the pace of modernisation has been lagging by more than 10 years.
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