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Hostile Neighbourhood:VITAL TO MODERNISE FORCES, by Col. (Dr.) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd.), 1 Nov 2010 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 1 November 2010  

Hostile Neighbourhood


Col. (Dr.) P. K. Vasudeva (Retd.)

The Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik called upon his personnel to be prepared to meet any internal and external challenges, as the current security scenario in the country's neighbourhood was volcanic. “The current security scenario is like a volcano and may test your skills at any time without warning. These times require swift action,” he underscored at the 78th Air Force Day at Hindan recently. Later, he told the media that he described the security situation as “volcanic” because one did not know when it would erupt.


Thus, operational preparedness was the key to meeting the complex and intensive threat with “speed of response, flexibility and precision.” Importantly, the presence of Chinese troops in Aksai Chin and Gilgit is quite alarming. Also, the Chinese Nuclear deal with Pakistan is disturbing for the Government. Our performance and commitment has increased the nation's expectations of us and I call upon all of you to continue with the same dedication.


He extolled the Forces to meticulously use the existing capabilities to ensure that the transition towards modernisation is smooth and does not impinge on our operational efficiency. As a large number of acquisitions would be in place in the next few years. Consequently, making the IAF a very potent aerospace power in the next five to seven years. “We have the responsibility to absorb the new technology and operate all systems effectively to secure, protect and preserve the Air Force's ground and air assets with diligence and utmost prudence,” the Air Chief added for good measure.


This is not all. According to a top military commander, India is cautiously watching the defence modernisation of its neighbours, including China, stressing that anything that impacts the country's growth was a "matter of concern". Quoting Chanakya, he emphasized that all neighbours have to be watched with concern on the impact and growth of our nation. Given that India's area of responsibility extends from the Strait of Hormuz to the Malacca Straits and beyond. We need to see what capability is required to meet this aspiration and accordingly plan our modernization and procurements, he underlined.  


True, the Air Force Chief’’s address to the IAF personnel is morale boosting yet his subsequent assertion that 50 per cent of the equipment used by the Air Force is either obsolete or obsolescent raises serious questions about the country’s defence preparedness. According to the Air Chief, most of the hardware, including fighters, radars, transport aircraft and air defence weapons are not in the best and operational condition. No matter that he diplomatically maintained that the IAF is quite capable of carrying out its defensive role.


Furthermore, he also cited the shortage of officers in the Forces, a fact confirmed by the Union Defence Minister during his reply to Rajya Sabha, in Parliament’s last session. "There has been a shortage of officers in the Armed Forces. The shortage of officers in the army is around 11,500, in the navy, the shortage is 1,606," and the air force is short of 1,342 officers.”


While the material and personnel inadequacies of the Forces have frequently been pointed out, it is perhaps the first time that the top leadership of the Forces is stating this in the public domain. What is true of the Air Force is also true of the other services also. Hence, it is a matter of grave concern.

Needless to say, there have been frequent public statements after the budget session of Parliament about upgradation of equipment and modernisation of the Forces. But these have fallen flat on the ears of the Defence Ministry.  Notwithstanding the Air Chief’s statement.

Additionally, it is also well known that India’s indigenous defence production industry is grossly inadequate and much of the needed equipment has to be procured through foreign contracts. The process is often caught in bureaucratic hassles, corruption, scams and scums besides other delayed procurement problems, which have still not been streamlined. The purchase of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov from Russia is a case in point. The cautious policy on procurement of weapons adopted by successive Governments after the Bofors scandal is also one of the reasons.

Modern defence hardware is very expensive and allocations need to keep pace with the immediate needs of the services. This calls for improvement in the procurement of defence equipment. The Defence Ministry has been unable to spend from Rs 7000 to Rs 9000 crore from the allocated capital Budgets over the years for the procurement of modern arms and equipment for the three services. But why the defence ministry is not able to utilise its allocation also needs to be investigated and remedial action taken.

Clearly, India’s defence profile should match its growing economic strength and the challenges in its neighbourhood. China and even the financially deprived Pakistan have constantly improved their capabilities and it will be suicidal if India is found lagging behind its adversaries.

Also, many of the defence items that are needed cannot be readily purchased and have to be ordered years ahead of actual procurement. While the main responsibility for action lies with the Government, the propriety of making a public admission of such a serious handicap of the forces, as made by the Air Chief, is also questionable.

Plainly, the IAF’s immediate need of the multi-billion dollar contract for 126 Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) needs to be decided at the earliest. Particularly, as the Air Force submitted the MMRCA report to the Defence Ministry on July last in the hope that the contract should be signed by July 2011.  


Those in the race for the contract include the American F/A-18 E/F and F-16, European Euro-fighter, Russian MiG 35, French Dassault Rafale and the Swedish Saab 39 Gripen. The report has been already submitted to the Defence Ministry’s Director-General (Acquisition) and the Technical Oversight Committee is all set to examine it before it is sent for higher approvals.


Besides, the Air Force looks forward that the proposed Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) would be developed jointly by India and Russia, to be inducted by 2017.


In sum, the statements of the Service Chiefs should be taken seriously as the hostile neighbourhood is untrustworthy. We stood witness to the Chinese aggression in 1962 and Pakistan’s frequent terrorist infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir which continue endlessly. Today India needs to be on guard against the backdrop of both Pakistan and China coming closer to Maoists/Naxalites. This cannot be overlooked. ------ INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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