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Velvet Glove, but Iron Fist?

By Roy Joseph, Economics (Hons.) IIIrd year

The Indian Armed forces have protected the frontiers of the country valiantly and courageously for years. India is precariously flanked on the eastern and western front by China and Pakistan respectively. And, the fact that India doesn’t share the best of relations with either of them compounds the issue further.  The armed forces thus play an absolutely crucial role in warding off threats originating from these countries. Modernisation is essential to ensure an edge. The fact of the matter remains that the transition of the armed forces has been a painstakingly slow process. We haven’t kept pace with the rapid progress that our neighbours have made, especially China. In this article, I intend to take up the major challenges that lie ahead for the Indian Armed Forces in its quest to protect the country. There is no doubt regarding the capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces, often considered one of the most potent standing armies in the world. For the 1.2 million strong behemoth force that it is, the armed forces still has a long way to go as far as battle preparedness is concerned. Modernisation is the need of the hour. And the slow pace at which the transition towards modernisation is happening is alarming. Tejas is India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The LCA programme was announced in 1984. Even today, the fighter has still not been inducted into the Indian Air Force. The project cost has escalated manifold and the aircraft has, at present, managed to get two out of three levels of operational clearance. Word has it that the fighter will be inducted by 2016.

The Indian Air Force meanwhile has been grappling with squadron strength issues. Currently, the squadron strength is 34, way below the required 42. The importance of a competent Air Force cannot be stressed enough. We have been overly reliant on the ageing Soviet era MiG 21s for long now. The Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft deal has now been in the pipeline for long. After an arduous and detailed selection process, India chose to sign the deal for 126 French made Dassault Rafale fighter aircrafts in a deal worth $20 Billion. However, the final hurdle has not been cleared yet, further delaying the deliver of the first batch of 18 aircrafts that will come in flyaway condition. The rest of the 108 aircrafts will be manufactured in India under Transfer of Technology. The Indian Air Force has played an immensely significant role in most of the wars that India has fought, many-a-times clinching crucial battles, be it in the heights of Kargil or the deserts of Rajasthan. The squadron strength will be corrected only by 2017 now, or so it seems.

The Indian Army too is facing severe shortcomings in its modernisation and expansion drive. China’s rapid infrastructure development all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is alarming. The LAC has for long been a bone of contention. The Chinese have never shied away from staking claim to parts of Arunachal Pradesh often showing it to be a part of their country in official maps. China has roads right up to the area bordering India and this is a major cause for concern. We on the other hand have done little. India has identified 73 strategic roads which are nowhere near completion with environmental clearance being a hurdle.

It is beyond my understanding as to why strategic projects with national security ramifications should be subject to environmental clearances, particularly when Chinese soldiers can mobilise 3 soldiers for every Indian solider should there be an aggression. This is an alarming statistic indeed. There have been 400 instances of incursion by Chinese troops this year alone. The Daulat Beg Oldi in 2013 incident marked the worst standoff between the two forces. Chinese soldiers set up an encampment 19km inside Indian Territory. ITBP troops set up tents 300m away from the Chinese. The ITBP incidentally hasn’t purchased any weapons for the last 3 years. Not to forget the Army’s proxy war in J&K against terrorist and infiltrators backed by the Pakistan Army, all this against the backdrop of the Army facing massive weapons and ammunition shortage. War Wastage Reserves (WWR) are not even enough to sustain a full-fledged war for 20 days, less than half the required level of 40 days of intense fighting. And the required level will only be attained by 2019, or again, so it seems.

The Indian Navy has faced massive losses in the recent past. There have been 22 deaths and 11 accidents in the past seven months bringing to the fore questions regarding the condition and operational efficiency of these Naval Submarines and Ships. The navy is heavily dependent on age old Russian discard material. India is still reliant on INS Viraat which was India’s flagship aircraft carrier. INS Viraat was originally launched in 1953 and commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1987. India’s indigenously made aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, is still years away.

For me, the need of the hour is not for the government to promise a war memorial. The need of the hour is to provide the forces with the best weapons and equipment to fight with. India is the world’s largest arms importer in the world. India accounted for 13% of the arms imported in the world between 2009 and 2013. We need to look to invest heavily in indigenisation of weaponry and equipment. Given the kind of defence demand that our nation generates, indigenisation will give a huge fillip to the economy.

On many instances, our weapons providers look to gain maximum leverage from these deals by delaying the process of Transfer of Technology (ToT) and thereby escalating costs. Many of the deals are plagued by corruption charges. Thus, we are looking at humongous amounts of expenditure being undertaken with nothing much to show for. It is imperative to avoid snail paced bureaucracy and red- tapeism in defence deals. This will seriously hamper military preparedness. The modernisation process is continuous, one that has no scope for delays and hindrances. Investing in an indigenous defence industry will go a long way in reducing India’s dependence on other nations. While it is easy to suggest this, the questions regarding quality and reliability come to the fore. Let’s hope for the best and see how things pan out under the able guidance of the BJP government.


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