Marking the first such apex level contact between the armed forces and the new dispensation, on Wednesday afternoon, India’s senior-most serving commander, General Bikram Singh, Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Thursday, he was followed by the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral RK Dhowan.
On Tuesday, after taking over the reins of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the incoming Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, held a series of meetings with officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as well as a 30-minute ‘call on’ with the three service chiefs. However, courtesies aside, for the forces charged with the defence of India, the change has brought about anticipation coupled with anxiety.
Notwithstanding a decade of relative peace, the three services are in a tight spot even on basic equipment and are hoping that those who criticized the Congress-led UPA will not end up bringing them back into a similar state.
Inside the service headquarters as well as its bureaucratic capital, work is on towards arriving at a date when the three chiefs and the defence secretary can apprise the new Defence Minister and the Prime Minister about the situation they find themselves in.
Following is what the forces are likely to inform the new dispensation about:
The Adjutant General’s branch and the Military Operations directorate have dealt with the issue.
Beginning would be made with the shortage of equipment in almost all departments. Topping the list would in all likelihood be the much-delayed procurements of artillery guns, assault rifle, light utility helicopters to replace the Chetaks and Cheetahs as well as maintaining War Wastage Reserves (WWR), which is running low. Army, it is likely would also highlight the 20 per cent deficiency of officers it is facing.
Also important for the army will be to highlight the lack of progress as far as the infrastructural build up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is concerned. Of the 73 critical roads the army has highlighted, only 16 have been constructed. On the aspect of the strategic railway lines, no work has moved since the funding for the same has still not been decided upon.
Since General Bikram Singh is also Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), the army will address issues of tri-service nature where it is looking at personnel issues, defence reforms like better integration, appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as well as reviewing of the various committees formed for defence reforms. The army will also talk about heartburn caused over the delayed implementation of One Rank One Pension and Rank Pay as well as non-representation of the armed forces in the VIIth Pay Commission.
Topping the navy’s list of woes is its dwindling submarine strength, especially at a time when Pakistan and China are both speedily acquiring and building upon their strength in the same stream.
Another aspect worrying the maritime force is the inertia over acquisition of 16 naval multirole helicopters, followed by the same over eight Mine Countermeasure Vessels (MCMVs) which were to come to the force.
“There are many things that we would like to have. But these are things that we simply don’t have and actually can’t do without,” said an officer, explaining the urgency.
The Indian Navy, which lost its diesel-powered submarine Sindhurakshak last August is rapidly heading towards a depleted underwater fleet. So much so that its much-awaited Scorpene submarine program, the first boat under which is likely to be delivered not before the end of 2016, will also end up simply compensating the loss of submarines instead of adding to the fleet.
“On IAF’s list, maintaining the number of fighter squadrons is the top-most priority. This is followed by the concern over its dwindling air defence capability,” said a MoD insider.
The ‘mother of all defence deals’ for 126 fighters under the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) is awaiting conclusion. The IAF had declared in early 2012 its choice of the twin-engine French fighter aircraft, Rafale. Interestingly, even though the IAF has been going public with its hope of concluding cost negotiations and signing the dotted line for a while now, the MoD has remained unmoved.
With regards to the Air Defence (AD), IAF is unnerved not just by the rapidly ageing OSA-AK and Pechora systems of Russian-origin but also by the lack of adequate supply of the indigenously-developed AKASH Surface to Air Missile (SAM).
Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Manmohan Bahadur, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)
“We are now down to 34 squadrons as per the Parliament’s own report and with the Mig21s being phased out, we are reducing even further. A decision on MMRCA must come and must come quick. On Air Defence, our SAMs, Pechora came in the late 60s and 70s and OSA – AK came in mostly in the 80s, they are getting life-expired. It is a void should not be allowed to go beyond a level. These two deficiencies are staring at us in the face.”
Major General (Retd), Dhruv Katoch, Director, Centre for Land and Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
“As on today, decision-making is a sphere where the armed forces are not involved. This must change. Also an appointment as important as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) needs to be no longer ignored. These are some structural changes that the forces need to press this government towards implementation.”