Indian Army’s modernisation ‘ON’:Defense Ministry says ‘YES’, Army & CAG say ‘NO’ !?!

Is the Indian Army’s modernisation on track? The army itself and the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) do not think so, but the defence ministry is upbeat about the transformation process.

The ministry’s annual report, a document of yearly achievements, waxes eloquence on the armoured corps’ rapid modernisation, the mechanised infantry’s ambitious march towards upgradation, schemes for buying new artillery and the air defence arm’s major strides in upgrading its gun and missile systems.

This is in sharp contrast to observations made by army chief Gen. V.K. Singh in his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and remarks made by the CAG in December last year.

Gen. Singh’s letter, leaked to the press, claimed the state of major fighting arms like the mechanised forces, artillery, air defence, infantry and the Special Forces as well as the engineers and signals was alarming. It talked about large-scale voids in critical surveillance and night-fighting capabilities. The army chief termed the hollowness in the system as a ‘manifestation of the procedures and processing time for procurements as well as legal impediments posed by vendors’.

The alarm raised by Gen. Singh was earlier sounded by the CAG in December. The report had particularly focused on the induction of artillery guns.

‘Failure of the ministry of defence and the army in defining the requirement of specific gun systems had deprived its artillery, for over a decade, of guns of latest technology, which are in service world over,’ the CAG noted, adding that existing guns of 1970 vintage had not only impacted the army’s operational preparedness but also resulted in substantial cost overruns.

This huge gap in perception is at the centre of an acrimonious debate between the army and the defence ministry over the army’s battle-preparedness. While the ministry seems to be in denial mode, the army wants to correct the perspective.

The ministry’s annual report says a contract for armoured recovery vehicles has been concluded and schemes to acquire digital control harness and state-of-the-art fire control systems for T-72 tanks are on fast track.

Modernisation plans for the T-90 and Arjun tanks are also proceeding as per plan, the report claims. It outlines a number of procurement schemes that are in an advanced stage.

For the armoured regiments, this includes establishment of repair facilities for T-90 tanks, procurement of AMK 339 shells and 3UBK 20 Invar missiles. In artillery, one of the biggest areas of concern, the ministry claims the focus has been on enhancing surveillance and firepower capabilities.

For surveillance, acquisition plans for battlefield surveillance system and mobile telescopic mast for longrange reconnaissance and observation system (LORROS) were concluded last year and procurement of Heron UAVs and weapon-locating radars is in an advanced stage, the report says.

For firepower, procurement of the multiple-rocket launcher Pinaka is in an advanced stage and plans for buying 155mm self-propelled gun (wheeled) and 155mm ultra-light howitzers are progressing well.

But the truth is unlike the air force and the navy, whose modernisation plans have largely been on track, the army has not been able to keep pace.

The issue has been discussed at various forums but it caught national attention only when the army chief’s letter to the prime minister was leaked. Within days, defence minister A.K. Antony called a meeting of senior officers to speed up procurement, indicating that he had finally stepped on the accelerator.