India’s normally unhurried Ministry of Defense, stung by recent claims about the state of equipment in the armed forces, has cleared several long-pending military proposals.
Under sustained pressure from the army, the opposition and the federal government’s coalition partners, the ministry over the past three weeks has undertaken measures to accelerate delayed material procurements and speed up stalled infrastructure projects along the unresolved border with neighboring nuclear rival China.
These include approving a 15-year plan for military modernization through imports, indigenous production and private sector involvement that has languished for years, and revising other defense procurement procedures for swifter implementation.
Alongside this, the ministry has also set up three “empowered committees” headed by senior officials to hasten material acquisitions and the building of roads, rail links and airfields along the 4,057-kilometer-long border with China in the north and east.
“All these moves by the government, though delayed by several years, are welcome as they come at a time when the military’s faith in the government being able to meet its many operational requirements was waning,” Major-General Shru Tahplital said.
Defense ministry officials said the empowered committees would hasten the delayed import of howitzers for two newly raised army divisions of around 40,000 personnel for eventual deployment along the Chinese border in north-east India.
Other imminent acquisitions include Israeli drones, special forces equipment and badly needed Russian tank ordnance and missiles.
The committees would also expedite equipping the army with long-range missiles and rocket launchers and examine the feasibility of providing it with attack helicopters.
Defense Minister A.K. Antony’s five-year operational directive to the Indian military issued in late 2010 — an order significantly influenced by the army — requires the country’s defense forces to be prepared for a “two-front war” with nuclear rivals Pakistan and China.
India has outstanding territorial disputes with both China and Pakistan, who are close military and nuclear allies, though tension levels between them have fluctuated. India has fought wars with both in the past.
Last month, India test-fired a long-range, nuclear-capable missile that can strike targets inside China in order to secure dissuasive deterrence against its militarily more powerful neighbor.
India is also hurrying its “capability development plan” along the undefined line of actual control with China to match similarly heightened activity on the other side in Tibet and adjoining regions.
“A large number of these projects in northeastern India are being undertaken as a reaction to increased Chinese presence in neighboring Myanmar,” said Brig. Arun Sahgal of the Institute of National Security Studies in New Delhi, referring to the country also known as Burma.
China’s influence over Burma is a cause for worry for New Delhi as it believes it could be strategically encircled by Beijing, he said.
Indian army units deployed along the line of actual control now remain dependent on animal transport and airdrops for supplies.
China’s People’s Liberation Army, on the other hand, is better serviced not only by all-weather roads and at least six airfields dotted across the region but also by the rail link to Tibet.
It also has dependable linkages to India’s vulnerable northern border regions via the Karakoram highway in neighboring Pakistan, further enhancing its ability to mobilize even larger numbers of troops along the line of actual control and adequately sustain them.
India’s Defense Ministry was under a cloud recently after a parliamentary panel summoned the chiefs of the armed forces to seek their views on the state of the country’s defense preparedness.
Earlier, in a leaked letter, outgoing army chief, General V.K. Singh told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that much of the country’s defense equipment was “obsolete” and charged that the forces were short of weapons.