Indian Army Fraught with Shortage of Arms, Ailing Fighter Planes
Indian forces, fraught with shortage of arms are ill-prepared to handle a war-like situation, says Surya Gangadharan
In the last war that India fought against Pakistan in Kargil, the daily expenditure, according to some estimates, ranged from Rs 10-15 crore. Since we live in vastly more expensive times, one can safely presume the expenditure per day would be many times higher today.
When that is weighed against the known deficiencies in equipment that plague our services, how will they make do in the event of war?
Let’s look at the army which would be the most operationally tasked service in a conflict. The army has a ‘Long Term Perspective Plan’ ending 2027, which calls for the procurement of various types of arms, ammunition and other equipment. This plan will not be affected by any conflict, say senior officers who deal in such matters.
However, the scenario changes in the short-term. The army has had to dip into its War Wastage Reserves to meet the requirements of raising the Mountain Strike Corps. So the reserves have fallen. This is not seen as alarming if a war goes on for one or two months.
“Our factories can easily ramp up production,” said a senior officer, “Our defence PSUs are geared up so they can double or even treble shifts.”
There are some items that would have to be imported at short notice. This is not seen as a hurdle because of past agreements and understandings that India has with traditional suppliers.
“It will not impact on our capability,” said a retired former army commander. “Deficiencies vis a vis Pakistan have been made up and that is not an issue.”
Shortage of Basic Equipment
That may seem optimistic given reports about the army lacking even basic equipment such as good assault rifles and bullet proof jackets for the infantry; persisting ammunition shortages of every kind; artillery remains seriously short of guns with new procurement taking time; combat helicopters are lacking; force multipliers such as UAVs are small in numbers; special forces lack every kind of equipment including night fighting devices.
A two-front situation (Pakistan and China) could complicate India’s problems.
Ailing Air Force
Will war against Pakistan pinch the air force? It may not but it could set back the modernisation process and perhaps even delay new procurement. The service, going by recent reports, is now down to about 35 squadrons, others say 32 (we also have a Parliamentary Standing Committee report which pegged the figure at 25!).
Around 11 of these squadrons comprise MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters, the Jaguars make up six squadrons and these are being upgraded; the MiG-29s in three squadrons are also being upgraded; so are the two squadrons of Mirage jets; the frontline Sukhoi 30 MKI make up another 10 squadrons.
MiG-21 and MiG-27 Due for Phase Out in 2017
On paper, it’s a formidable line-up but air force commanders say the MiG-21s and 27s are due for phase out next year; the Jaguars date back to the 1970s, which leaves the Sukhois, MiG-29s and Mirage squadrons. This is still formidable but senior commanders warn that they would be severely tested if a two front situation arrives. Their combat levels have never sunk so low.
Add to that a shortage of pilots, with less than one pilot per aircraft, the IAF is far behind the US Air Force that has two pilots per aircraft. Our western neighbour has more than two pilots per aircraft.
Only the Navy is Well-Prepared
The air force is keen to build up the number of squadrons to 42 by 2026, which is what the government has mandated and would be adequate for a two-front situation, but this will take time to achieve.
The deal on the Rafale jets was concluded only recently; the Tejas light fighter is yet to win final operational clearance and mass production is a long way off.
The navy is the best placed of all the services although some of their top of the line warships lack radars, torpedos and missiles. The submarine arm is still deficient, although gradually picking up. But this may not affect day-to-day functioning.
(The writer is former international affairs editor, CNN-IBN and NDTV. He can be reached at @suryagang. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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