Here is why India's armed forces urgently need a complete overhaul

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Here is why India's armed forces urgently need a complete overhaul.


As India’s 36th Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, more than any other minister in the Narendra Modi Cabinet, has the toughest job ahead of him. The challenges are multiple.

For one, the three Armed Forces are desperately short of modern equipment. For nearly a decade, an indecisive AK Antony as India’s longest defence minister, brought the already complex acquisition process to a virtual halt, thanks to his obsession with maintaining a squeaky clean image. Antony’s go-slow attitude has left all the three services grappling with severe shortage in critical areas.

Secondly, mistrust between the civilian bureaucracy and top military leadership has never been more pronounced as it was during Antony’s tenure as defence minister. The mutual suspicion has held back vital reforms in higher defence management of the country.

Third, changing socio-economic conditions have impacted the military as never before, resulting in a spate of suicides, fratricide and increasing instances of rebellion in the ranks, a worrying trend no doubt.

A look at major deficiencies across the three services is frightening. For instance, the Army’s light helicopters are more than 40 years old; it has not bought new artillery guns since 1987 (although the Parrikar-led Defence Acquisition Council has ordered purchase of fresh guns last week, their induction is still two years away).

The Indian Navy is short of conventional submarines since its fleet of diesel-powered submarines is down to a single digit. Submarines in production in Indian shipyards are at least four years behind schedule. And they are going to be without vital defence against enemy missiles for a while. The Indian Air Force is down to 33 squadrons of fighter jets against the required strength of 39 squadrons. Its eight-year-old plan to purchase 126 new combat jets is yet to come to fruition, although a contract negotiating committee is currently in the final stages of negotiations with French manufacturers Dassault Aviation and hoping to ink a mammoth 20 billion dollar deal soon. Even then, the first lot of 18 aircrafts will enter service only in 2017, and only if the contract is signed before the end of 2014.

Big bang purchases apart, the government needs to urgently turn its attention towards some basic issues. The infantry--that hard working, non-complaining arm of the Army--needs new and more lethal weapons. So the assault rifle, the carbine, light machine gun (LMG), the sniper rifle and even the anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), essentials in an infantry battalion, need to be replaced over the next five years. Many of these weapons currently used by the troops, are of 1960s vintage.

Purchasing major platforms and weapons is only part of the future plan. Maintaining them is a major task. That 32 Indian Air Force planes and helicopters have crashed between April 2011 and November 19, 2014 and the Navy has suffered 24 major and minor accidents since January 1, 2011, killing 20 persons, points to a much deeper rot which needs urgent correction.

The situation will however not change until the civil-military relationship in the country is overhauled. The post-1947 history is replete with episodes that suggest a constant state of tension between the ‘generalist’ bureaucracy and the ‘specialist’ military leaders, with the political executive watching and sometimes encouraging the bureaucracy to keep the military under control.

The political executive, starting with India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, has generally excluded the military leadership from the decision-making process at the highest levels. In 1999, the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) under renowned strategic thinker and writer K Subrahmanyam had, among other vital issues, focussed on reorganisation of the higher defence management.

The KRC recommendations were followed by the formation of a Group of Ministers (GoM) which set up four task forces on intelligence reforms, internal security, border management, and higher defence management to undertake in-depth analysisof various facets of the management of national security. After year-long deliberations, the GoM, among other comments observed: “There is a marked difference in the perception and crisis of confidence among civil and military officials within the MoD and Service HQ regarding their respective roles and functions. There was also lack of synchronisation among and between the three departments in the MoD, including the relevant elements of Defence Finance. The concept of ‘attached offices’ as applicable to Service HQ; problems of inter-se relativities; multiple, duplicated, and complex procedures governing the exercise of administrative and financial powers, and the concept of ‘advice’ to the Minister; all these had contributed to these problems.”

Parrikar will have to crack the whip to get the bureaucrats to work on the advice of the military and not allow them to be unilateral in their approach.

Reorganisation of higher defence management apart, the Indian armed forces are grappling with a crisis of identity. The Army for instance remains rooted in an outdated, British-inherited system that is struggling to cope with the combination of challenges posed by the demands of modern warfare and a society that is undergoing a great churn. This has posed a great challenge to the famous officer–men relationship in the Indian armed forces. In the past decade, the armed forces have had to face a new problem: increasing incidents of indiscipline, suicides and fratricide. Are these incidents happening because the traditional bond between officers and men, the bedrock on which the military functions, is fraying at the edges?

Some studies have been initiated to get to the root of the problem after it was noticed that more than 90 soldiers were committing suicide every year since 2003, going up to an alarming 150 in 2008. Adding to the worry are the growing cases of indiscipline and intolerance. In 2012 alone, there were at least three cases of a showdown between men and officers. At least 50–60 soldiers of an artillery unit clashed with a group of officers after a young officer allegedly beat up a jawan, leading to near mutiny among the soldiers. There were a couple of other instances where tension between jawans and officers boiled over, both the incidents happening in two different armoured regiments, one following a suicide by a soldier. This set the alarm bells ringing in the Amy Headquarters.

There are external factors too. The fact is, the society no longer respects the soldier and his work in protecting the nation. A local politician, a thanedar, etc., seem to command more clout in the society today. This has often led to loss of self-esteem among ordinary soldiers. That Australian cricketer Philip Hughes who died in an unfortunate accident on the cricket field garnered more news space than three Indian soldiers who were martyred in Jammu the same day while battling terrorists, says something about our priorities. The soldier needs constant support from the society he protects.

As Defence Minister, Manohar Parikkar certainly has a gigantic task ahead. He needs to get the armed forces ready for future battles by inducting cutting-edge technology and at the same time restore the primacy of soldiering in a society that no longer values its military. Will he be able to rise to the occasion?


Here is why India's armed forces urgently need a complete overhaul | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis
 
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As I said before in another post, India have the quantity but not the quality they need. All sectors are severely affected by the corruption and the scams that have been going on (for a long time). The modi government looks promising though. Although time will tell how better things will get.
 
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Modernizing such a massive army would be a tough scenario for any Defence Minister. Not to mention the corruption, are foot soldiers looked at with suspicion or distrust in India?
I can understand why the top-brass would be viewed as such.
 
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Before reading this post, I was always under the impression that the Indian armed forces could rival China's. The only difference is that the latter is more showy and vocal about their military upgrades. This statement, "desperately short of modern equipment," maybe a bit exaggerated. They do have modern equipment that are not the latest model. Maybe that's what you mean.
 
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As I said before in another post, India have the quantity but not the quality they need. All sectors are severely affected by the corruption and the scams that have been going on (for a long time). The modi government looks promising though. Although time will tell how better things will get.

Personally i dont think India is doing that badly if you ask me. I know their may be some corruption in the military but i believe with time they will certainly get there.
 
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I don't think there is corruption in military. In India, the army troops are viewed with great respect. Everyone appreciates what they do.
The problem is the politicians. They like to introduce politics into anything (even a game like cricket, for example). So things are delayed usually.
 
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He could surprise everyone by being able to rise to the occasion. That said he needs the help of everyone including the citizens to make his goals come true in the force. Give him plenty of time without putting on pressure to perform. He is fully qualified and that is why he is in office. Give him the space he requires to do his job well.
 
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I always thought the corruption there was overstated and actually a good thing because they do really try to keep a clean image because of all the reports. I believe the press does a good job of exposing things much more than most countries. As far as modernizing the military, India is caught in that strange middle-area where they can´t compete with nearby countries like China, and I don´t think they need to modernize for their more local challenges, where it is more about politics and skirmishes rather than full wars where you would need big and modern equipment.
 

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