Thursday, January 29, 2009

Two more articles on why the army is not in good shape

The Transport fleet

IT was as far back as 1972 that the government decided to restructure the transport fleet of the Indian Army, based as it is on vehicles that were of World War II vintage. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General ( C& AG), “ it took more than two decades for the Army to decide the modalities of its implementation”. The government took the decision to replace old- generation vehicles in 1988, but it was only by 1997 that the ministry of defence finally decided the new mix of vehicles that the Army should have. It has been another decade and more since, but anyone who travels on Indian roads knows some of those old vehicles such as the legendary Jonga, Nissan and Shaktiman are still around.

In fact, the C& AG pointed out that as of 2005, out of the 21,680 of the jeeptype vehicles, some 6,837 Jongas were still around, as were some 13,856 Nissan: one- ton truck representing a whopping 41.56 per cent of its class of vehicles. The Army held some 20,000 ( 23 per cent) old- generation vehicles in its fleet which meant higher fuel and maintenance costs, as well as serviceability.

The fuel efficiency of the Nissan was much lower than the 2.5- ton Telco that was to replace it adding costs ranging from Rs 7.58 per km in 2003- 2004. What these would have cost in the last two years when oil prices touched the skies, you can guess.

The main reason for this was that the government lacked the will to shut down production at the vehicle factory in Jabalpur. The strong ordnance factory employees union ensured that the decision to shut down production was not carried out, so the government continued to place orders for the oldgeneration vehicles.

The Jabalpur factory is at present assembling Stallion and LPTA vehicles by procuring semi- knocked down components from Ashok Leyland and Telco. The government does procure directly from these companies, but why the government goes through the effort to buy kits just so that it can keep the ordnance employees working is a story in itself. T HE factory which comes under the Ordnance Factory Board was established in 1969- 70, to manufacture three types of non- combat vehicles for the Army: The three- ton truck — Shaktiman based on a German MAN design, one- ton vehicle — Nissan, and a jeep called the Jonga based on Japanese designs. The designs came out of war- devastated Axis powers in the early 1950s and were nothing but an extension of their World War II vehicles.

Beginning in the 1990s, under the new policy, the Army began to acquire a new generation of vehicles — 5 and 7.5- ton Ashok Leyland ( Stallion), 2.5- ton Telco ( LPTA) and Maruti Gypsies. So work slowed down in the Jabalpur factory.

In an earlier report, the C& AG had observed that despite the 522.21 lakh unutilised hours of work during 1994- 95 to 1999- 2000, the factory resorted to overtime work of 229.05 lakh hours involving payment of Rs 52.51 crore.

In that report, the C& AG had observed, “ Since the Indian automobile manufacturing sector has matured enough to take care of Armys requirement of vehicles, continuation of the vehicle factory in Jabalpur just for assembling semiknocked down components received from Telco and Ashok Leyland vehicle hardly serves any purpose.” But, the government gravy train goes on, even if the Army remains short- changed.

This article appeared on in Mail Today on January 26, 2009

The problem with artillery

BOFORS 155mm guns in a row, belching fire at Tiger Hill remain one of the iconic pictures of the 1999 Kargil War. Yet it was not known at the time that India had to fly in ammunition from South Africa.“ Had the conflict not been confined to the 150- km front of the Kargil sector,” says Brig ( Retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the New Delhi- based Centre for Land Warfare Studies, “ T- 72 and 130 mm medium gun ammunition would have also run short. That would have been embarrassing for the government as well as the Army.” Everyone knows that the superb Bofors guns became a victim of the controversy over commissions paid for their acquisition.

But it is the country that has paid the real price. The 400 guns acquired were to have been followed by another 1,000 to be made indigenously.That did not happen and the original guns diminished through wear, tear and cannibalisation for parts.They nonetheless remain the mainstay of the Armys artillery units.

It has taken the government nearly two decades since the Bofors scandal peaked to issue request for proposals for 155 mm guns and howitzers for the mountains and plains, and self- propelled guns for the desert.If the Army is lucky, four guns shortlisted will go for trials and a final selection made that could join the Army by 2012 or so.

Till then, the Army will have to depend on its long- obsolete indigenously designed and manufactured 105 mm Indian Field Gun ( IFG) and the Light Field Gun ( LFG), the 75/ 24 Indian Mountain Gun, the 100 mm Russian field gun and the 122 mm Russian howitzer.There is some relief that we have managed to upgrade some 180 pieces of the fabled 130 mm M46 Russian medium guns with the help of the Israelis.

Some more relief comes from the acquisition of two regiments of the 12- tube, 300 mm Smerch multi- barrel rocket launcher ( MBRL) system with 90 km range. Had they been available then, they would have provided India the ability to hit at Pakistani artillery positions in Kargil.All this pain and expense had to be borne because of the DRDO- designed Pinaka system, which is in any case inferior to the Russian product.

The one area in which India has been traditionally weak is that of selfpropelled artillery.These are the heavy guns mounted on a tracked chassis which are integral to any offensive armoured force.

The US supplied Pakistan the first 155 mm artillery in the 1960s, and even today it has an edge over India in having something like 250 SP guns, which include some super- heavy 203 mm.India, on the other hand has just 100 130mm Catapult guns which is a juryrigged system of a Russian 130mm gun mounted on a Vijayanta chassis.Artillery officers complain the gun is too heavy for its chassis, which tends to break down regularly.

The plan to acquire a 155 mm SP gun using a South African turret was scuttled some years ago because its supplier, Denel, was involved in a bribery scandal relating to another acquisition.The lack of a relatively light mountain gun or a self- propelled gun affect any offensive war plan the Army may like to formulate.Movement in the mountains is extremely difficult and getting guns to negotiate the hair- pin bends of the roads is a major task.

So, some of the guns have to be light enough to be lifted by helicopters. As for SP guns, without them, any armoured thrust lacks the firepower it needs to punch through enemy defences.There is one other area where the Indian Army has been weaker than Pakistan. This is the area of artillery and mortar tracking using battlefield tracking radars.

Islamabad has fielded a French Rasit system since the early 1980s along with the US- supplied AN/ TPQ36, which were used in the Kargil war for tracking Indian mortar and artillery fire.By contrast, India sought to develop one of its own and actually rejected a US offer for an AN/ TPQ37, a more advanced version of the radar Islamabad had.This was done at the request of the DRDO, which said it was developing the system. By the time New Delhi realised its mistake, it had come under US sanctions in the wake of the nuclear tests of 1998.

Since then, the US has sold us six of the radars which form the core of the counter- battery systems. According to Kanwal, at least 30 to 40 such radars are required for effective counter- bombardment, especially in the plains.Only a few havw have been procured so far.

Mail Today January 24

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