In the wake of the Mumbai attack, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy were ready to strike, but the army was not
The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy were ready to strike almost immediately after the Mumbai carnage on November 26—the former activating its forward bases and the latter fueling its anti-ship missiles—but the government stayed its hand when the Indian Army told the government that it would take them several weeks before it could prudently commence operations.
Sources have told Mail Today that the army said it lacked ammunition, key elements of artillery and other equipment. This was confirmed by a well-connected retired general who said “The four hundred odd Bofors guns we bought in the 1980s are falling apart for the want of spares, the (600-odd) Shilka anti-aircraft cannon are in desperate need of upgradation, and this is just the tip of the iceberg”. He added that India’s numerically vast tank fleet was in poor shape, and it did not have any mobile artillery to speak of.
The government’s mantra in all this has been that “all options are open.” Earlier this month, Defence Minister A.K. Antony declared that “They (the armed forces) are in a state of full preparedness,” on Thursday, on the occasion of Army Day, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Deepak Kapoor repeated for the nth time that “all our options are open” though he carefully insisted that war would be the last one.
So, given the imperative of striking immediately, the Manmohan Singh government could not press ahead because with its army in an unready state, there could be no guarantee that Pakistan would not make counter-moves across the border into Indian territory, gains which could have proved to be politically, rather than militarily, costly.
According to officers familiar with the developments, the Air Force was prepared to strike specified targtets using a variety of weapons such as the Israeli-made Popeye—a very destructive 100km range flying bomb of remarkable accuracy, or the Paveway GPS equipped guided bombs. In fact, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora who heads the Western Command that would lead the air campaign against Pakistan, publicly declared that the IAF had plans that would target as many as 5,000 key Pakistani targets in the event of an all out war.
Less is known of the Navy’s plans. But besides preparing for general war by fueling its old liquid propellant missiles, the Navy was also ready to use its conventional solid-fueled Klub land-attack missiles that have a range of 220 kms for any mission. However, the government was concerned over the fact that any attack on shore targets could entangle the Navy with the US which uses the Karachi port for supplying its forces in Afghanistan.
While all three services were keen to strike, one source said that they were not ready to guarantee that any “surgical strike” would not spiral into a all-out war, one for which they were prepared only at varying levels of readiness. Currently, by any reckoning, India enjoys a qualitative and quantitative edge over Pakistan in its air and naval assets. But even the edge India has in the air and sea cannot prevent a Pakistani riposte. General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani threatened that Pakistan would respond “within minutes” to an Indian surgical strike. “This obviously means a missile strike which could be aimed at an Indian air base,” said an air force officer. “How would we then respond ? If we hit their base, then we have entered into an escalation scenario,” he added.
Experts admit that notwithstanding the numbers, the armies of the two countries are evenly matched. This means that if India can capture territory in Pakistan, the latter could also do the same in India. On paper, India’s 1.3 million-man army with more than 12,000 tanks, artillery guns, rocket launchers and infantry combat vehicles is almost twice the size of Pakistan’s 620,000, force with some 6,000 tanks and artillery guns. But minus 9 divisions that are committed to deal with China, the two armies are approximately equal in size. As it is, a big chunk of the Indian army is involved in counter-insurgency operations. As the Kargil review committee report had noted “the heavy involvement of the Army in counter-insurgency operations cannot but affect its preparedness for its primary role, which is to defend the country against external aggression.”
Sources say that the armed forces were concerned about four aspects of the situation-- shortages and obsolescence of equipment and the quality and quantity of the holdings. The latest Comptroller and Auditor General’s report reveals, the Ordnance Factory Board’s manufacture of 23mm ammunition for the Shilka and 30mm guns mounted on Infantry Combat Vehicles was riddled with bad production planning, inefficient and uneconomic production of components and ammunition and inadequate quality control. As a result, the OFB’s supply was 34 per cent short of what the Army needed and in February 2007, the army had to import Rs 45 crores of 23mm ammunition.
The 2003 CAG report had pointed out that an ordnance factory had landed the army with as many as 135,000 defective tank ammunition worth Rs 600 crore. The defect which was detected after one shell had killed a tank commander and injured a crew member is yet to be rectified.
In 1999, when the Navy mobilised in the wake of the Kargil war, they found that their plans were crimped because some of their newest frigates did not have any air defence missiles because the DRDO’s failed Trishul project. This was the reason why the Barak missile was subsequently sourced from Israel. These are just two of the many horror stories that afflict the Indian defence setup.
The key worry of all three services is in what constitutes their “war wastage reserves.” This is the stock of missiles, munitions and equipment that is kept as a reserve and is equivalent to the time we calculate that an actual Indo-Pak war would last—usually around three weeks. Because stocking ammunition and missiles cost a great deal of money—the material has a shelf-life and must be thrown away after that—the Ministry of Defence has pared the reserve in some types of munitions to a couple of days to a week. A government report of 2003 has pointed out that “at the commencement of OP Vijay ( the 1999 Kargil war), the stocks of Laser Guidance Kits with the Air Force were sufficient for only 12 days’ requirements as against then applicable War Wastage Reserve of 30 days’ requirements.” The same report pointed out that another type of a bomb and its tail units held by the mother depot at the beginning of the war was only “ 23 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively of the mandatory minimum reserves, while no fuzes were held in stock by the depot.” You can be sure that the same story, multiplied by 100, is repeated across the three services.
In September 2002, after the crisis that developed after the December 2001 attack on the Parliament had waned, President Pervez Musharraf traveled to the US and in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, he had this to say: “… my military judgment was that they[Indians] would not attack us… Militarily…there is a certain ratio required for an offensive force to succeed. The ratios that we maintain are far above that – far above what a defensive force requires to defend itself...”
Cocky Musharraf was not wrong. Fire-eaters across the country have been egging the government to go to war with Pakistan over the Mumbai massacre. But the uncomfortable reality that we have an army that is simply not ready for one. Who is responsible ? Everyone from the generals who have become progressively bureaucratized, to bureaucrats whose only concern is over their empanelments and time-scales. And, above all, their political bosses who are content to let things be the way they are and allow hundreds of thousands of crore rupees be spent for an armed force that is not ready when needed.
This was the lead story in Mail Today January 17, 2009