Sunday, February 01, 2009

My final article on why the army is unprepared

The series of articles on our unprepared army came in the wake of the Mumbai terrorist strike. When the government asked the three forces if they were ready for action that could lead to all-out war, the army demurred, seeking more time, because they said that they had some critical shortages.

The army has professed outrage at these articles, though they have been careful not to directly refute them. They seem to think we are questioning their bravery; we are not.

Even today the army will go in if ordered and sacrifice their lives. But they will not be able to deliver the outcome the country desires-- the defeat/destruction of the Pakistan army without taking punishment themselves and possibly opening up the country to serious politico-military hazards. In 1971, the country won a spectacular victory in East Pakistan. But people have forgotten that we lost Chamb.

Remember George S Patton's famous words: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard won a war by dying for his country. he won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his..."

The other army counter to these articles is to claim that these are based on old C&AG reports. That may be true, but what I have shown is that there is a trend of "under-performance" (that's actually too mild a word) in a whole range of critical acquisitions that goes back three five-year plans. Those could not have been made up in the last two years because there are no budgetary allocations to show that that was even attempted.

Why the cutting edge is blunt

ARMOUR is supposed to be the strike arm of the Army. Most of the Indian armour is of Russian origin. India has some 2,300 main battle tanks ( MBT) of which all but 60 are of Russian origin. The latter are the Arjun MBT of which there are plans as of now to manufacture just 124.
The main battle tanks are: 600 T- 90S Bhishmas ( 1,000 to be made indigenously), around 1,900 T- 72M Ajeyas and a few old T- 55s. Some 300 Ajeyas have been upgraded with Israeli Elbit thermal imaging systems but the rest is waiting to be upgraded. But as a 2006 Comptroller and Auditor Generals ( C& AG) report reveals, these numbers may not be telling the whole story.

India faces a powerful Pakistani fleet with 500 Al Khalids and 320 Al Zarrar, 450 Chinese Type 81 upgrade and 570 Ukrainian T80 UD. Both sides therefore possess, or in Indias case plan to have some 600 third generation tanks — T- 90s and T- 80UD — that will at least have a chance of survival in a modern battlefield.

China with some 800 third generation and 1,800 second generation tanks is not even factored into the Indian equation.

In the wake of the first Gulf War, all countries decided that they needed to seriously upgrade their tank fleets given the dismal performance of the then Iraqi President Saddam Husseins T- 72s against the US M1A1 tanks. The Army decided to phase out 700 of its T- 55 tanks and decommission 1,200 of the Vijayantas. These would have been replaced by 1,380 T- 72Ms of which 580 would be of an upgraded quality by 2002.

According to the C& AG, the heavy vehicles factory ( HVF) could only deliver 1,108 tanks and that too, by the end of 2005. The shortfall in the regiments ( each has a brick of 55 tanks) was of the order of four regiments and 24 tanks, in addition to a five- year delay. T HE C& AG also noted that the upgraded version of the T- 72 was to have a better engine and some seven additional subsystems.

However, only three subsystems were fitted as of March 2005 and as for the engine, it was uprated to 1,000HP after a decade- old development work and was still on trial.The issue was neither the delay nor the upgrade, but the fact that “ these tanks had serious quality problems” at the hands of the Army.

Indeed, the Army refused to accept the tanks till the HVF got its act together. The quality problems were the result of improper transfer of technology from Russia, as well as poor quality production of its sub- assemblies by ordnance factories and private vendors.

The same problems were noted when the Army went in for the T- 90S contract. India imported 124 off- the- shelf tanks and 186 were to be assembled from the imported kits. The HVF was supposed to provide these assembled tanks by March 2005, but according to the C& AG, it only supplied 85.

The story of the production of the Arjun tank is similar. The government gave green signal for acquisition of 124 tanks in 2000 to be made by 2006.However, only nine tanks could be delivered by March 2005 and it is believed that the order is yet to be fulfilled.

Even though the Combat Vehicles Research and Development establishment is a neighbour of the HVF in Avadi, the problem was in transfer of technology and technical problems with the subassemblies.

As it is, the tank failed its winter trials in 2007 and then the summer trials in 2008, prompting minister of state for defence production Rao Inderjit Singh to suspect “ sabotage. When in doubt, blame the foreign hand.

In June this year, a refurbished version of the tank will have another face off trial with the T90S. Let's see what happens.

This article was published in Mail Today January 25,2009

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