The public is often bemused on hearing senior military leaders make gratuitous public pronouncements regarding India’s readiness to “fight a two-front war”. Bewilderment, however, turns into trepidation on reading media reports that the army is looking for eight lakh rifles, carbines and machine-guns, in the international market, to equip its 13-lakh jawans! Our uninhibited Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) leaves little to the imagination, as he tables annual reports in Parliament, exposing India’s deficiencies in military wherewithal. Further proof of our “readiness” comes from the previous Raksha Mantri, who revealed to the media that days before the Indian Army’s cross-border raids into Pakistan, he had to send officers abroad, “…with authority to carry out on-the-spot purchases. ” If a relatively minor army operation (hyperbolically described as “surgical strikes”), involving a few dozen soldiers, required urgent “on-the-spot purchases” from abroad, how would India manage to sustain half a million troops deployed in an intense and protracted conflict on two separate fronts? While this conundrum does not seem to trouble our decision-makers, the tax-payer needs to reflect on some facts about our two potential adversaries, China and Pakistan. Pakistan has the world’s seventh largest army, and even though permeated by religious fundamentalism and embroiled in politics, its professional capabilities cannot be ignored. Those who sneer at the Pakistani “deep state” overlook its strategic master-stroke, whereby, as a military-client of “all-weather friend”, China, it has ensured steady arms transfers to all wings of the Pakistani military. Having created a high level of equipment commonality with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Pakistan can go to war, confident that its attrition losses will be expeditiously replaced from PLA stocks. By comparison, India’s acute dependence on imported arms and ammunition, 60 per cent-70 per cent of Russian origin, will constitute a grave handicap and vulnerability in a conflict. Over the years, not only have Indo-Russian relations become purely transactional, but the (post-Soviet) Russian arms industry has been found incapable of providing timely support for its products; a fact repeatedly pointed out in the CAG reports. Other foreign suppliers may prove equally unreliable in wartime. Coming to India’s main adversary, the Chinese PLA constitutes the world’s largest military organisation, with formidable capabilities in the conventional, nuclear, cyber, maritime and space domains. Of greater significance is the fact that China is self-sufficient in major weapon systems, and has surpassed Britain, France and Germany as an exporter of arms, 70 per cent of which are supplied to neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Ironically, in 1949, when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) came into being, India was industrially well ahead, because the demands of WW II had led to the establishment of arms, ordnance and aircraft production facilities to support the Allied war effort world-wide. So, how did China overtake us?
India, by a quirk of circumstance, has become a military and economic entity with great-power aspirations, before it has become a significant industrial power. Consequently, it is in the anomalous situation of being a nuclear-weapons state with the world’s fourth-largest armed forces, but having to support their operational needs through massive arms imports. All this, inspite of a vast military-industrial complex, with a large pool of DRDO scientists and a network of sophisticated laboratories, backed by advanced production facilities of the defence PSUs. The Bangladesh War was won only because General Manekshaw sought a grace of nine months to equip his troops. The brief Kargil War required desperate replenishment of ammunition, midway through the operation. India’s continuing dependence on foreign arms, coupled with a dysfunctional acquisition process has eroded the combat readiness of our armed forces.
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