Look back with scepticism

As the year 2013 comes to an end, there is a need to look back at the events of the year that has gone by. One of the biggest event that has happened in the country is giving availability to the common man for alternatives compared to the earlier TINA (there is no alternative) factor. The Aam Aadmi party has come as a breath of fresh air, and their arrival has signaled that those who were used to be cocooned to power have been jolted from their smugness. The Indian political scene will never be the same again. The party has shaken the bureaucracy. What will be the impact of his government at the Centre on the babus of the Ministry of Defence, where all the arms deals are signed?

Even if the party achieves marginally of what they have promised to the voter, it will show that those in power purposely kept the electorate that way. It will also raise the bar higher for corruption free governance. How does this affect the defence forces when the AAP has not said a word regarding the same?

Maximum accountability from any public servant is required in the arms purchases and this is one area which is badly hit. We need a faster, quicker, and more efficient system that fast tracks arms procurement, a solution that needs an out of the box thinking.

The year that has gone by has not been very promising for the forces internally. The officer-soldier relationship has drawn severe fault lines. It has not shown any out of the box thinking except hold the commanding officer accountable. Now, what’s new in that? The social gap between the soldier and the officer has decreased and the Army has not come out with anything new to bridge the gap, the changes made are cosmetic. There have been four reported serious breaches of discipline, by now a solution or the rough contours of one should have been visible, but none seen around the corner. This is because senior officers have become careerist; professionalism which was the bed rock has been seriously eroded. Everyone in the chain of command wants to complete his respective tenures pass his time and not make systematic changes. Military leadership needs redefinition and the Army is not showing signs of providing the same. The other area is not only arms procurement but also indigenisation of the same. Not only are we as a country not able to give arms and training ammunition to our forces but the strangle hold that the various defence public sector under taking have on the decision making process is that the  private sector is not being allowed to play any role. The forces are not sending a strong message in front of these people also.

The long-pending medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal for procurement of 126 fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) is unlikely to be inked before the general elections next year. The Navy has had a series of accidents and recently lost a submarine INS Sindhurakshak. The Army lacks training ammunition for its soldiers, not a very healthy state of affairs. There is paucity of modern artillery equipment the last gun inducted into service was the Bofors in the mid-eighties. Though the Defence Acquisition Committee has approved the procurement of 145 Ultra-Light Howitzers S777 from BAE systems, the deal is nowhere around the horizon for matters concerning price negotiations with the Americans. The Ordnance Factory Board has conducted technical trails for indigenisation but as reported in a section of the media the Bofors gun barrel bust. The armoured corps is still getting over its problems of barrel busting of tank guns. The Tatras a heavy mobility vehicle which is the main stay of the Indian Army and on whose platform a number of modernisation projects were being conceived are all running behind schedule due to the price controversy and corruption allegations that broke out two years ago. There were some good points as well, the rescue of pilgrims from Uttarakhand, the arrival of the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, and the induction of Tejas but not operation of the same.

The external contours are more troublesome. Firstly there is lack of policy definition regarding the state of affairs in J&K and secondly try as hard as the Indian political class may the Chinese have acquired moral ascendency over the troops deployed on the borders. This is because no one is ready to hold the unit commanders hand, there are violations soldiers on the LAC merely report the same, so do pen pushers. As the draw down takes place from Afghanistan the common perception is that the Taliban will be free to divert their attention towards Kashmir. The Afghan Army in their current state is better trained than the last time but we need to see how they tackle with a residual strength of Americans the details of that plan are yet to emerge. A healthy mind is the answer to any medical problems. The Army is plagued by lack of clear cut policy directions from the civilian government, it lacks armaments, and it has developed a stay safe policy. No one is ready to hold any ones hand; its men are asking for a change, internal fissures, which are brushed aside, need to be worked upon, because finally it is the man behind the machine. How do we veterans wish to see the forces? A well-equipped modern army with state of art weaponry, firmly led by adequate officers, having clear cut policy directions from the civilian leadership, sky high morale, redefining officer man relationship, and a role model foundation for its ladies, children, medical and educational facilities.

The author is a retired brigadier
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