Indian Chief of the Army Staff General Vijay Kumar Singh has nothing to lose. He is about to retire (on May 31) and is leaving with all guns blazing. In the past week he has given an interview and written a letter to the Prime Minister which was leaked and has sparked furor in India's parliament and calls for his dismissal.
Read our Aviation Week coverage: Indian Army Chief Drops A Letter Bomb
In the interview, published by The Hindu, Singh said he was offered a bribe of 140 million rupees (€2 million) by a lobbyist to approve a tranche of “600 sub-standard vehicles” but reported the incident to Defense Minister A.K. Antony.
And now a letter he wrote [excerpts here] to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on March 12 has been leaked and the picture he paints in it of the state of India's army is less than glorious and certainly not what one would expect of the country which has headed the arms imports lists for the past five years.
Although two new mountain divisions and a third artillery division have been raised; an air assault division, two mountain divisions, and an entire new corps are being assembled, the reality is that the artillery and tanks the soldiers are being provided with are near-defunct and the air-defense systems protecting them obsolescent.
But The Hindu writes that although General Singh's letter has “provoked outrage and alarm”, it reveals “little that Indian military experts haven't written about for years.” The newspaper says “in public speeches, both General Singh and Mr. Antony have pointed to the need for change — and yet, little has happened.”
The paper describes how India's search for a 155-mm howitzer to replace its aging arsenal of Swedish-made FH-77B Bofors guns is a perfect demonstration of how “the Army's artillery wing [is] being degraded to a point of near-helplessness” and has left the army with “less than half of the 400-odd Bofors howitzers purchased in the 1980s” operational. It says characteristics described in the original tender “are now widely acknowledged to have been unrealistic” with the result that “tenders were issued, withdrawn, and reissued after multiple rounds of tests.”
Two of the leading contenders, Singapore Technologies Kinetics and Rheinmetall Air Defence, were then blacklisted earlier this month for their alleged role in a 2009 corruption scandal at the government-run Ordnance Factory Board, while the Delhi High Court blocked a proposed $647 million contract to procure 145 M777 155-mm howitzers manufactured by BAE Systems, and laser pointing systems built by Selex.
The army's plans to equip its 59 armored regiments with 1,657 T-90S main battle tanks, 1,000 of which were to be made in India, is moving slowly ahead but the 100 or so Indian-designed Arjun tanks have had to undergo several major modifications such as a new engine and the ability to fire Israeli-made 120-mm anti-tank missiles. Meanwhile efforts to upgrade the T-72 tanks ran into trouble when the Indian-made 125mm smooth bore barrels blew up during field use and imports of night-vision capabilities are running “years behind schedule.”
Replacement of the obsolete Chetak Aerospatiale SA316 and Cheetah 315B helicopters has run into similar problems, notably after the Defense Ministry in 2007 scrapped an $800 million deal to acquire 197 Eurocopter A550 C3 light helicopters following alleged irregularities during the four-year trials. So now the Ministry is assessing the Russian-made Kamov Ka-226 and Eurocopter AS 550.
The Hindu also writes that “in early 2010, the Army reported it was short of 3,90,000 ballistic helmets, 30,000 third-generation night vision devices, 1,80,000 lightweight bullet-proof jackets, 15,000 general purpose machine guns and 1,100 anti-materiel rifles. Later this year, the Army is expected to begin the process of testing the 66,000 5.56mm assault rifle it needs to replace substandard but Indian-made weapons it was arm-twisted into accepting in the late-1990s.”
Incidentally, the figures in this quote are correct, there are no 0s missing, in South Asia the Vedic numbering system that groups numbers by two decimal places rather than three is used. You may also often read the term “crore” in Indian English and Pakistani English. One crore is equal to 10 million so 30 million rupees would be written as 3 crore rupees.
A report published in 2011 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and international financial consultants KPMG said the Army had acquired $420 million of equipment since 2007, compared with $6.16 billion by the Navy and $17.46 billion by the Air Force. “Even the Coast Guard did better having made acquisitions worth $616 million,” writes The Hindu.