The top-secret leaked letter written by former army chief Gen VK Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, warning that the country's security is at risk as the "army's tanks have run out of ammunition, the air defence is as good as obsolete and the infantry is short of critical weapons", is actually a blessing in disguise for the armed forces.
Gen Singh should be saluted for ringing the alarm bells at the highest level for filling the gaps of shortages in the forces and exposing the bureaucracy for delaying the urgent procurement of arms and ammunition required for the country's external security.
Resultantly, defence minister AK Antony has already held three review meetings to speed up the acquisition process of various ongoing defence deals. Following the raging criticism revolving around the defence preparedness of the country and its tardy rate of procurements, the defence minister had, on May 28, decided to increase the financial powers of the three armed forces headquarters to allow purchases worth $30 million.
The latest approval will translate into more financial powers for the three service headquarters amounting to roughly $30 million per contract from the current $10 million cap. The defence minister also conducted a detailed review of the security situation and the operational preparedness of the armed forces during this latest meeting with the three chiefs.
The defence minister has also directed the three services to streamline their acquisition process and fix accountability in cases of delays in procurement of critical equipment.
The enhanced amount will enable the services to carry out low-valued essential purchases without waiting for a clearance from the defence ministry. It had been a long-pending demand of the services as one of the measures to speed up acquisitions to keep the army ready for war.
The letter led to an uproar and galvanised Antony to take some urgent measures to put the army's modernisation programme on fast track. The decision to increase the purchasing power was an outcome of that effort.
Currently, there are over a hundred procurement projects which are being fast-tracked by the defence ministry, amounting to $3.3 billion. These include new regiments of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, 10,000 Konkurs-M anti-tank guided missiles and 25,000 Invar missiles. Besides, the project to step up infrastructure along the border for the smooth movement of troops and equipment is also being fast-tracked.
The defence ministry also recently approved the 15-year Long Term Integrated Perspective Planning (LTIPP) and the 12th Defence Plan. This will give a projection of the needs of the armed forces to be met through indigenisation and private sector participation. The LTIPP and five-year Defence Plan will be initiated this year and govern all the future development programmes of the three forces.
Conclusively, the defence ministry will seek an additional outlay of Rs 45,000 crore from the Centre this year to build a range of military capabilities, factoring in "changed threat perception", a euphemism for the possibility of China and Pakistan coming together.
If the government agrees to loosen its purse strings further, India's defence outlay for 2012-13 will rocket up to Rs 2.39 lakh crore ($47.8 billion) from Rs 1.93 lakh crore ($38.6 billion).
The proposed increase will take the defence expenditure from 1.9% to 2.35% of the GDP, defence minister AK Antony had told the Rajya Sabha. Actually, it should be 3% of the GDP for the modernisation of the defence services to face a two-pronged offensive from China and Pakistan.
These funds will also be used on infrastructure like roads and railway lines for the fast movement of troops in the areas along the LoC and LoAC.
It is therefore essential that uniformed officers equivalent to the level of joint secretary be posted in the defence ministry for better understanding of military matters by the bureaucracy and fast procurement of defence equipment. Severe disciplinary action should be taken against bureaucrats in the ministry who delayed the procurement process and created a faith deficit between the army and the ministry, resulting in bitterness.
(The writer is a defence analyst and commentator. He can be contacted at )