The claw-back of Rs3,000 crore from the Army's annual modernisation fund, pushing the proposed China Mountain Strike Corps proposal to the backburner, and indecision over weapons procurement by the defence ministry may have sent Army chief general VK Singh knocking on the Prime Minister’s door — seeking his intervention on the country’s state of military preparedness.
The March 12 letter, which has sparked off another skirmish between the Army chief and the defence ministry, details serious inadequacies in the army’s weaponry and equipment. Sources say the letter to the PM was the general’s last resort, and had come after he had asked the finance and defence ministers for funds to modernise the Army.
Out of the Army’s 2011-2012 budget of some Rs10,000 crore, Rs3,000 crore was taken back by the finance ministry on account of delayed spending in December 2011. The Army, however, says the delay was because of the slow and tedious decision-making process of defence procurement. Of the entire budget, it was left with just Rs1,000 crore to spend on 106 Army modernisation proposals, including equipment for special forces, armour piercing shells, ultra-light howitzers, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, and low-level air defence radars submitted at the beginning of the fiscal.
The Army’s proposals for the creation of a China-centric mountain strike corps, two armoured brigades for Sikkim and Ladakh, and an infantry brigade for Uttarakhand were cleared by the Prime Minister in principle last April. However, the finance ministry is yet to clear these.
Late-February, Gen Singh wrote to Antony, stating that lack of decision-making and slow procurement process was affecting the Army's capabilities. The critical areas listed by him included artillery ammunition, armour-piercing tank ammunition, air defence radars and T-72 tank barrels.
Before writing the letter to the Prime Minister, Singh met Antony on March 7 and told him in great detail about the delays in the procurement process, and how defence ministry bureaucrats were derailing the Army by stalling the acquisition programme and leaking stories against him. Though Antony assured him that every effort would be made to ensure that Army modernisation did not suffer, no major defence purchase was made in March — for the first time in many years.
According to sources, it was then that General Singh decided to seek the Prime Minister’s intervention and wrote the letter, which is now at the centre of a new controversy.