It is not just warplanes, submarines or artillery guns that the Indian military is short of. It even lacks basics such as ammunition, bulletproof jackets and vehicles.
These concerns were red-flagged at a parliamentary panel meeting on Monday that saw lawmakers attacking the defence ministry for its “failure” to meet the armed forces’ requirements, sources said.
One lawmaker didn’t even spare the DRDO, the country’s top military researcher. “It has not been able to make a pistol properly but takes away thousands of crore every year in budget,” a source quoted the MP as saying.
The criticism came after senior army, air force and naval officials told the Parliament’s standing committee on defence they were lagging “far behind” the neighbours in terms of capabilities.
The army pointed out it didn’t have “enough ammunition to fire”. Vehicles, too, were in short supply, putting into doubt the military’s capability to tackle external threats. Defence secretary and two other senior ministry officials were also at the meeting.
India desperately needs to modernise its aging Russian-era equipment as China and Pakistan upgrade their arsenal with latest technology and purchases. India has fought four wars with Pakistan and one with China.
The country was short of fighter planes, an Indian Air Force officer told the panel that periodically reviews the functioning of the defence ministry. As against the “desirable strength” of 42 squadrons needed to fight off a combined threat from Pakistan and China, the force was down to just 33 squadrons. An air force squadron has 18 fighter jets.
Barely three weeks ago, IAF vice-chief Air Marshal BS Dhanoa admitted India did not have enough warplanes to fight China and Pakistan simultaneously.
During the panel meeting, MPs told ministry officials it were the soldiers who “face the music on the frontlines” as bureaucrats in Delhi, “dilly-dallying” decisions, were out of sync with the needs of the forces, sources said.
Chairman BC Khanduri of the BJP, his party colleague Tarun Vijay and Jithender Reddy of the TRS were particularly vocal. Khanduri is a retired major general.
Lack of funds to raise a new mountain strike corps to counter China threat in the Northeast was also taken up during the meeting.
India’s defence spending is under pressure. The government wants to spend Rs 2.58 lakh crore this financial year, a hike of 9.7% over last year’s revised estimates.
Experts, however, say this may not be enough to boost modernisation agenda that revolves around buying new fighter planes, building next-generation submarines, helicopters, missiles and artillery guns. The government is trying to involve private sector through its ambitious Make in India campaign to give the forces the much-needed hardware.