As time has gone by, the quality of the leadership has deteriorated. It has become a 1 million plus army and it does not has the culture to make its own weapons and fight. The kargil War showed the will of the young Indian soldiers to fight and win a war, the war has exposed to the paralysis of the Indian Army (IA) leadership. The Army General had to be criticised to come back from his arms shopping trip. Estimated 700,000 Indian Army personnel deployed in mountainous Kashmir and they did not have high altitude clothing.
Indian Army leadership has taken up complaining about anything and anything around it when it comes to indigenisation of critical arms and equipment. These equipment happens to be high value and puts considerable strain on foreign exchange. This equipments also represent lucrative arms market where abnormal influences exist.
The successive weak governments which came after the death of Indira Gandhi, till the dynamic leadership of PV Narasimha Rao, had neglected the Indian Defence forces and it has taken the toll on the equipment needs of Armed forces in general. The Cinderella sister, the Indian Navy (IN), the best of the what Indian Armed forces has, took this opportunity to develop Indian designs and build Indian warship with as much indigenous content possible. Then came the Soviet Union collapse and we saw IN scrambling to build indigenous and ingenious capacities to keep their Soviet ship content afloat. In fact the IN design house was so ambitious that it wanted to build an aircraft carrier, but, not backed up by the weak governments.
On the contrary, the IA made a mess of the indigenous projects. Indian Army has a huge engineering manpower which did no innovation and behave like glorified mechanics. Today, when IN flaunts its homegrown ships, IA likes to parade its imported weaponry to the world around.
The way forward
There is no point flogging the dead horse, but, its very necessary to understand what is happening now. Things have not improved yet with the army. It still looks around for imported means. The army has made a mess of itself when it comes to indigenous equipment. Take the case of Arjun Tank. The Army is the one which has issued its specs, then changed it often when it comes near deployment, then tested it till it develops mistakes. The Arjun Tank has exceeded its performance,but, the Army has not improved its act. Last we heard is that there was a possibility of sabotage during the Army’s internal trials. Since then the Ministry of Defence has made the Director General Mechanised Forces responsible for overseeing the induction.
Another example is Akash and Trishul projects. It is often cited that even the Navy has rejected Trishul SAM. This is an invalid criticism; the naval version of the Trishul SAM is totally different from the Army and the Air force version. Akash has been demonstrated to perfection to the Indian Air Force (IAF), Trishul has been in limited induction by IAF for familiarisation. But, Army refuses to buy it. Here too the Ministry of Defence has taken a decision to keep the medium range surface-to-air missile (MRSAM) with Israel on hold, trying to force the Army to accept the Akash Missile at least.
Then the Eurocopter helicopter deal where the Army was testing a model which it was not going to get. Fortunately the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited stepped in a proved that upgraded Cheetas and Chetaks do a much better job than the imported option. This also brings in the question mark on the Indian Army’s standards of testing.
In the first place the Director General Mechanised Forces and Director General Military operations of the Indian Army are responsible for equipment decision. This is where the buck stops. The government should start seriously auditing these positions for understanding what went wrong with indigenisation programs and effects of the import lobby. Indian Army should create a new position called Director General for indigenisation of equipment, if it already dosen’t exist.
It is normally end-user who must have the final say on the suitability of the equipment for the use, but, it is necessary to audit the end-user for their judgment. It has become very necessary to involve third party evaluators for the Army purchases considering the past examples.