The Standing Committee on Defence, which presented its report to Parliament on the last day of the Monsoon Session, has highlighted several shortcomings that need immediate attention. Key recommendations:
The Defence Ministry, in its reply to the Standing Committee, had said that “arms and ammunitions” were “by and large available” with the Army. The Committee, headed by Maj Gen (retd) B C Khanduri, has said “it fails to understand what does ‘by and large’ mean”. The Ministry’s response, the Committee has said, gives “false hope” that ammunition levels in the Army are as per the authorised strategic Artillery Profile 2027. The Committee has asked the Ministry to provide details of the programme, and to step up efforts to adhere to timelines.
The Army has been facing a major shortage of vehicles to carry missiles. This has affected the deployment of missiles at strategic locations. Replying to the Committee’s recommendations that the private sector be engaged to make missile-carrying vans, the Defence Ministry had said that the Defence PSU, Bharat Earth Movers Limited, was in a position to supply the vehicles. “The planning process of Army should not be hampered due to non-availability of missile carrying vehicles,” the Committee has said.
The Committee expressed “dismay” that DRDO “started working on INSAS Rifle way back in 1982 but surprisingly it took 14 years in its development… But just after 3 years, the quality of rifle tested in Operation Vijay revealed that product was not up to the mark… The Committee find[s] it shocking that even years of expertise has not evolved DRDO to develop a world class basic product like rifle”. Lacunae in the weapon were revealed by the 1999 Kargil conflict, but DRDO has not been able to provide a good rifle to the Army. The Committee has asked why rifles were not being procured from elsewhere.
As revealed by replies in Parliament and disclosures made to the Standing Committee, the Armed Forces face a major shortage of officers, especially in junior ranks. According to the Committee’s report, the Army is short of 9,642 officers — 40,095 against the stipulated strength of 49,737. The Navy is 1,561 officers short, and the IAF 659. Attempts are being made to address the situation by making short service commission more attractive. It is hoped that attractive perks and recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission would be able to attract youngsters to the profession of arms. The Committee has asked the Ministry to explore the reasons behind younger people no longer looking at the armed forces as a career.
Lack of Funds
The Defence Ministry has noted the lack of funds as one of the reasons behind porous pockets along the India-Myanmar border. The Ministry, in its reply to the Standing Committee, has said that “non-allotment of funds” to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) resulted in only 4.5 km of the proposed 15.73 km fence along the border being completed. The Defence Ministry’s disclosure is significant in the backdrop of the recent killing of 18 Armymen by insurgents in Manipur along the India-Myanmar border. The Army had carried out a cross border raid subsequent to the attack. “It is astonishing to find that as many as 78 insurgent active groups have been earmarked in one state of the North East. Our neighbouring countries are espousing a form of perennial and subtle war in which a substantial amount of operational preparedness is absolutely essential,” the Standing Committee has noted.
Assam Rifles is mandated to guard the 1,631 km India-Myanmar border. All Assam Rifles units and formations operate under the command of the Army. 15 battalions of Assam Rifles with 77 Company Operating Bases are deployed along the strategic border. Seven of these battalions are in Manipur.
The Intermediate Jet Trainer project by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has run into troubled waters. The project that started in 1999 has made no headway, the Committee has noted. The non-induction of IJT Sitara has compelled the IAF to extend the life of the Kiran trainers. “By not taking effective steps to procure trainer, the government is jeopardising the lives of our pilots,” the Committee has noted. Experts have blamed the absence of trainers for the spate of MiG-21 crashes.