Contrary to the Indian government’s defence spending announcements and recent studies showing India as the world’s biggest military hardware importer, India’s tank fleet lacks ammunition, its air defences are ‘97% obsolete’ and its elite forces need essential weapons, the country’s army chief wrote in an explosive letter leaked on Wednesday.
The letter to the prime minister dated March 12 – and widely reported by the Indian media – lists shortcomings of the armed forces in embarrassing detail in a serious blow to the government and the Asian giant’s military prestige.
Its publication also ups the stakes in a public battle between army chief General VK Singh and the government which began with a dispute over Singh’s retirement earlier this year.
“The state of the major (fighting) arms i.e. mechanised forces, artillery, air defence, infantry and special forces, as well as the engineers and signals, is indeed alarming,” Singh wrote in the letter, DNA newspaper reported.
The army’s entire tank fleet is “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks,” while the air defence system is “97% obsolete,” he wrote. The infantry is crippled with “deficiencies,” while the elite forces are “woefully short” of “essential weapons.”
Speaking amid an uproar in parliament over the leaked letter, Defence Minister AK Antony confirmed the existence of the letter and said it should not have been made public. Politicians from all parties reacted angrily and some called for the army chief’s resignation if he was found to be behind the leak.
In the letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, General Singh reportedly blamed the slow procurement process and lack of urgency among bureaucrats for the “hollowness” of the 1.13-million-strong military.