Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Recipe for Disaster
By Vice Admiral (Retd) Arun K Singh

The state of morale in the armed forces in general, and the Army in particular, should be a cause for worry because of the latter’s rapidly declining combat capability. Moreover, an Army with low morale, insufficient manpower and lacking in the required combat equipment is a recipe for national disaster at the hands of foreign invaders.
The recent Supreme Court ruling giving “rank pay” to those officers who were in military service between 1986 to 1996 following a 25-year-long court battle by a few retired officers shows how this rank pay, given by the fourth Central Pay Commission (4th CPC), had been withheld by unaccountable bureaucrats, who had issued the final implementation orders. Even if the rank pay is finally given in the coming months, many of those eligible have passed away or are bed-ridden, and, many had received lower pension also. Today, there are 39 unresolved anomalies from the 6th CPC, which gave its award in 2008.
As India marks the 50th anniversary of the disastrous war with China in 1962, the signs are ominous. India is faced with threats from within and outside. Apart from the economic slowdown, scams and ongoing Naxal insurgency, recent media reports have indicated a couple of mutinies in Army units, where soldiers have risen against their officers. More worrying is the news that from 2003 till now 1,018 soldiers have committed suicide. Last month, defence minister informed Parliament that the “causes for these suicides were domestic problems, mental discord, stress and financial problems”. The enormity of this “suicide tragedy” can be fully understood if we see that between 1984 and 2012, a total of 846 officers and soldiers have died in Siachen.
Some experts have suggested that these mutinies and suicides could be due to the strain of excessive counter-insurgency duties. A few have suggested that the soldier of today is educated and fully aware of how the military has been continuously downgraded as compared to the civil services, CPOs (Central police organisations) and police counterparts. Retired veterans may tell you that it’s a failure of leadership at the officer level. Whatever the reasons, the government needs to urgently find a solution. History shows that most revolts or mutinies are triggered by discontent amongst soldiers and sailors, and these can spread very rapidly.
The “functional” military pyramid structure results in less than two per cent getting promoted to even major-general (equal to joint secretary) in 28 years and lieutenant-general (equal to additional secretary) in 35 years while all their IAS and foreign service counterparts become joint secretaries in 17 years and 90 per cent become additional secretaries in 30 years. Post-2008, all other civil services officers become joint secretaries in 19 years and additional secretaries in 32 years. This happened after the 6th CPC granted “non-functional upgradation” (NFU) to all the 58 Group-A civil services, thus ensuring even a greater disparity with the military.
This disparity continues post-retirement, as the pensions to civil services officers automatically become much higher. A number of demonstrations by ex-servicemen (ESM) over “one rank, one pension” have been held since 2009 and a solution needs to be found since there is a close bonding between serving and retired military personnel. The September 24, 2012, announcement of a package Rs 2,300 crore per year for ESM (pre-2006 retirees) and family pensions etc has created more heartburn over one rank, one pension since it still leaves a gap in pensions between pre- and post-2006 retirees. The issue of NFU has also not been addressed.
The Army has many other problems, which were brought out by the last Army Chief V.K. Singh and reported in a leaked letter. Foremost amongst these is the case for about 2,000 155-mm artillery guns, which has been pending government approval for 25 years. An indigenous 155-mm gun should have been made and inducted by now, since the blueprints of the Bofors 155mm gun were received after the contract was signed decades ago.
Surprisingly, some 25 years after 400 Bofors 155mm/39 calibre guns were inducted, an order is now being placed for 145 155mm/39 calibre, “light” helicopter-portable guns from the United States using the “no tender” direct FMS (foreign military sales) option at possibly a higher cost than if global tenders had been offered. A decade ago some Russian-origin 130mm/52 calibre guns were converted to 155mm/45 calibre by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), with Israeli help.
With the import option becoming unlikely, due to the Bofors scandal, the DRDO recently, “suddenly” discovered that it could make both the 39 and 45 calibre, 155mm guns for Army trials by end-2012. The ministry of defence has now belatedly placed an order for 100 such indigeneous guns. The Bofors 155mm/39 calibre gun has a reported maximum range of 29 kilometres, which can be increased to about 40 kilometres by the use of special “base bleed” ammunition.
The 45 calibre gun has a slightly longer barrel length, and accordingly achieves a greater maximum range. The latest 155mm/52 calibre gun has even a greater barrel length and can achieve the range of 52 kilometres with “base bleed” ammunition. Since the “Bofors ghost” is unlikely to permit any import of the 155mm/52 calibre gun, it would be prudent for the DRDO to commence indigenisation of this 52 calibre gun also.
The government has readily cleared many cases for modernisation of the Navy, the Coast Guard and the Air Force, but it needs to remember that in the event of a short, sharp war with Pakistan or China, or both, unacceptable loss of territory would result if the Army is not given the requisite motivated manpower and equipment.
The Army, for its part, needs to set its own house in order, weed out corruption, reward merit and concentrate on regaining its past glory, which was based on pure professionalism, discipline and leadership. Can the Prime Minister do something drastic to improve morale and combat capability of the military?
The writer, a vice-admiral, retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

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