PROBE NEWS: A parliamentary committee has slammed the government for simply not doing enough to ensure military modernisation despite India being confronted with a clear and present “collusive threat” from China and Pakistan. Indian armed forces continue to grapple with critical operational deficiencies on several fronts, ranging from submarines, fighter jets, howitzers and helicopters to even basic gear like new-generation assault rifles, machine guns, bullet-proof jackets and helmets. But the Army, Navy and IAF hardly got any funds to undertake any concrete modernization in the 2017-18 budget, with the Rs 2.74 lakh crore defence outlay working out to just 1.56% of the projected GDP, the lowest such figure since the 1962 war with China. The parliamentary standing committee on defence chaired by Major General B C Khanduri (retd), in two reports tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, criticized the government for neither providing adequate funds for proper military modernization, nor fast-tracking defence procurements to plug operational gaps. Overall, the Army, Navy and IAF just got only 60%, 67% and 54% of the funds they had sought for modernization this fiscal. The committee expressed concern over the “adverse and cascading effect that the deficiency of funds” would have on their operational preparedness. To make matters worse, the defence ministry (MoD) continues to flounder to properly plan and spend even the allocated funds. “Underutilization of funds highlights the loopholes in the planning and budgetary exercise undertaken by the MoD. Also, persistent failure to utilize the allocated funds has contributed to reduction in the MoD’s budget allocations by the finance ministry. The persisting critical military operational gaps have adversely affected the country’s defence preparedness. At least 45 fighter squadrons (18-21 jets in each), for instance, are required by the IAF to tackle the two-front scenario. But it’s making do with just 33 squadrons as of now, which will go down to 19 by 2027, and 16 by 2032 due to retirement of older jets. The Rs 59,000 crore contract inked for 36 French Rafale fighters in September 2016 in itself will do little to arrest this alarming drawdown. “The issue of depletion in squadron strength has been taken up repeatedly by the committee over the years. However, no concrete measures seem to have been taken (till now),” said the panel. The Navy, in turn, is saddled with just 13 conventional diesel-electric submarines, only half of them operational at any given time since they are 17 to 32 years old, apart of course from the newly-commissioned INS Kalvari. Moreover, the force has a shortage of 61 multi-role helicopters desperately needed on warships to detect, track and destroy enemy submarines as well as at least a dozen minesweepers. “It is disheartening to find out that repeated delays have become an inherent part and parcel of ship-building projects. The MoD must address these delays with due seriousness and find solutions,” said the committee.
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