The head of India’s army says obsolete defense equipment and a shortage of weapons have weakened the country’s defense capabilities.
The comment, reflecting tense relations between the army and the government, was made in a letter written to the prime minister in which army chief V.K. Singh described the state of major fighting forces such as the artillery and infantry “alarming.”
On Wednesday, the Indian DNA newspaper published excerpts of the leaked letter dated March 12.
The army chief said India’s tank fleet is "devoid of critical ammunition" and its air defense system is 97 percent obsolete. The infantry, he said, is crippled with deficiencies and lacks night fighting equipment, while the elite forces are “woefully short” of essential weapons.” India, which has fought wars with both Pakistan and China, has the world’s second largest standing army.
In parliament, where the leaked letter was debated, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the government gives the highest priority to security preparedness.
“Our defense preparedness has always been strong and I can assure this house and the nation that it is our intention to keep it strong," said Antony. "Government has spared no effort and will do everything necessary to ensure that our defense forces are provided, equipped and trained to be among the best fighting forces in the world.”
For once, there was no acrimony in parliament as opposition lawmakers rallied around the government, saying such issues should not be in the domain of public debate.
The head of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the Upper House, Arun Jaitley, said he was confident the government would address concerns regarding the preparedness of the armed forces.
“I am sure the defense minister will look into all those facts and make sure wherever there are any shortcomings, he would make sure they are plugged,” Jaitley said.
Lawmakers demanded to know how the letter had been leaked. Some called for the army chief’s resignation, if he was behind it.
The letter comes as the army chief’s relations with civilian authorities have hit a low point in recent months following a face-off with the government about his age of retirement.
He said he was younger than military records showed, but lost the case in the Supreme Court.
Earlier this week, he said he had been offered a $ 2.8 million bribe to buy substandard trucks for the army.
Defense analysts say it is well known that India’s armed forces need to be modernized. The government is spending billions of dollars to buy new equipment and weapons, but critics say the upgrading has been slow.
In 2007, India took over from China as the world's biggest importer.