|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
Raksha Mantri Manohar Parrikar's customary message to the Armed Forces on the eve of the 70th Independence Day was broadcast over All India Radio. He began with extending greetings to all serving personnel and veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard, as also family members of the military personnel, many deployed far from their homes. This was followed by paying homage and gratitude to service martyrs. He said that since the Armed Forces are at the forefront of the nation's defence, the Government will do all that is necessary to keep their morale high and to meet their functional requirements. He talked at length about the AN-32 that went missing flying from Tambaram to Port Blair, continuing effort and resources deployed to locate it, families informed etc. He appreciated the daring response of Air Warriors and security forces to thwart the terrorist attack on the Pathankot airbase. He thanked the Armed Forces for: showing utmost restraint in tackling terrorists in the Kashmir valley despite grave provocations; effectively repulsing ceasefire violations in J&K, repulsing terrorists infiltrating into the country with nefarious designs, and; relief and rescue within India and abroad — flood relief, evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from South Sudan, helping douse forest fires in the hills of Uttarakhand. He spoke about consistent government endeavour towards the welfare and wellbeing of military veterans: implementation of OROP; digitization of the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS); marriage grant for up to two daughters of veterans revised from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000; scholarships under PM's Scholarship Scheme (PMSS) raised from 4000 to 5500, and; early completion sought for the Married Accommodation Project (MAP).
Parrikar then talked about provision of best weapons and defence platforms in the shortest time: indigenous 155mm Howitzer gun 'Dhanush' handed over to Army for user trials; three women fighters inducted in IAF; Tejas inducted into IAF; sea-trials of "INS Kalveri" — Scorpene class submarines built at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) commenced recently; indigenous ships 'INS Kochi' (missile destroyer), 'INS Kadmatt' (anti-submarine warfare corvette) and 'INS Tarmugli' (fast attack craft) commissioned. He mentioned the joint naval exercise Malabar 2016 involving India, US and Japan, and hailed the recently inaugurated Defence Communication Network (DCN) as major step towards achieving network centricity. There is need to examine in depth what the message from the RM really contained. To start with praise for the Armed Forces, homage to martyrs and welfare schemes for veterans is fine but what about the denigration of Armed Forces, soldiers denied their dues and needless appeals against pension of widows as pointed by the Chandigarh Armed Forces Tribunal recently? Why Parrikar sidetracked the 7th CPC and the one-man committee to look into the grievances of OROP needs little imagination. As for the missing AN-32, chances of locating it are remote considering that international search over months for the missing MH-17 have proved fruitless.
Geological Survey of India (GSI) oceanographic research vessel, RV Samudra Ratnakar has reportedly found "linear pieces over a 4,500-sq km area underwater" 160 nautical miles off Chennai coast but there is no clarity if the pieces belonged to the missing aircraft. Parrikar should have queried why the AN-32 flying periodically over the sea was not fitted with underwater locater beacon, why none of our AN-32's are fitted with such device and why it is being reported that only some old AN-32s now may be fitted with this device despite the small cost involved. But if we do locate the wreckage then what — will we retrieve the black box only or the personnel too? What about the naval personnel lying on the sea bed in INS Sindhurakshak and Sinduratna — tragedies for for which MoD has parried taking blame and sundry reports about GoI efforts to retrieve the bodies? Will the RM tell the nation what is the next step if we locate the missing AN-32. As to provision of the best weapons and defence platforms in the shortest time, Dhanush sure is a good development but this is the only equipping for the Army the RM talked about. What about the time required to produce Dhanush in mass numbers and how about addressing the interim critical voids of the Artillery? RM made no mention of equipping the foot soldier at the cutting edge — not even the 50,000 bullet proof jackets that he announced in 2014 to be procured on emergent basis. Wish he could have touched upon what has been done about the shortages of some 1,41,000-crore worth of arms and ammunition in the Army including critical voids that existed only 14 months back.
The DPP is yet to be completed anyway and the indigenous private industry still awaits its fair share. In the case of the IAF, the Tejas will need some years to mature but strangely Parrikar made no mention of the Rafale — has it been dumped finally and what does the IAF do in the interim period? Yes MDL is doing a good job but coordination at the MoD level needs to be geared up, one example being the weaponry, rockets, missiles that are to be mounted on naval platforms. Commending the DRDO is fine but what needs to be addressed is why the growth is not holistic and how is the growth contributing to bridge the 'critical voids' of the Military. On assuming office of RM in November 2014, Parrikar would have been briefed on the ongoing defence projects. Yet the DCN has come up without common software. Did the bureaucracy leave him in the dark by design to let the DCN be inaugurated as a highway without any traffic? Who is developing the common software now and in what timeframe? Finally, Parrikar completely missed any mention of reorganization of MoD, forging military jointness, the need for theatre commands and the like. So, should we expect a similar broad brush speech next year as well?