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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

From Today's Papers - 08 Mar 2016

'Each Soldier Carries About 40 kg In Battle': Why The Army Cannot Downsize
New Delhi:  The scope to cut down the manpower in the Army does not exist, a top commander in the Army has told NDTV. Just last week, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said "there is need to cut down on flab" given the steady increase in salary and pension bill of the military.

The Army, about 1.2 million strong, is the obvious target of the cut down. An internal exercise of the Army, on the contrary, has shown that over the years, the responsibilities of individual soldiers have doubled as has the individual load carried by them in battle situations.
"Across the world soldiers on an average carry one third their body weight, the Indian solider far exceeds this, and it has started to impinge on maneuverability," the senior commander said.

The exercise, shared with NDTV, shows a section - 10 men per section - of the infantry now carries with it two Light Machine Guns (LMG) , one Rocket Launcher, besides personal weapons. Each LMG has about 700 rounds on the weapon and another 500 rounds is distributed and carried separately by soldiers of the section.

In all, soldiers in a section carry 1400 rounds of LMG ammunition packed in 34 magazines on them. Besides, four rockets carried with the launcher, the section carries another six rounds on them.

"Apart from this, each solider carries his personal weapon - either an AK-47 or INSAS and ammunition on himself. All these add up to about 40 kg carried by each solider," the commander said.

More importantly, out of 10 soldiers, four are required to man the LMGs and the rocket launchers, leaving six men to carry out an assault.

"The bayonet strength - soldiers available to charge or storm into features - is about six soldiers per section, the bare minimum required to carry out an assault," the commander said.

At the Platoon level or at the Regiment Level, comprising four combat companies - one Support and Logistic Company and Headquarter Company - this ratio gets even more skewed.

Each regiment carries with it battle field surveillance radars, snipers with at least 200 rounds of ammunition, three Multi-Barrel Grenade Launchers (MBGL), three Automatic Grenade Launchers (AGL) and ammunition besides Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs). Each infantry unit also carries an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and heavy communication equipment.

"At the regiment level the manpower crunch is starker and pressure even more severe," the commander said. "Over the years, vehicle drivers for instance have been trained as electricians, or to fire ATGM, man radars, double up as nursing assistant for injuries since number of battlefield nursing attendants have been cut down. Some are trained as mechanics to repair vehicles on the spot," the officer said and added "every infantry unit has been skinned, flab doesn't exist."

Similarly, artillery and mechanised units have been crunched and the number of men in non-combat supply and service arms - like Army Supply Corps, Ordnance - have been cut over the years.

"Unless there is a quantum jump in the fire power and real time surveillance equipment with each unit it is difficult to imagine where the cut down can happen," the commander said.
Army erects pontoon bridge for Art of Living extravaganza
NEW DELHI: The Indian Army, which has built a pontoon bridge on the Yamuna for the Art of Living Foundation's upcoming World Culture Festival, is likely to build one more to ease movement of lakhs of people who are expected to attend the controversy-ridden mega event.

The development came even as there was criticism from some quarters, including the social media, about using Army to build the floating bridge for such an event.

"Lakhs of people are expected to turn up. There is a question of law and order and also fears of stampede. Permission has been granted by concerned authorities to host the event. If a permission has been given, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure everything is run smoothly," highly placed defence soures told PTI.

They said the organisers had approached the defence ministry seeking six such bridges but the Army was asked to erect only one. A second bridge has been erected by the PWD.

"The Delhi Police has now given a report saying that there are fears of stampede and hence the Army might build another bridge," the sources said, adding that a Minister from the Delhi government has also written to the Ministry highlighting the need for such bridges.

The sources said defence minister Manohar Parrikar had asked the defence secretary to look into the issue. During his interaction with the Army, the force wondered whether their personnel should be used to help a "private event".

"The minister was of the view that since permission has been granted, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure everything was fine. The Army, which has the expertise, was asked to step in keeping the larger good of people in mind," the sources said.

They added that the Army has been used during Kumbh Mela and even the Commonwealth Games.

Told that the event has come under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal, which looks after the environmental issues, sources said the Army is only helping people and it is up to the concerned authorities to grant permission or withdraw it.

President Pranab Mukherjee will not be attending the festival in the wake of controversy over holding the three-day cultural function on the Yamuna flood plains beginning here this Friday.

Mukherjee had earlier agreed to attend the valedictory ceremony on Sunday.
While the organisers of the function expect lakhs of people to attend the function, concerns have been raised by experts about the damage to the environment that may be caused as the three-day event was being held on flood plains of the river in east Delhi.

The National Green Tribunal is hearing a petition which has claimed that the organisers will release 'enzymes' into 17 drains that flow into Yamuna for cleaning the river. A judgement is expected tomorrow.
Defence budget: Surrendering funds has put brakes on India's military modernisation
The revelation by Defence Minister Mohan Parrikar on 4 March that he discovered India was paying the US Department of Defence for new weaponry, even though $3 billion which had earlier remitted was lying forgotten in a Pentagon account is not a small matter. Ministry of Defence had reportedly put the said money in a Pentagon account for weaponry that was to be bought under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS). It is not clear as to when the money was paid by India considering that procuring equipment through FMS has been on for past several years especially since US opened up FMS sales in immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
$3 billion is not a small amount considering that INS Vikrant, India’s indigenously built aircraft carrier launched in August 2013 was at a cost of $7.7 billion. Moreover, $3 billion by today’s reckoning amounts to Rs 20,100 crore. Parrikar mentioned that this money lying with the US Department of Defense was not earning any interest – obviously nil for India but sure it would have earned interest for the US where the money was lying. Parrikar referred to the lapse as “because of ill-management or lack of attention to this account” and indicated that this $3 billion had “accumulated” over a period of time.

Parrikar further said that he drew on this account in the current year saving money from the capital budget, which Ministry of Defence returned to the finance ministry, adding that during 2015 this account has come down to $1.7-1.8 billion since Ministry of Defence must have paid nearly Rs 6,000 crore from this account for committed liabilities. He further said, “We have saved almost $700-800 million in foreign exchange." The Ministry of Defence and finance ministry can be happy about all this, but it should be very apparent that the armed forces have been made suckers all along and their modernisation remains major casualty. Even $1.7-1.8 billion remaining in the above account in not small; some Rs 11,390 to 12,062 crore.

A former Vice Chief of the Army while in service was told by his friend in Defence (Finance) that they are required to submit a quarterly report from the very beginning of the financial year (FY) as to how much of the defence funds they would be able to surrender at the end of the FY. That is why crores of rupees is surrendered year after year from the Defence Budget while the forces are holding equipment that is 50 percent obsolete. While there was big furore over Gen VK Singh’s, then Army Chief to prime minister Manmohan Singh on criticalities in the Army, public would be unaware that such letters have been written by many Service Chiefs including Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee in the past. Yet despite criticalities, year after year crores of rupees from the defence allocations are surrendered every year. Isn’t it criminal that these $3 billion were lying with the US while our forces were starved for equipment? Besides, FMS route being the fastest, how could this amount be ‘forgotten’, or was this by design?

Talking of criticalities, take the example of bullet proof jackets in the army. Past several years one has heard about 1,86,000 being imported but nothing has materialized, mainly because the Ordnance Factory Board under DRDO has not been able to produce any worthwhile bullet proof jacket. Interestingly, a media report of 2015 revealed that many of our private companies are exporting bullet proof jackets and even helmets to more than 230 forces in over 100 countries including British, German, Spanish and French Armies, plus police forces stretching from Japan in the East to the US in the West. Why can’t Service Chiefs have the authority of making emergency purchases with troops continuously engaged in counter insurgency operations, and when Army Commander Northern Command purchases such bullet proof jackets under his Special Financial Powers, duly cleared by the IFA, why does the IFA object? When will we break the mafia.

Ironically, the Ministry of Defence surrendered Rs 6,000 crore (official figures) of the defence allocation on 31 March 2015. How much will be surrendered on 31 March 2016 is anybody’s guess considering that in January 2016, Ministry of Defence was struggling to exhaust its modernisation funds with almost 40 percent of its capital budget unspent; as much as Rs 37,355 crore of the capital modernisation budget of Rs 93,675 crore. Non-finalization of procurement of Rafale and BAEs M777 howitzers contributed towards this but these are recurring narratives every year.
When General Charles de Gaulle became president of France in 1959, France was militarily weak. What de Gaulle ensured was that the Defence Budget of France remained greater than 2 percent and touching 5 percent of the GDP, resulting in France emerging as a militarily strong nuclear power. That trend has continued with current French military expenditure standing at 5.4 percent of the GDP. In India, though the Long Term Integrated Procurement Plan (LTIPP) is based on a hypothetical 3 percent of GDP, defence allocations have never really touched that mark. Even post the Kargil Conflict and public exposure to massive equipment shortages in the Army, the one time high 1999-2000 Defence Budget allocation was made at 2.41% of the GDP. However, there has been a downslide since then, not to talk of the thousands of crores of Rupees that were surrendered by MoD annually by the UPA barring an odd year.

The just announced Defence Budget 2016-2017 is the lowest ever since the 1962 war. The ‘India First’ commitment of the present government is unquestionable but how is the Defence Budget allocated and how is the long term integrated procurement plan (LTIPP) chalked out in absence of a National Security Strategy, without defining National Security Objectives and without a Comprehensive Defence Review? This vital anomaly in India’s defence setup cannot be resolved unless the higher defence structures of India are remodeled and military professional brought into the MoD and the defence industrial complex.

The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence had noted in April 2015 that “such under-spending leads to a situation where the preparation of Defence Forces are nowhere near the target”. The Committee called for a “non-lapsable and roll-on allocation” fund for 5-10 years for defence equipment. Such a non-lapsable fund, administered by experts with strict controls on timelines, would reduce bureaucratic hurdles and be more attuned to practical realities. Even during UPA I, Jaswant Singh as defence minister had recommended that the unspent funds of defence budget must be allowed go into the next financial year.

The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence recommendation for a “non-lapsable and roll-on allocation” fund for 5-10 years for defence equipment must be followed through by the government. There is also the vital need to clear the quagmire of the previous regime by addressing the issues mentioned above.
Sri Sri extravaganza: Defence Ministry clarifies Army building bridge 'for security reasons'
The Indian Army, which has built a pontoon bridge on the Yamuna for the Art of Living Foundation's upcoming World Culture Festival, is likely to build one more to ease movement of lakhs of people who are expected to attend the controversy-ridden mega event.

The development came even as there was criticism from some quarters, including the social media, about using Army to build the floating bridge for such an event.

Social media seemed averse to the use of soldiers to build the bridge for such an event:
Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources on Monday said the army's help was sought in view of security and safety concern of lakhs of people expected to throng the function. MoD sources said it was not for the first time that the army was engaged in building bridges for an event. "Army personnel have made pontoon bridges during Kumbh mela. The army has even constructed a foot over bridge for the Commonwealth Games after a bridge collapsed a few days before the games commenced."

Besides these, said MoD sources, the army has been requested to construct six pontoon bridges on the Yamuna, but they are making just one. "However, after the Delhi Government and the Delhi Police raised their concern over the safety and security, including chances of stampede, there is a possibility that the army will build another bridge as well," said sources.

According to reports the event will feature yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers and traditional cultural performances from around the world.

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