US Defence Secretary Ashton carter, currently in India, will renew the ten-year-old defence framework between the two countries and probably enhance co-operation in maritime security, intelligence-sharing and joint development and production of military equipment. He will, no doubt, again pressure India to sign a Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) in order to increase co-operability between the two countries. It is expected that he will also offer India the Textron AirLand Scorpion light-attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. This jet aircraft could act as an intermediate jet trainer in addition to its other designated roles. Carter will also push for India to agree to purchase twenty two Apache and fifteen Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.
The US has allegedly established an India Rapid Reaction Cell to ensure all defence deals with India go as smoothly as possible, such is the importance Washington places on New Delhi, which is the world’s largest importer of military technology and equipment. It allegedly has also identified seventeen defence technologies that could be jointly produced under the DTTI. The relationship provides an indication of the mutual importance each gives to the other. While India could reinforce the US’s presence and role in the Indo-Pacific region, the US could provide India with much-needed technology and expertise in the military and civilian fields.
The Modi Administration must recognise, however, that despite the induction of cutting-edge technology, other more fundamental issues must be put to rest. Two that come to mind immediately are the matters of “one rank, one pension” and India’s poor ammunition situation.
The “one rank, one pension” problem pertains to differing levels of pensions paid to ex-military personnel despite the fact that they may have retired with the same rank, albeit at different times. For instance, a Major in the Indian Army who retired in 2000 would receive a lesser pension than one who retired in 2014 because the pensions received are linked to their salary scales at the time they retired. Since salary scales are linked to cost price indices, which almost always go up, military personnel who retire later get a higher pension. Those who retired earlier must, however, cope with a lesser pension no matter rises in the cost of living since they retired. Service personnel who retired prior to 2006, moreover, receive a lesser pension than their juniors who retired after that year. This has caused a great deal of anger among ex- and serving military personnel.
Perceived inequalities aside, political ineptness and the perception of indifference by the political class to the worries of military personnel has not helped matters. In February 2014, sensing the mood of the voters against it, the Congress Party cynically attempted to harness the votes of 1.4 million serving and 2.5 million ex-personnel by announcing that the “one rank, one pension” scheme would be implemented. To show it was serious, the Party allocated around $100 million (June 2015 exchange rates) to the plan, which was seen by most as an exercise in cynicism. The Bharatiya Janata Party, then in opposition, immediately denounced the cynicism and announced that it would implement the scheme if it came to power. To its credit, the Modi Administration announced late last month that it was preparing to implement the scheme, having set aside approximately $1.6 billion towards that end. If the Modi Administration can actually implement the scheme it will have brought a forty year-old issue to a close.
Two recent reports by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) highlighted the short-falls in the indigenously designed and developed Tejas light combat aircraft and the shortage of ammunition. The report noted that the army’s ammunition reserves would barely last twenty days of intense fighting despite defence policy that calls for a reserve that could last at least forty days. Here again, ammunition worth an estimated $1.6 billion has been discarded by the military due to defects, unserviceability, a poor maintenance regime and other quality issues.
India requires technology transfers from the US, Israel, Russia and other sources and the Modi Administration has taken several measures to acquire it. There are, however, equally pressing issues of a more mundane nature, though hardly any less important, that it needs to set to rest domestically. Any failure to do so could nullify any advantages gained by aligning more closely with the US or another country.
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