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Budget squeeze threatens Indian Army's preparedness for possible two-front war

A defence budget squeeze leaves the Indian Army without the means to rebuild critical capacities and threatens its preparedness for a possible two-front war.

Sometime this year, the Union minister for defence Nirmala Sitharaman is to issue a fresh set of operational directives to the armed forces. The slim, top secret document called the 'Raksha Mantri's Operational Directives', usually updated once in a decade, asks the armed forces to prepare for the possibility of a simultaneous war with both Pakistan and China.

What the document doesn't mention, however, is the army's glaring inability to fight and win simultaneous wars with Pakistan and China. "We presently have barely enough to hold both fronts," a senior army official says. The gap between military strategy and capability emerged at army vice chief Lt Gen. Sarath Chand's recent deposition before the parliamentary standing committee (PSC) on defence. In the report, which was tabled before Parliament on March 13, the army vice chief said that 65 per cent of its arsenal is obsolete. The force lacks the artillery, missiles and helicopters that will enable it to fight on two fronts. Worse, even existing deficiencies in the import of ammunition are yet to be met, part of what the army calls is its ability to fight a '10 day intense' or 10(I) war have not been met. An 'intense' war is primarily related to the consumption of ammunition where tanks and artillery can fire up to three times the number of shells and rockets than would be used in a 'normal' conflict.

The army's angst relates to the short shrift it was given in this year's budget, which it says is insufficient to stock up for this 10(I) scenario. The army had asked for Rs 37,121 crore to fund 125 schemes. In the end, it received Rs 21,338 crore in the Union budget presented on February 1, a shortfall of Rs 15,783 crore.

All of the Rs 21,338 crore the army gets will be swallowed by pre-committed liabilities-the military equivalent of EMIs the

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