Modernisation is main challenge for new army chief


New Delhi : Lieutenant General V.K. Singh, who assumes office Wednesday as the new Indian Army chief, has many strategic and operational challenges ahead, including the long-delayed artillery modernisation programme that has significantly handicapped the forces’ firepower capabilities.

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With the ghost of the Bofors payoff scandal of the 1980s still looming over weapon purchases, the army is now left with just about half of the 410 Bofors guns it had purchased in 1986, with normal wear and tear and cannibalisation accounting for the remaining howitzers.

After a decade-and-a-half, a $647 million deal is imminent for 145 M777 155mm ultralight-weight howitzers with Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems (LINAPS) manufactured by BAE Systems but a decision has still to be taken on some 300 towed and self-propelled guns of the same calibre.

And therein lies the rub.

The defence ministry has given the go-ahead for field trials of the towed guns but with a caveat: Singapore Technologies Kinetics, the sole contender, has first to be cleared by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) of corruption charges. The company, however, stoutly denies it is charged with corruption and says it is more than willing to open its books to the CBI or anyone else to prove this.

Then, the Indian Army has to take a call on just how many of the indigenous Arjun main battle tanks (MBTs) it wishes to purchase. As of now the army has ordered 124 and various officers have been quoted as saying it would stop at that.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that developed the Arjun has protested and wants the army to buy more to make its decades-old labours worthwhile.

This apart, the army has to achieve closure on ongoing projects like arming the homegrown Dhruv advanced light helicopters, replacing its Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, purchasing intermediate-range helicopters and short- and medium-range air defense systems, as also improving the ability of soldiers to fight at night with night-vision sights and thermal imaging systems for tanks.

Thus, Singh has his hands more than full.

A third generation army officer, Singh was commissioned into the Rajput Regiment on June 14, 1970 and during his career spanning nearly 40 years has served in a variety of command, staff and instructional appointments.

He participated in the 1971 war with Pakistan and in the operations of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in the mid-1980s.

An honours graduate of the US Army Infantry School at Georgia in the US, Singh is an alumnus the Wellington-based Defence Services Staff College, the Mhow-based Army War College and the US Army War College, Carlisle.

He is a recipient of the Param Vishist Seva Medal, the Ati Vishist Seva Medal and Yudh Seva Medal. He is also one of the honorary ADCs of the president of India, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces.

“Apart from being an outstanding soldier and a stern disciplinarian, what singles him out is his mania for fitness. He has a penchant for workouts and is regularly seen in the gym,” an officer who has observed Singh, 59, closely during his just-concluded stint as head of the Kolkata-based Eastern Army Command, said.

“He still takes part in a lot of outdoor games and used to regularly turn out for army-level football tournaments as the Eastern Command chief,” the officer added.

However, there will be much more than fitness on Singh’s mind as he takes over from General Deepak Kapoor Wednesday afternoon to begin his two-year stint as army chief in the rank of a four-star general.