Members alarmed by accounts of military deficits by Air Force and Army Vice-Chiefs

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has summoned the chiefs of the three armed services to testify before it, an unprecedented move made after top military officials told the members that India may not be able to meet a two-front war.

The decision was made after closed-door hearings on Monday, when the committee heard testimony from the Vice-Chiefs of the Army and the Air Force, as well as Defence Ministry officials, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and public-sector defence organisations.

The service chiefs were asked to testify on April 20, the first time they will appear before Parliament's key oversight body on India's military preparedness.

Parliament's ongoing hearings come against the background of the leak of a letter from the outgoing Chief of the Army Staff, V.K. Singh, to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, warning of “hollowness” in India's military preparedness.

In 2008, Defence Minister A.K. Antony asked the armed forces to prepare themselves for a two-front war involving both Pakistan and China, but military commanders have been saying delays in procurement mean they are unprepared.

Grim warnings

Air Marshal Kishan Nowhar, sources in the committee told The Hindu, said the Air Force currently had 34 squadrons of combat aircraft, against the 45 squadrons needed to fight a two-front war. Its combat strength, he said, would fall further to 31 squadrons by 2017, as obsolete aircraft are retired. Though the Air Force's numbers would again begin to rise after that, Air Marshal Nowhar told the committee, China's Air Force would then have acquired a decisive lead.

Air Marshal Nowhar also argued, the sources said, that assumptions that the U.S. primacy in the Pacific would tie down the bulk of Chinese forces on the country's eastern seaboard could no longer be taken for granted.

Lt.-Gen. S.K. Singh, Army's Vice-Chief, focussed on shortages in war-fighting ordnance. India was down to four days of armour-penetrating shells for its tanks, he said, instead of the 40 battle-preparedness plans called for. The shortages arose because the Israeli manufacturer on whom the Army relied had been blacklisted after corruption charges.

Members of the standing committee say they intend to ask why the Army relied on a single manufacturer for critical munitions.

The committee also heard from key players in the Tatra truck scandal, which broke out after General V.K. Singh claimed to have been offered an Rs. 1.4 billion bribe to clear purchases of the vehicle.

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