Hopes for a modern military linger after a slow year

The past year has been a very turbulent one for the armed forces and those concerned about national security will be glad it has come to an end. Military watchers, while looking at an increasingly assertive neighbour in the east, will hope that the year 2013 will prove more conducive on the economic front for the modernisation of the three forces.

There is no doubt that 2012 was one of the most difficult and controversial years for the UPA government on the defence front. One of the main challenges that the government had to contend with was the stand-off with former Army chief V K Singh, who dragged it to the Supreme Court over the issue of his age. Besides this, several corruption scandals broke out: the purchases of trucks for the Army came under the scanner, and later a wide-ranging investigation began in Italy into a multi-million dollar deal for new VVIP helicopters. These controversies were compounded by the arrest of an arms agent who managed to get his hands on well guarded defence secrets.

The nation has also had to contend with the challenges of being in a difficult neighbourhood with the US declaring India the lynchpin of its policy to shift a majority of its forces to the Asia Pacific region and China continuing to pursue its aggressive stand on the South China Sea issue.

While all these issues posed hurdles for the armed forces, the factor that has been the most worrisome this year is a slow economy that has threatened military modernisation. Remarkably, 2012 saw a massive slow down in modernisation first brought about by the Defence Ministry's tussle with Singh and later by the financial downturn.

The number of major modernisation deals signed this year barely reached double figures with most major programmes failing to take off. Deals for a new generation of fighter aircraft and aerial refuelers for the Air Force, light choppers and artillery guns for the Army, and mine sweepers and new generation submarines for the Navy, floundered.

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