Leaked letter reveals Indian army weaknesses

Mar 28, 2012, 2:03 PM

Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s army chief says the country’s security is at risk, with an obsolete air defense system and critical shortages of tank ammunition, in another embarrassment for the beleaguered government.

Gen. Vijay Kumar Singh made the statements in a private letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that was discussed in Parliament on Wednesday after it was leaked to a national newspaper and television stations.

Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the government was addressing the concerns.

In the letter, Gen. Singh said the state of the country’s artillery, air defense and infantry was “alarming.”

He said the army was “devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks” and the air defense system was “97 percent obsolete.”

The letter caused an uproar in Parliament, with angry opposition lawmakers accusing the government of neglecting the country’s defense.

Antony tried to appease lawmakers, saying “defense preparedness is a top priority for the government,” and that it was “determined to ensure India’s security.”

Opposition parties have accused the government of delaying defense purchases, leaving the armed forces with outdated equipment. They say delays and a lack of transparency in defense purchases have led to the creation of strong lobbies and influential middlemen, and encouraged corruption in the procurement process.

Opposition lawmakers also demanded that the government explain how a private letter to the prime minister was leaked to the media.

The army chief was recently locked in a battle with the government in a controversy over his date of birth in which he petitioned the Supreme Court against the government _ the first time a serving general has dragged the government to court. He is due to retire in May but wants to serve another year, claiming army records were wrong.

The row escalated this week when the army chief claimed in a newspaper interview that he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to approve the purchase of substandard trucks for the army.

Gen. Singh claimed he had informed the defense minister about the bribery attempt but nothing was done to investigate the charge.

An embarrassed Antony told Parliament on Monday that he had asked the general to take action, but the army chief had refused.

India has one of the world’s largest armies, with 1.2 million active soldiers and nearly another million in reserves.

The Congress party-led government has been embarrassed by a recent series of scandals and charges of incompetence.

Last week, a leaked audit report showed the government had lost hundreds of billions of dollars by selling coalfields to companies without competitive bidding.

Senior ministers and officials have also faced corruption charges stemming from the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the sale of cellphone spectrum.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Leaked letter reveals Indian army weaknesses