2018 witnessed ups and downs as far as the armed forces are concerned. Defence deals have been signed, new equipment has been inducted, the Arihant has completed its first deterrence patrol completing the nuclear triad, Rafale which was an eagerly awaited aircraft for the air force has been accused of being a scam and actions by the MoD to remove the last bastions of the military and degrade its status, have been highlights of the past year.
Amongst the major actions taken by the government has been an increase in signing defence deals. One of the major deals signed this year is the S-400 Triumf advanced missile system. It created panic in Pakistan. The deal was signed despite threats of sanction from the US. At the start of the month the defence acquisition council cleared deals for procurement of BrahMos missiles and Armoured Recovery Vehicles. In addition, was a deal for supply of air and missile defence systems for seven naval ships.
After almost a decade of negotiations, India and the US signed the COMCASA (Communications Capability and Security Agreement). This deal opened doors for India to procure high end technology equipment and enhance interoperability between the two forces. The deal moved India deeper into the US camp.
The completion of the first deterrence patrol of the Arihant, India’s nuclear-powered ballistic submarine missile and its induction completed India’s triad of nuclear weapons, in early Nov. Though one submarine alone is no major deterrence, it opens doors for future development. This induction also created panic in Pak as it clearly shifted balance of power in India’s favour.
The artillery in Nov inducted new guns including the K9 Vajra self-propelled guns and the M777 Howitzers after a gap of almost 35 years. More weapon systems are now in the pipeline. The navy inducted deep submergence rescue vehicles, while the air force conducted its first ever mid-air refuelling of the LCA Tejas after commencing its induction. The US has offered India the armed version of the Guardian drone, for which talks are in progress.
Simultaneously, the Rafale scam hit headlines and dominated domestic politics. The Supreme Court was also approached, which ruled in favour of the government, removing some sting from opposition charges. The issue is expected to dominate 2019 elections.
In Kashmir, the army gained the upper hand and have over the year eliminated over 240 terrorists. It has made almost all terrorist groups leaderless. While there have been instances of the local public interfering in operations, leading to firing and casualties, there has also been an increase in the flow of information resulting in successful encounters.
On the other hand, government actions against the armed forces have more than dominated headlines. The financial year saw the lowest allocation to defence since 1962 in the annual budget, forcing the army to consider reducing its strength, despite increased challenges to create funds for modernization.
Actions by the MoD in 2018 have seriously damaged army morale and degraded its status. The forcible opening of all cantonments, ignoring security concerns of the armed forces was a major step this year. It led to widespread anger and resentment, despite which the MoD refused to relent. Its refusal to appoint members to the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has made the one organization, on which most depend for redressal almost redundant.
The increase in numbers challenging AFT decisions on grant of disability pensions by the MoD in the apex court has only angered the nation on the unilateral and anti-armed forces actions of the government. While the defence minister has repeatedly tweeted that she seeks to reduce such cases, nothing seems to be moving.
The highlight of the year was the insult to a retired navy chief by the spokesperson of the MoD on the official ministry handle. It created a furore across society, forcing the concerned individual being sent on compulsory leave and then moved out of Delhi. However, the tweet indicated the bias and hatred which exists for the military within the ministry, responsible for its welfare and wellbeing.
The pushing through of the cadre review of the Armed Forces HQ support cadre and seeking to inflate comparisons between different services in the ministry, degrading the status of the armed forces was another anti-military action of the MoD. While it was put on hold only after direct intervention of service chiefs, attempts would continue in 2019.
The creation of the ‘Defence Planning Committee’ headed by the National Security Advisor (NSA) laid to rest all thoughts of reorganization of higher defence management. It made the NSA the de-facto Chief of Defence Staff.
The challenging of the Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) for the military by the MoD in the supreme court, employing a battery of top advocates ensuring it remains under litigation has lowered the morale of the service. Added to this has been the refusal of the finance ministry to grant higher military service pay to JCOs, which was one of the major anomalies of the pay commission.
Court cases against military personnel for their operations in Kashmir and Manipur reached the supreme court. In both cases it was the affected community which fought the case themselves, while the MoD watched from the side lines.
As the year was ending two decisions further angered the military community, serving and veterans. The first was considering opening military hospitals to those being insured under ‘Modicare’ and the second was attempting to take over the Canteen Stores Department, which remains a military bastion till recently. The hospitals are presently unable to even cater for the veterans for whom a separate scheme has been opened. Simultaneously, these have been denied to Short Service Commissioned officers.
While the government has signed deals for enhancing military capabilities, which the previous UPA government failed to do, it has also harmed the military by its unilateral actions. 2018 would be remembered for a long time as being the year when the military was impacted in status and denied its rightful dues by a government which had promised to restore its glory.
It is hoped that with elections drawing close in 2019, there would be a change in approach by the present government, if it seeks the support of the large military community.