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India's military hardware in "vintage" state, main problem is democracy: Top US daily

By Our Representative
In a scathing commentary that would, ironically, sound music to diametrically opposite sides – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on one hand, and Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, on the other – the top US daily “The New York Times” (NYT) has said that India has lost the air dogfight to Pakistan, insisting, this raises questions about India’s “vintage military”.
The commentary by Maria Abi-Habib, dated-lined New Delhi, comes close on the heels Modi, participating at an event organised by “India Today”, claiming that the strike on Pakistan’s Balakot region and the subsequent shooting down of an Indian Air force’s MIG-21 plane, followed by the capture of pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, showed that if India “had Rafale, then the result would have been different.”
The Pakistan media was quick to pick up Modi’s rather unusual statement, which was meant to attack the past Congress-led governments for allegedly failing to keep the Indian Air Force up to date. Thus, Pakistan’s most-viewed Geo TV said, “Modi admits Pakistan Air Force superiority in air warfare.” Pakistan’s ruling party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf, insisted, Modi’s statement “confirms that Pakistan outmanoeuvred Indian Air Force in the recent skirmish”.
Calling the India-Pakistan skirmish “an inauspicious moment for a military the US is banking on to help keep an expanding China in check”, NYT says, the skirmish showed how an Indian Air Force pilot found himself in a dogfight “with a warplane from the Pakistani Air Force, and ended up a prisoner behind enemy lines for a brief time.”
While the Indian pilot returned home “in one piece”, NYT continues, “The aerial clash, the first by the South Asian rivals in nearly five decades, was a rare test for the Indian military.” It left observers “a bit dumbfounded”.
It adds, “While the challenges faced by the India’s armed forces are no secret, its loss of a plane last week to a country whose military is about half the size and receives a quarter of the funding was still telling.”
Claiming that India’s armed forces are in an “alarming shape”, NYT seeks to predict, “If intense warfare broke out tomorrow, India could supply its troops with only 10 days of ammunition, according to government estimates. And 68 percent of the army’s equipment is so old, it is officially considered ‘vintage’.”
Quoting unnamed American officials, who are “tasked” with the aim of dealing with the Indian military, NYT says, they talk too about “their mission with frustration: a swollen bureaucracy makes arms sales and joint training exercises cumbersome; Indian forces are vastly underfunded; and the country’s navy, army and air force tend to compete rather than work together.”
Contending that despite these “problems, the US is determined to make the country a key ally in the coming years to hedge against China’s growing regional ambition”, NYT recalls how last year, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that the Pentagon was renaming its Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific he emphasized India’s importance in a shifting world order.Already, says NYT, the American military has begun “prioritizing its alliance with India as its close relationship with Pakistan soured over the last two decades.”
Further quoting US officials’ “concern” that Pakistan is not doing “enough to fight terrorism”, NYT says, “In just a decade, US arms sales to India have gone from nearly zero to $15 billion”, even though “Pakistan can still draw on a powerful American-supplied arsenal”, something that continues to be disturbing.
Thus, says the daily, the American Embassy in Islamabad was looking into reports now Pakistan was made an “offensive use of an F-16 warplane” against India, that might have been “a violation of the sales agreement.”
Be that as it may, NYT states, “For India’s military, funding remains the biggest challenge.” Thus, “In 2018, India announced a military budget of some $45 billion. By comparison, China’s military budget that year was $175 billion. Last month, Delhi announced another $45 billion budget.”
However, it underlines, “It is not just a question of how much India spends on its military, but how it spends it”, as “the majority of the money goes to salaries for its 1.2 million active duty troops, as well as pensions. Only $14 billion will be used to buy new hardware.”
Another problem with India, suggests the daily, is India’s democracy. It says, “Unlike China, where an authoritarian government is free to set military policy as it wishes, India is a democracy, with all the messiness that can entail.”
NYT comments, “As the world’s conflicts are increasingly fought with state-of-the-art weaponry rather than the large invading armies of the past, India is falling behind. Despite being the fifth-largest military spender, only about a quarter of its military budget this year will purchase new equipment...”
It adds, “Although the purchase of military hardware is a slow-moving process in most countries, in India it moves even more sluggishly amid a swollen bureaucracy. There are also concerns about corruption.”

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