New Delhi: India has been "too late" in acquiring modern artillery and needs to accelerate its efforts to modernise its firepower in an era in which advanced nations have gone far ahead, the army chief, Gen. V.K. Singh, said Monday.
Singh, who assumed office March 31, said though Indian artillery was in the process of major modernisation, the induction of more powerful guns like 155mm/52 calliber guns of the ultra-light, wheeled and self-propelled varieties was not proceeding at the desired pace.
"Are we not late vis-à-vis other modern artilleries," he asked while addressing the Third International Seminar on Artillery Technology organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
He stressed that it was "imperative" that India modernised its artillery systematically to compete with the best in the world. "While other advanced nations have leapt far ahead in the field, we are still lagging behind."
The army chief cautioned that any delay in this regard would render the gap between the frontrunners and laggers "impossible to be narrowed" down. "We certainly need to catch up, and catch up fast. We have to take much longer strides and accelerate our efforts," he added.
Citing the example of some artillery equipment, like the Smerch Russian-made multiple rocket launcher, that is still in the process of induction, the army chief said: "The so-called modern weapons are, in fact, already in the process of replacement in the developed countries. Smerch has been in service in Russia since 1990 and we are still inducting it in our army."
"Such a state is disturbing and most unwarranted, and merits urgent rectification," he added.
Singh said India also needed to upgrade its existing equipment to make it "akin to the state-of-the-art, and provide it with extra life".
He also sought more interaction between the armed forces and the DRDO, India`s premier defence research organisation, for the development of better artillery and missile technology to make the country`s defence self-reliant.
"Such concerted and coordinated efforts would surely lead to a technologically modernised Indian Army in a foreseeable future. However, such an approach can only be successful if there is a high degree of understanding amongst the partners," he said, cautioning that "an element of ego in any of the partners" will a "great setback" to the partnership.
The army has been waiting for 23 years for new field guns and at long last, in January, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the country`s Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to India of 145 M777 155mm ultra-light howitzers with Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems (LINAPS) and associated parts, equipment, training and logistical support for a complete package worth approximately $647 million.
The Indian Army, however, is yet to take a decision on another 250 towed and self-propelled 155mm guns.
The army had purchased 410 Bofors 155mm howitzers in 1986 but the deal was mired in corruption charges and the name of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was dragged in. The Supreme Court eventually found no wrongdoing but the taint stuck to Bofors, as a result of which it was not considered for a new order.
The gun had performed admirably during the 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan but only some 200 are operational now due to normal wear-and-tear and cannibalisation.