India army chief says nation's defences obsolete

Gen VK Singh, Delhi, Jan 2012 Gen Singh has been involved in a series of spats with the government

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Much of India's defence equipment is "obsolete" and the forces are "woefully short" of weapons, army chief General VK Singh has said.

Gen Singh made the complaints earlier in March in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that has been leaked.

Defence Minister AK Antony told parliament that the "government is committed to doing all that is necessary to secure the nation".

It is the latest in a series of rows between the army and the government.

In his letter, Gen Singh said India's air defence was "97% obsolete", the army lacked the equipment it needed and its entire tank fleet was "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks".

The infantry lacked "night fighting" capabilities and was crippled with "deficiencies of crew-served weapons", the letter added.

The revelations dominated discussion in parliament on Wednesday with opposition MPs questioning the government over the issue.

In a short statement in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament, Defence Minister Antony said the government would take "appropriate action" on the letter.

He said the government was committed to providing all that is necessary for maintaining the security of the country.

Bribery allegation

India's armed forces have been attempting a modernisation drive in recent years that has made the country the world's top arms importer.

Analysts say the upgrade has been hampered by delays and a lack of planning.

Army tanks in Delhi - 26 January 2004 The military has been on a spending spree to update its weapons

The general's letter follows allegations he made on Monday in an interview with The Hindu newspaper that retired Lt Gen Tejinder Singh had offered him $2.7m (£1.7m) to approve the purchase of 600 "sub-standard" vehicles of a "particular make".

Lt Gen Singh has vehemently denied the charges, saying the accusations are "totally false" and he has filed a court case against the army chief.

His comments led to an uproar in parliament, forcing the defence minister to admit that Gen VK Singh had informed him about the bribe offer a year ago.

Mr Antony has ordered a probe by federal police and promised action against "anyone who is found guilty".

On Tuesday, Mr Antony told parliament that he did not act earlier on the general's bribery allegation as he had never received a written complaint.

Mr Antony went on to say that he had asked the army chief to take action but the general had not wanted to pursue the matter for reasons unknown to the defence minister.

Acrimony

Earlier this year, Gen VK Singh was involved in an acrimonious row with the government over his retirement age.

The general went to the Supreme Court to have his date of birth as recorded by the military - 10 May 1950 - changed to a year later so that it matched the date on his birth certificate and other documents.

But he dropped the case after the court indicated it could rule against him because he had already accepted three promotions that were based on the earlier date.

Changing the date would have meant that he could retire in 2013 instead of in several months.

Defence analyst Rahul Bedi told the BBC that the age row was a symptom of wider acrimony between the armed forces and the government that has threatened to undermine the defence modernisation drive.

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