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India's military woes exposed
India's military is fending off suggestions that it's not actualy ready to fight, as James Oaten reports.

Can India be a military counterweight to China?

Last week it became just the sixth country to successfully test an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The launch followed a string of high profile upgrades to its ageing defence force. But now India's military is fending off suggestions that it is not actually ready to fight after a leaked letter from the army chief exposed some embarrassing problems.

James Oaten reports.
COUNTDOWN (19th April 2012): 6..5..4..

JAMES OATEN, REPORTER: The world watched closely as the Indian military reached new heights.

COUNTDOWN (19th April 2012): 1..2..3..4

JAMES OATEN: The successful launch an intercontinental ballistic missile puts the Asian power in an elite club with the big five: the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China.

VIJAY KUMAR SARASWAT, INDIA DEFENCE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION: Our country has the same technologies as most of the developed nations have achieved.

JAMES OATEN: The Agni 5, or God of Fire, gives India the ability to strike targets throughout Asia and in particular, China.

GENERAL (RET.) ASHOK KUMAR MEHTA, INDIAN ARMY: If there was a message intended then it was meant for China. Particularly because so far our strategic reach vis-a-vis China fell short of targeting all of its cities. With Agni 5 we reached the northernmost cities of China.

JAMES OATEN: India says its long range missile program is not with a specific target in mind, but rather, to respond to modern day threats.

COMMODORE (RET.) UDAY BHASKAR, INDIAN NAVY: If you look at the geopolitics of India, you look at the geography of the Indian subcontinent and look at the political context, it is perhaps the most adversarial and hostile kind of neighbourhood that you could possibly think of.

JAMES OATEN: The launch received a lot of attention in China, though Beijing is playing down any threat.

LIU WEIMIN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (Translation): China and India are large developing nations. We are not competitors but partners.

JAMES OATEN: Relations between the two emerging superpowers are historically uneasy since a territorial dispute in the Himalayas escalated into full scale war 50 years ago.

Both nations have nuclear missiles and command armies of more than a million troops, but that's where the two countries diverge.

COMMODORE (RET.) UDAY BHASKAR: Whether to actually classify it as competition is something that I think needs a little bit of nuancing. Because China has moved so far ahead of India in almost every aspect of tangible comprehensive national power, that India, to my mind, would remain a distant second.

JAMES OATEN: India is the world's biggest importer of weapons. Last year it bought 126 fighter jets from a French company, one of the biggest ever military deals. It's also looking to buy Russian built nuclear powered submarines, and a submarine launched ballistic missile is being developed.

But retired Commodore Uday Bhaskar says these deals are modest.

COMMODORE (RET.) UDAY BHASKAR: If you look at the figures, India spends a very modest $36 billion or thereabouts in terms of its annual defence outlay. Now if you compare this with a country like the United States, which is clearly in a league of its own spending anything upward of $0.5 trillion; and then you have China which is spending upwards of $100 billion.

JAMES OATEN: The Indian Government is under pressure to spend more on its military. In March a letter from army chief, General VK Singh, to the prime minister was leaked to the media.

It gave a bleak assessment of India's military, saying Special Forces are woefully short of essential weapons, that the tank fleet is devoid of critical ammunition and that air defence are 97 per cent obsolete.

A parliamentary defence committee has since launched an investigation, recently meeting with senior air, navy and army officials, but the government is playing down the issue.

A.K. ANTONY, INDIAN DEFENCE MINISTER: I can assure you the country is fully prepared. India is much better strong position compared to the past.

JAMES OATEN: It's just one of several rows between the government and chief of army.

In January, General Singh challenged the government in the supreme court about its mandatory retirement age which would force him out of office this year.

The general has also alleged he's been offered a multi-million dollar bribe to fast track defence contracts.

GENERAL (RET.) ASHOK KUMAR MEHTA: It didn't leave a good impression in the country where the Indian army is regarded as the last bastion of democracy and put on a pedestal. Nor did it impress the region as a whole.

JAMES OATEN: But retired Pakistani general, Talat Masood, has played down the international embarrassment.

GENERAL (RET.) TALAT MASOOD, PAKISTAN ARMY: I do not think that anyone is really concerned or has taken very serious note of what the army chief had to say. But obviously they know that India is building up its armed forces in such a way that it would be a major military power in the region, in the Indian Ocean, and will be a major ally of the US and western world, including probably Australia.

JAMES OATEN: For its part, Pakistan has proposed to go against regional trends, with a chief of army urging the government to spend less on defence and more on development.

But the recent testing of a medium range missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, will do little to ease international tension.
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