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How General Bikram Singh is looking to change the face of the Indian Army
By Simon Wigfield, Defence IQ
As we come to the tail end of the year it’s interesting to see the transformations and challenges that have been occurring within the Indian Armed Forces, specifically the Army, over the last 12 months. It would be accurate to say it’s been quite an unsettled and rocky period and the catalyst for the majority of changes, was in fact, the change in leadership.
On 31st May 2012, General Bikram Singh assumed charge as the Chief of Staff Indian Army, becoming the 25th Chief of the World’s second largest army. Being seen as a ‘soldier’s soldier’ General Bikram brings with him a sense of relief after the Supreme Court refused to accept General VK Singh’s (Former COAS) proposed ‘new date of birth’. This new revelation would have enabled him to retain the position for another year. The top court refused to accept this new found information and announced General Bikram as his successor.
Since taking the role, General Bikram has tried his hardest to keep his senior Generals out of the public eye. This attempt to reduce the Indian Army’s media engagement is a direct reaction to the procurement and personal corruption scandals that have been rife in the Indian Army right up to the top. India can’t afford to have the year it has had with some of its largest defence importers ending up on the blacklist, including Rheinmetall Air Defence and IMI. The Indian Army appears to be going through a phase of licking its wounds and recuperating, whether its senior leaders will ever be allowed back out into the media limelight again remains to be seen.
These changes are all well and good but what do they really mean and what impact will they have? It has been widely documented that India is going through a vast modernisation with defence acquisition budgets being increase year upon year. Yet, with all this money being thrown at new equipment, why have there been very little acquisitions of significant importance? The answers usually reside in things like red tape, corruption scandals or irregular procurement practices. Whilst these might be the answers, I believe the question itself is on the edge of being inaccurate.
The Indian Army’s largest active acquisition takes the form of 2600 Infantry Combat Vehicles being acquired through the Make India procurement policy. With a programme value of $10 billion everyone is vying for a slice of the pie, and with this in mind it’s lucky there will be two winners! It’s interesting to see the bid teams that have been generated to win the biggest part of the deal. Mahindra has chosen BAE and Rafael, whilst L&T have gone with CMI Defence and Ashok Leyland. TATA has chosen quite possibly the most interesting partner in Rheinmetall.
Currently all bidders are expecting the final down select to occur and have been for the past 6 months. Many are unsure as to the reason why but many are speculating. Various views are being thrown around including redtape, incompetence, lobbying and perhaps even an objection from one of the bidders. This objection is likely to be based on the fact that Rheinmetall Air Defence is blacklisted yet Rheinmetall is still allowed to be part of the bidding process.
For now though, it’s clear that General Bikram Singh’s introduction has brought about vast change. Yet, it can’t be agreed that the Indian Army has fully reaped the rewards. What is certain is that General Bikram has taken a very large step in the right direction.