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War toys spruce up for roadshow

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Mounted on its road mobile launcher, the Agni I missile with its silver body and black warhead is pointed north. If it were to be fired from this spot — here, from the lawns in the shadow of India Gate — and go its full distance of 700 km, it would land in Indian territory, maybe somewhere in Himachal Pradesh.

Behind the missile, the barrels of three T-90 tanks point eastwards as men from an armoured unit of the army, supervised by a major, polish the coffee-coloured turrets and hulls.

The T-90 tanks are in a row in front of the Tungushka missile launchers. The launchers, mounted on armoured and tracked vehicles, wear a fresh coat of paint. In the distance, two heavy multi-wheeled trailers bring up three BrahMos missiles and their launch canisters.

Every year, Republic Day is occasion for the Indian military machine to display its might and new acquisitions. At a preview of the weapons of war that will feature during the parade from Rashtrapati Bhavan to Red Fort this Sunday, the BrahMos anti-ship missile, the T-90 tanks, the Agni missile and the Tungushka are being readied.

How good in battle is all that will look good on the Rajpath'

“We were ready for war,” replies the major of the tank regiment, somewhat warily.

Through a year during which India threatened to go to war, there were at least two occasions in which the “toys” came to be used. The biggest sign that the security establishment is not likely to send the boys back to the front in a hurry is the preparation for Republic Day.

After a year-long stand at battle-stations, select troops drawn from regiments of the army and units of the air force and the navy have assembled in New Delhi for the military’s biggest public ceremony. This year, the enthusiasm is running particularly high because the mobilisation last year robbed the Republic Day parade of much of its sheen.

The first of the T-90 tanks reached India in the middle of last year from Uralgad Zavod, Russia, when the forces were fully mobilised. Almost immediately afterwards, they were sent to the front.

The army is in the process of adding 310 of these tanks to its armour strength for an estimated $700 million. For the moment, they have just two regiments (approximately 45 tanks). A total of 140 is to be imported and the balance will be co-produced with the Russians at the Heavy Vehicles Factory of the Ordnance Factories Board in Avadi, Tamil Nadu.

The tank is equipped with laser-guided surface-to-surface Reflecks missiles, night-vision devices and an upgraded navigation system.

The 2S6 Tunguska M-1 mobile gun and missile systems, too, were inducted into the Air Defence Artillery units of the army last year. Sources say about 45 of these machines have either already been in use or are in the process of being inducted.

The short-range variant of the Agni I missile that will trundle down the Rajpath was test-fired last fortnight. So was the BrahMos anti-ship missile. An official of the Defence Research and Development Organisation claims the missiles would be up for user trials and production this year.

“We had deployed the Prithvi with the army missile group during Operation Parakram,” the official said proudly, advertising indigenous scientific prowess. “There are more missile tests coming up soon.”

For the defence establishment, the picture of the jawans polishing the barrels of the T-90s and the body of the Agni I signals the setting-in of a comforting routine — missile test-fires, more acquisitions, more CAG reports, more arms imports. For the officers and men of the armed forces, this Republic Day’s display of might arouses deja vu: they are not at war, but peace is not on the horizon.

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