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Forces headed for turf war

New Delhi, April 10: Defence minister A.K. Antony today said the air defence system of the country was being strengthened with new weapons and sensors.

The army chief in a letter to the Prime Minister on March 12 had pointed out that the army’s air defence capabilities had eroded by about “97 per cent”.

Antony was speaking at the air force commanders’ conference where he said the new equipment was being inducted into the IAF. He said in the last five years, the IAF had signed 317 contracts and its purchases had topped Rs 107,000 crore. “This is a record,” Antony said.

The army has also asked for an upgradation of its air defences. The army’s wishlist under Gen. V.K. Singh may lead to a turf war with the air force. Under the Union War Book — a record of experience and assessment in times of hostilities — air defence is the primary responsibility of the IAF. The war book is revised periodically.

But the army now wants to equip itself with air defence systems that the IAF can interpret as overreach in its domain. The army wants “mobile, multi-layered and multi-tiered” air defence systems to sanitise the “air envelope” from stand-off threats (weapons fired from beyond visual range).

This means the army wants to replace its current air defence systems — that comprise Kvadrats (Russian-origin), L-70s (Bofors-made), Schilka and Pechora (Russian-origin) — with quick-reaction surface-to-air missiles (QR-SAMs, up to 30km range), MR-SAMs (medium range up to 60km) and LR-SAMS (long range, beyond 60km) missiles.

Medium range and long range air defence is the primary responsibility of the IAF though the roles overlap in times of hostilities and depending on the nature of the combat zone.

Combat zones may be within the country or inside the territory of an adversary.

There is already a turf war brewing between the army and the air force over the acquisition of aircrafts. In addition to the helicopters in the Army Aviation Corps, the army has also asked for fixed-wing planes.

Antony said on the sidelines of the conference today that reports of a drastic fall in munition stores “are all rumours”. One report had said the tanks of the army have ammunition that would not last for more than four days in the event of a war.

“You see I can assure that the country is fully prepared. India is in a much, much stronger position compared to the past. There may always be some shortcomings that we are in the process of overcoming. You cannot expect 100 per cent fulfilment of requirements…. On the whole, Indian armed forces are… in a better position to meet any challenge to our integrity,” Antony said.

Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne has said the fleet of Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft that were grounded after one of the planes crashed on March 5 would be fully operational by the end of this month.