Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 15:15:40

General’s Riposte

Updated: April 14, 2012 10:13 am

General VK Singh’s tumultuous tenure as Chief of the Army Staff, among other things, will be known for his frequent salvos fired at the Ministry of Defence (MoD). His revelations have caused a considerable embarrassment to already embattled UPA Government on various allegations of corruption and inefficiency.

Relations between General and the MoD were normal when he took over the reins of 1.3-million-strong army in March 2010. He was seen as a crusader against the corruption in the Army. Officials involved in Sukhna Land scam, Adarsh Housing Society scam and other dubious deals were proceeded against. It was getting difficult for the arms dealers and lobbyists to operate through the organisation.

Bonhomie between General and MoD evaporated when he tried to rectify his date of birth issue with MoD. His detractors, sensing that if the General succeeded in getting a favourable dispensation from the MoD would serve till April 2013. They stirred up a malicious campaign against him.

This resulted in many ‘firsts’ as far as Indian Army and office of the Chief is concerned: there was a visible division in the army into various loyalists groups rooting for their favourite contender to succeed General Singh in May 2012. The Defence Minister very stubbornly rejected chief’s petitions forcing him to approach the Supreme Court in January 2012. There has not been a dull moment between the chief and Defence Minister since then.

In a dispute involving an individual and an organisation one does not expect an earth-shattering verdict favouring an individual. Supreme Court could not have shamed the Government by upholding General’s plea. General Singh did not get what he hoped for. However, the court verdict did mollify him to an extent wherein the government expressed full faith and confidence in the general’s ability to lead the Army creating space for the general to withdraw honourably from the point of no return and complete his remainder tenure.

Post-verdict period has witnessed an incessant vilification campaign against General Singh, as his detractors took him as spent force. Speculations regarding his impending resignation were rife in the media.

In the first week of March a sensational news about the bugging of defence minister’s office broke out in media; followed by a more detailed story about how Army, at the behest of army chief, had deployed bugging equipment in the Defence Minister’s office and ‘off-the-air-listening-in’ devices near South Block and Delhi Cantonment to listen into telephones of ministers, bureaucrats and army officers of rival camp.

The story was planted in the MoD through an anonymous letter, on which no cognizance should have been taken; nevertheless the MoD ordered an inquiry, cementing the prevailing belief in nebulous minds that a prima facie did exist against the Army Chief.

Truant Army Headquarters retaliated with a detailed rebuttal, refuting the allegation and naming Tejinder Singh a retired lieutenant general who headed Defence Intelligence Agency till 2010, as person behind this smear campaign. The plot which had been simmering since 2010 was now revealing its contours, involving generals, arms dealers and hopeful aspirants.

In an interview to The Hindu, General dropped a bombshell by claiming that in September 2010, he was offered a bribe of rupees 14 crore by a retired army officer, who was acting as surrogate lobbyist for a defence equipment supplier, for clearing the delivery of about 700 over-priced and sub-standard high mobility Tatra vehicles for the Army. He also asserted that the matter was reported to the Defence Minister. It created a political storm and Defence Minister admitted in his statement in the parliament that such incident did happen and he was privy to it.

Why was the bribe issue handled so casually by the Chief and Defence Minister? Why no cognizance was taken against the person (read lieutenant general Tejinder Singh) soliciting Army Chief in his office in the South Block, M/s Tatra and Vectra—the defence equipment firm and Bharat Earth Movers Limited a PSU acting as conduit to supply Tatra trucks to the armed forces? Why was Tatra and Vectra not blacklisted like other firms who had resorted to unlawful means in their dealing in the past? Why did the Defence Minister leave such a sensitive issue to the discretion of the Chief when he was reluctant to proceed against the erring company or person?

Why is General raking up an incident now, which took place in September 2010 and according to Defence Minister he was not willing to escalate the situation then? Is General Singh on ‘selective leak mode’ and should we expect some more revelations from him at his convenience?

Nevertheless, General with his revelation has entered the ranks of whistle blowers in the country and he should be heard and not riled upon.


The salient facts in the latest development in the controversy related to the Army Chief General VK Singh are painfully clear. The General has revealed that he was indirectly offered a bribe in order to approve the further sale of sub-standard trucks used by the army for the past two decades. He said that this offer was made by a retired senior officer. He said he was flabbergasted and did not know how to react. He immediately went to Defence Minister Mr AK Antony and reported the incident to him. According to him the Minister was equally shocked and dismayed and said such individuals should not be allowed to enter the army.

Weeks earlier the Army Headquarters had named a former senior General for leaking anti-Army reports to the media and also of having offered a bribe on behalf of Tatra vehicles which have been in use in the Army for the last 26 years. The named officer has denied the allegation and has announced that he will institute legal proceedings. The alleged bribe offer to General Singh was made in 2010. Two months before he is due to retire the Army Chief has made his sensational disclosure. Why did the General not act at the time of the incident? According to one version he complied with Section 317 of the Defence Services Regulations of 1986 by bringing the matter to the notice of his superior. Did he in fact inform Mr Antony of the incident when it occurred? It is fair to infer that he did. Mr Antony instead of refuting the General’s claim has only now ordered a CBI inquiry into the incident. Mr Antony says that the General declined to take action himself. He justifies government’s non-action on the ground that the General did not offer a written complaint. But he is silent on the crucial aspect. Disregard for a moment the bribe offer. After becoming aware of the corruption angle did the Minister proceed with the contract or cancel it? If he did not cancel it, why not? Whom was the Minister protecting?

Questions are naturally being raised about the two years’ delay in ordering the probe and about the reasons for the Ministry’s inaction during all this period. This incident has sharply worsened relations between the Army and the Defence Ministry. A number of retired Army Chiefs and senior officers have expressed conflicting views about the role of General VK Singh. Not surprisingly people are viewing these conflicting views in the overall context of alleged corruption in the Army. They are wondering whether views are influenced by the roles played by the retired Generals who comment.

General VK Singh has also claimed that the controversy related to his date of birth was created by the vested interests that are abetting corruption. He has said that the truth about all this will come out soon. How all this is alienating sections in the Army from the Defence Ministry and dividing sections within the Army itself had best be left to conjecture. How it affects the morale of the Army’s ranks may be left to further conjecture.

I had earlier suggested when the controversy related to the Army Chief’s date of birth first erupted that the President as the Supreme Commander should intervene and settle the issue behind closed doors. Allowing the dispute to be aired in public could affect Army morale and national security. I went so far as to recall the dark days of 1962. On 30 January I wrote in these columns: “Sixty years ago a Defence Minister from Kerala had demoralized the army and created a national security crisis which remains a blot on the nation’s reputation to this day. One can only hope that the present Defence Minister from Kerala does not irreparably damage the army’s morale and the nation’s security.”

When no initiative by the President or the government occurred, I again wrote on February 11: “In whatever way this controversy ends, the government’s stupidity to jeopardize national security needs to be viewed in the current overall context.” One reader wrote to express shock that he could lump national security and the situation on our borders with the date of birth controversy. I would ask him and others to reflect. If, God forbid, at this very moment the Army were needed to maintain the fragile peace on our borders, what would be its morale and how would it perform?

According to our Constitution the President is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and can best act to defuse a crisis between the Army and the Union Cabinet. Is the title of Supreme Commander meaningless? Is our Constitution itself meaningless? Nothing untoward may happen because of this growing crisis. But if something dreadful were to happen there is nothing we could do about it.

By Rajinder Puri

In the last week of February 2012, General Singh wrote a letter to Defence Minister citing critical deficiencies in Army’s inventory and slow pace of modernisation affecting the operational preparedness of the Army against our traditional adversaries Pakistan and China. The text and tenor of the communiqué was bordering on brinkmanship as it informed that in the event of war Army’s reserve stock of ammunition for certain weapon systems would be exhausted in just two days. A detailed presentation was given by Director General of Military Operations to top officials in the MoD in this regard. This letter was quoted in all leading newspapers. Political class did not take any notice of the matter then, perhaps due to their involvement in assembly elections and its aftermath.

Having failed to elicit a positive response from the MoD, General endorsed the letter to the PMO in second week of March. This created a furore in the parliament and many parties (from UPA and non-UPA) demanded sacking of General Singh.

General Singh is aware that his tenure will be critically examined by his critiques and detractors once he demits office on May 31, 2012. In certain quarters he is being blamed for the slow pace of army’s modernisation due to his stubbornness and avowal for probity. Perhaps General intended to put the record straight by informing nation about the poor state of preparedness of the the Army.


The following key programme areas have been identified for the futuristic modernisation requirements of the Army:-

Battlefield Transparency

Indian Army needs to exploit the advances in Information Technology for providing all weather surveillance, collation and instant dissemination of this information to facilitate increased battlefield transparency. The following systems will be required:-

(a)    Battlefield Surveillance Radars and Weapon Locating Radars: Battlefield Surveillance Radars and Weapons Locating Radars with capabilities to detect vehicles and personnel movement at varying ranges will be required for the Army.

(b)    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): UAVs with advanced sensors and weapons are going to dominate all facets of the future battlefield hence, the need to acquire the necessary UAV’s expertise indigenously. These should be capable of carrying payloads such as weapons, SAR payloads, electro-optical devices, electronic intelligence and communication intelligence.

(c)       Advanced Electronic Warfare Systems. Electronic warfare systems have played a crucial role in recent conflicts. Various electronic intelligence, communication intelligence, Radio Emitter Location and Jamming Systems integrated with Command and Control centres will provide enhanced battle field transparency to the commanders.

Combat Systems

The combat systems such as battle tanks, infantry combat vehicles etc, are mobile protected platforms designed to defeat similar systems of the enemy. In future, these combat systems will require all-round protection against various forms of threats namely, enemy tanks, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), armed attack helicopters (AAH) and anti-armour mines etc. The technologies that the Indian Army will require are given as under:-

(a)      Develop improved and next generation small arm weapon system.

(b)      Develop a suitable light armoured multipurpose vehicle which combines the essential requisites of mobility, agility, protection, communication, navigation, stealth and observation for reconnaissance.

(c)       State of art night fighting systems.

Communication Systems

The following systems will be required:-

(a)      Integrated platforms to support voice, data, image, multimedia applications and networking.

(b)      Real Time Secure Mobile Communication: Real time secure mobile communication links are becoming the backbone of modern warfare. Though some progress has been made in the civilian sector, there is a need to catch up with military applications.

(c)   Indigenisation of critical components in satellite communication.

Rocket and Missile Systems

(a)      Rocket Systems: There is a need to develop rocket systems of the range of 120-150 km indigenously with reduced dispersion. The ranges could also be enhanced to 120-150 km by developing Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) systems in the 250-300 mm calibre class. Solid propellants with high specific impulse should be developed for achieving longer ranges with radar based Trajectory Correction Systems (TCS) and inertial navigation systems.

(b) Missile Systems: The aim is to develop missiles with longer ranges and higher accuracies for surgical strikes on high value strategic targets with minimum collateral damage. Anti missile active and passive seeker defence technologies be developed for supersonic cruise missiles, for short range missiles, long range sub-sonic cruise missiles.

Directed Energy Weapons (DEW)

The needs of the Army in this field are as follows:-

(a)      Anti UAV Weapon: DEW for engaging enemy UAV in the 8-10 km range capable of being designated and controlled by appropriate detection and tracking systems.

(b)      Precision Weapons and Dazzlers: These should be developed for use by Special Forces/ Anti Terrorist forces to make operations swift and surgical with minimum collateral damage.

(c)       AD Weapons & Air Deliverable PGMs: Air Defence weapons from ground based mobile platforms capable of engaging all kinds of projectiles like rockets, mortar/ artill ery, UAVs, missiles, fighter aircraft, helicopters, PGMs and other stand off armament .

Advanced Material Technology

Carbon composites, advanced ceramics and metal matrix composites are going to be the main structural materials for the future systems. These will enable weapon platforms to be made lighter and tougher. These technologies would find their application in all weapon platforms and support systems, especially in tanks/ICVs, protection suits for armour/personnel, missiles/munitions/war heads, artillery gun barrel/loading/unloading/firing mechanism, communication equipment/systems and so on.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is an inescapable need for numerous military applications. Some possibilities are in the following areas:-

(a)      Imagery Interpretation: Image interpretation for target identification and classification. Artificial Intelligence techniques could automate the extraction of low-level map features from imagery.

(b)    Expert Systems: Expert systems for diagnosis and maintenance of sophisticated weapon systems such as radars and missiles.

(c)       Intelligent Evaluation of Kill Zone: Missile target range and trajectory analysis for evaluation of kill zones and launch time and simulation to assist in qualifying missile performance in various environments.


Robotic applications for the Indian Army are as under:-

(a)      Robots can be used to assist troops in combat for tasks such as surveillance, reconnaissance, anti mine and anti IED role, urban area combat, casualty extraction etc.

(b)      Robotic equipment can be used to provide precision targeting support, carriage of ammunition and accuracy. Camera equipped and shock-resistant platforms to fire the guns remotely are possible applications.

(c)       Robotic vehicles equipped with cameras and weapons can be used to perform tasks such as limited/spot surveillance and reconnaissance etc.

(d)    Robotic Military Vehicles: These vehicles are required for a variety of high risk jobs such as mine / IED clearance, obstacle breaching and route opening. Man portable, light weight robotic systems would be required for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition missions for sub-terrain/ urban operations. Robotic vehicles are also needed for mine detection/clearing, obstacles breaching, clearing wire obstacles, placing explosives, tactical deception, direct fire and communication relay.

Nano Technology

The applications for Army in the fields of nano technology are as follows:-

(a)      Counter Terrorism Tasks: Possible applications are unobtrusive micro audio bugs and video recording devices with high capacity data storage to plant at likely meeting places of terrorists, over ground agents and sympathisers, unattended micro ground or air sensors which can be placed in advance and remotely activated on required basis and micro sized energy devices which can power unattended sensors / audio / video devices and a host of other applications in remote areas or places which require extremely light weight power sources like light weight man portable radars, missiles, UAVs and other systems.

(b)      Dynamic Camouflage: Fabric of uniform would act as a screen for displaying terrain specific picture. Fabric would also have switch able surfaces (E.g. cotton and polyester) for comfort and bio chemical gas detectors for chemical agent warning.

(c)       Other nano applications could include extremely rugged and safe arming and triggering mechanism for appropriate weapon systems, solid lubricants for weapon systems at high altitude areas.


Some of the biotechnology applications for the Indian Army are as follows:-

(a)      The bio-technological R&D should be extended to bio friendly/green developments i.e. the development of biodegradable ammunition which causes minimum damage to the environment.

(b)      Lighter food and fuel for carriage by individual combatants.

(c)       Bio production mechanisms to enable soldiers to generate food, fuel and materials from raw materials in the field, allowi ng for extended operation in remote areas.

Non Lethal Weapons

Sub-lethal or disabling military technology is particularly suitable in an urban or complex environment. Some of the important areas of research in this field having applications for the Army are as under:-

(a)    Stun Grenades: Low impact grenades which can stun or immobilize adversaries.

(b)      Optical Weapons: Optical munitions to cripple sensors and dazzle, if not blind, soldiers.

(c)       Acoustic Weapons: Weapons that emit sonic frequencies to cause such sensations as disorientation, debilitating dizziness and motion sickness or nausea, also generate vibrations of body organs resulting in extreme pain or seizures.

Combat Modelling and Simulation

Simulation advances will transform military planning and training. Today, virtual reality simulations can enable soldiers to train in high fidelity mock-ups, at substantial reduction in risk and spending. There is a need to exploit a range of tools and products that will enhance the Army’s capabilities in the domains of training, development, acquisition and decision support.

Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) Warfare Defence

Indian Army will require protection from Chemical, Biological & Radiological hazards as per the following:-

(a)      Individual Protective Equipment (IPE): There is a requirement of developing common IPE equipment which can provide individual protection in all kinds of contaminated environment.

(b)      Collective Protection: Both fixed and mobile shelters should be portable, easy to assemble & pack, to give NBC protection in all types of terrain.

(c)       NBC Detection, Alarm & Monitoring: The equipment should be portable, sensitive and electromagnetic pulse hardened to accurately indicate the radiation dosages and chemical and biological contamination level in real time.

(d)    Decontamination Equipment: In future the technology should be developed to provide mobile decontamination station which can decontaminate A & B vehicles, equipment and persons in a “tramline” mode at a faster rates.

(e)       Calculation of Nuclear Blast Parameters: The equipment should be able to automatically calculate the various parameters of nuclear blast like cloud and cloud bottom angles, illumination time, flash to bang time for carrying out estimation of yield and to work out down wind hazard distance. It should lend itself to integration with meterological sensors.

(Confederation of Indian Industry)


Army’s deficiencies have accumulated over the years and are well known even to our adversaries. During Kargil War, artillery ran short of ammunition of Bofors 155mm gun as Bofors was blacklisted by MoD due to its involvement in a Defence scam. We procured ammunition for the gun through a middleman from Bofors at an exorbitant price—$ 1000 a piece and by some estimates some 40,000 rounds of Bofors ammunition were fired during the Kargil conflict.

Terror attack on Parliament in December 2001, led to mobilisation of the Army codenamed Operation Parakram. Formations and units remained in their operational areas for over a year; poised to go to war with Pakistan and eventually withdrew to their peace locations. Why did India not go to war with Pakistan despite such a grave provocation? There were debilitating deficiencies in the Army’s inventory the ground reality sobered the jingoistic NDA leadership which exhorted for ‘fight to finish’. Some of these deficiencies persist even now.

China has emerged as a major rival and threat to India. Many incursions by Chinese troops in Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been reported upon. Army in its present organisation lacks offensive capability against the Chinese. In 2009, it was decided to raise a mountain strike corps having two mountain divisions to counter Chinese threat. Nothing has moved in this direction so far.

So, our ill-informed politicians want to sack the General just because he has informed the PMO about the dismal state of preparedness of the Army. A classic example of ‘shoot the messenger’.

The stand-off between General and MoD has strained civil-military relations. It’s not that General Singh during his tenure did not try to pursue modernisation goals of the Army. Army’s proposals did not find favour with the bureaucrats in the MoD, due to prevailing stand-off and prejudice.


The disclosure made by Gen VK Singh, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), in an interview to “The Hindu” ( March 26, 2012) that he had refused an offer of a bribe of Rs 14 crores in connection with a commercial transaction relating to the purchase of vehicles for the Army some months ago and that he had reported it to Shri AK Antony, the Defence Minister, if correct, raises serious questions regarding the way corruption allegations are handled in the Government of India. Subsequent reports have alleged that the bribe was offered by a senior retired officer of the Army.

As per the normal procedures, the COAS should have immediately taken the following action:

(a)  Report the matter to the Minister.

(b)  Address a formal Demi-official letter to the Minister in confirmation of what he had reported orally and requesting for an enquiry.

(c)  Call from his office the file relating to this transaction and record a note that he (the COAS) was offered a bribe by a retired Army officer which he refused and that he had reported it to the Defence Minister orally and in writing and asked for an enquiry.

(d)  Address a note to his office that the retired Army officer who offered the bribe should not be issued a security pass in future to visit Army offices and that action should be initiated for suspending his pension payments till the final outcome of the enquiry.

Apart from orally reporting to the Defence Minister, the COAS does not appear to have taken any other action as expected under the normal office procedures when there is an attempted bribery. His disclosing the incident now in a media interview would naturally give rise to a strong suspicion that his belated disclosure two months before the end of the controversial final months of his career because of his differences with the MoD regarding his date of birth must have been motivated with a personal agenda.

When the COAS orally reported the matter to him, the Defence Minister should have immediately taken the following action:

(a)  Record a formal note in the relevant file of his office regarding the disclosure of the COAS and stating that he was ordering the Defence Secretary to refer the matter to the Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for a Preliminary Enquiry (PE) to be followed by a formal investigation if found correct.

(b)  Address a formal DO letter to the Defence Secretary with copies to the Cabinet Secretary and the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister to refer the matter to the CBI for a PE.

The Defence Minister does not appear to have taken any of these actions. This related to a case of attempted bribery in an office of the Government of India. It did not require the concurrence of any State Government or any other authority for ordering a PE by the CBI. The Minister was competent to do so and should have done so.

There have been serious acts of omission by the COAS as well as by the Defence Minister and these amount to a serious case of dereliction of duty. Before the controversy gets dirtier due to allegations and counter-allegations and suspicions and counter-suspicions, the Prime Minister should ask the Cabinet Secretary to take over the responsibility for further enquiries to establish the truth.

By B Raman

General Singh’s tenure as COAS has highlighted the sad state of civil-military relations. Civil-military relations to Indian politicians and bureaucrats are like Indian marriages, whose success depends upon the meekness and subservience of the weaker mate. This attitude has prevailed for so long in the corridors of power that any assertion by Services Chiefs and Army Commanders is seen as disobedience. The Services should be treated with respect they deserve and as equal stakeholders.

The entire episode has confirmed the presence of few very unsavoury things in the Army: first, there is corruption in the high places; second, vested interests try to influence the selection of COAS and other incumbents; three, selection of chief is a bitterly contested process within and outside the Army; four, our modernisation necessity is enslaved to sluggish and corruption-ridden procurement process; and lastly, the MoD still believes that onus of maintaining cordial civil-military relations rests with the weaker partner the Army.

 By Colonel (Retd.) U S Rathore

(The author is a threat and risk analyst and defence and security expert)









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