A month after Indian Army chief General VK Singh flagged gaps in defence preparedness in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India has empowered its army to buy specialist equipment for its special forces on its own, even as it agreed to consider the army request to have attack helicopters in its aviation fleet as has been demanded by it for several years now.
These decisions were taken at a special review meeting - the third since February 28 - of army's acquisition process and the second since March 12 when the army chief wrote his letter to the prime minister, defence ministry officials said in Delhi.
The defence ministry asked the army to buy the specialist equipment by itself on the lines of what it does for troops posted at the world's highest battlefield in Siachen glacier.
At a nearly two-hour meeting at South Block, Defence Minister AK Antony told the army top brass led by its chief Gen. Singh at the meeting to review its procurements and development plans that it can buy these equipment, the shortage of which was highlighted by the army chief in the letter to the prime minister.
In an interesting move, Antony asked the defence ministry officials to immediately send a proposal to the planning commission on the army's demand for laying of 14 strategically important railway lines to enable troop mobilisation. The rail lines are meant for moving troops for deployment close to the borders with China at the earliest in the northeastern states such as Arunachal Pradesh.
He also set up an empowered committee under Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, who was present at the meeting, to look at speeding up roads and infrastructure projects - detailed project reports - in northern states such as Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh bordering China and Pakistan.
"For development of infrastructure in border areas and faster movement of troops, the Defence Ministry has decided to request the Planning Commission for setting up 14 strategic railway lines for border and other areas," the officials added.
"For sprucing up combat aviation assets of army, a decision was taken to set up a committee to study other modern armies of the world and their combat aviation assets. The committee will have members of army and air force for the purpose," they said.
"The army has been given authority to buy equipment for special forces and an empowered committee has been set up under army vice chief, Lt. Gen. Shri Krishna Singh," they added.
On army's demand for helicopter gunships, the review meeting decided that the joint committee will submit a report after studying current practices being followed by modern armies.
At present, the Indian Air Force operates two squadrons of attack helicopters and these squadrons are under the operational control of the army's Strike Corps.
But the army wants its own squadrons of attack helicopters. That, the army feels will help its aviation wing to place the squadrons of gunships with each of its corps to provide close air support to the troops and armoured vehicles during combat.
Antony was told at the meeting that decks have been cleared for one more squadron of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles for the army. The army has already raised two BrahMos squadrons.
The meeting also took note that the army's plans to get additional Pinaka multi-barrel rockets (MBRL) has been fast-tracked with price negotiations with the vendors completed recently. The field trials of the ultra light howitzers (ULH) - M777 from the BAE stable though the government-to-government route from the US - has also been completed, the meeting was told.
"The defence minister was informed that the contract negotiations have been completed with vendors for setting up two regiments of BrahMos cruise missiles and Pinaka MBRL. He was also told that the trial of ULH has been completed," they said.
The defence ministry also recorded the fact that an army proposal for additional manpower for its Military Engineering Services, which handles civil constructions and projects for the services, has been sent to the finance ministry for approval.
Another demand for eight mule companies to assist in border road projects too has been sanctioned, officials added. Each of these mule units employ 100 of these porter animals.