BANGALORE: Indian army engineers are much better than their Chinese counterparts, but fund crunch remains a major concern, say experts.

Senior Army veterans and young researchers discussed the state of infrastructure and capabilities of the Indian army during a recent panel discussion organised by Defence Research and Studies (DRaS). DRaS is a web-based think tank founded by a group of like-minded veterans of the Indian Armed Forces.

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee, PVSM, AVSM, YSM (Retd) contended that in terms of capability, expertise and skills, Indian Army engineers are better positioned than their Chinese counterparts. However, skill superiority is not sufficient to counterbalance the huge resources invested by The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on infrastructure building. Indian Armed forces, on the other hand, have been kept on a starvation budget for a long time, which has resulted in an inadequate fund allocation to supporting arms including the corps of engineers.

With reference to the India-China military stand-off in Ladakh, Gen Gautam Banerjee stated that even though the Chinese troops used to remain well behind the LAC heights, they were well-equipped and funded for quick infrastructure development. The Chinese have pre-planned for the border scenarios and contingencies. Thus, they could bridge the infrastructure gaps without much difficulty.

The infrastructure development along LAC has been an important concern for India since the late 1990s when China spearheaded its infrastructure construction along the Indian border. In response to this, border infrastructure assumed greater priority for policymakers in Delhi and in 1999, the Cabinet Committee on Security had approved the proposal for the construction of India-China border roads. However it took over 20 years for this project to reach the final phase in 2020, and last year’s military stand-off put the border infrastructure back in focus.

“We were not adequately prepared for a prolonged stand-off in the harsh terrain. We needed improved road connectivity, shelters and huts equipped with basic heating arrangements, water and electricity supply, and field defences to protect the troops on the heights,” Gen Banerjee stated while highlighting the commendable role of corps of engineers in infrastructure development during this period.

Spike In Infra Development

Evidently, infrastructure development in terms of living shelter for the forces and connectivity to remote areas for area dominance has seen a spike post-Chinese misadventure, which could have been done well in advance. Divya Malhotra, a young Researcher with DRaS adds: “Every border conflict puts the issues of border infrastructure, military capabilities and defence budget back in the spotlight, but such short-term approach and knee-jerk reactions are not a healthy trend for a country which faces serious security threats on two fronts.”

Need Defence Modernisation

Even though this rise in defence budget has been welcomed by the strategic pundits, Gen Kochhar says modernisation of armed forces remains a complex process, involving all possible changes in the material capacity to meet the strategic objectives. As per his assessment, there is an urgent need for a comprehensive review of the current and future force structure to formulate a mid-term and long-term capacity development plan and transform the three services into a warfighting force.