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Singh To Singh: Old Weapons Make India Weak

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Obsolete air defence and a severe shortage of ammunition weaken India's defence capabilities, the head of the army told the prime minister in a letter leaked on Wednesday, plunging the army's relations with the government to new lows.

In the letter dated March 12, excerpts of which were printed by the DNA newspaper, Army Chief Vijay Kumar Singh said the tank fleet of the world's second-largest standing army was devoid of ammunition, eltite special forces were "woefully short" of essential weapons and air defence was 97 per cent obsolete.

"The state of the major (fighting) arms i.e., Mechanised Forces, Artillery, Air Defence, Infantry and Special Forces, as well as the Engineers and Signals, is indeed alarming," Singh wrote in the letter.

Sandwiched between fellow nuclear powers China and Pakistan, India is the world's top weapons importer. It is spending billions of dollars updating equipment purchased from Moscow in Soviet times, but it often takes decades to finalise contracts. Procurement has been slowed by corruption scandals.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony confirmed the existence of the letter and said it should not have been made public. Politicians from all parties reacted angrily and some called for the army chief's resignation if he was found to be behind the leak.

"The government is determined to do all that is needed to continue to assure the safety and security of India," Antony told parliament. "Publishing secret documents will not help the nation."

In a rare show of unity, opposition parties rallied around the government, a sign of concerns about the army chief's habit of challenging his civilian masters.

Earlier in the year Singh took the defence ministry to the Supreme Court after claiming he was a year younger than military records showed. He lost the case.

On Monday, he said he had been offered a $2.8 million ( Rs 14.22 crore) bribe to buy faulty trucks for the army, an accusation seen as an attack on the defence ministry for not taking action on corruption in weapons procurement.