NEW YORK: Pakistan’s triumph in the air against the intruding Indian warplanes last week was “an inauspicious moment” India’s military that the United States is banking on to help keep China in check, The New York Times reported Monday.
“The aerial clash, the first by the South Asian rivals in nearly five decades, was a rare test for the Indian military and it left observers a bit dumbfounded,” the newspaper said in a dispatch, referring to the downing by the Pakistan Air Force jets of India’s Soviet-supplied MiG-21 in a dogfight inside Pakistani territory on Wednesday.
“While the challenges faced by India’s armed forces are no secret, its loss of a plane last week to a country whose military is about half the size and receives a quarter of the funding was still telling,” the Times correspondent, Maria Abi-Habib, wrote.
The dispatch added, “An Indian Air Force pilot (Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman) found himself in a dogfight last week with a warplane from the Pakistani Air Force, and ended up a prisoner behind enemy lines for a brief time.
“The pilot made it home in one piece, however, bruised and shaken, but the plane, an aging Soviet-era MiG-21, was less lucky.”
The Times said India’s armed forces were in “alarming shape”.
“If intense warfare broke out tomorrow, India could supply its troops with only 10 days of ammunition, according to government estimates,” it said. “And 68 per cent of the army’s equipment is so old, it is officially considered ‘vintage’.”
Gaurav Gogoi, an Indian lawmaker and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, was quoted as saying, “Our troops lack modern equipment, but they have to conduct 21st-century military operations.”
Correspondent Abi-Habib wrote, “American officials tasked with strengthening the alliance (with India) talk about their mission with frustration: a swollen bureaucracy makes arms sales and joint training exercises cumbersome; Indian forces are vastly underfunded; and the country’s navy, army and air force tend to compete rather than work together.”
“Whatever the problems, the United States is determined to make the country a key ally in the coming years to hedge against China’s growing regional ambition.”
The American military, according to the dispatch, began prioritizing its alliance with India as its close relationship with Pakistan soured over the last two decades. United States officials say that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terrorism, a charge the country denies.
In just a decade, the Times said, United States arms sales to India have gone from nearly zero to $15 billion. “But Pakistan can still draw on a powerful American-supplied arsenal,” it added, without elaborating.