After India Loses Dogfight to Pakistan, Questions Arise About Its ‘Vintage’ Military.

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Indian paramilitary troops in Srinagar in Kashmir this month. Sixty-eight percent of the army’s equipment is so old that it is officially considered “vintage.”

It was an inauspicious moment for a military the United States is banking on to help keep an expanding China in check.

An Indian Air Force pilot 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 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. While the challenges faced by the 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. India’s armed forces are in alarming shape.

If intense warfare broke out tomorrow, India could supply its troops with only 10 days of ammunition, according to government estimates. And 68 percent of the army’s equipment is so old, it is officially considered “vintage.”

“Our troops lack modern equipment, but they have to conduct 21st-century military operations,” said Gaurav Gogoi, a lawmaker and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense.

American officials tasked with strengthening the alliance 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.

Last year, when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced that the Pentagon was renaming its Pacific Command — to Indo-Pacific — he emphasized India’s importance in a shifting world order.


“It is our primary combatant command,” said Mr. Mattis, who left the Pentagon at the end of the year. “It’s standing watch and intimately engaged with over half of the earth’s surface and its diverse populations, from Hollywood to Bollywood.”

The American military began prioritizing its alliance with India as its close relationship with Pakistan soured over the last two decades. United States officials are concerned that Pakistan is not doing enough to fight terrorism, a charge the country denies.

In just a decade, 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.

Indian officials say Pakistan used one of its F-16 fighter jets to down its MiG-21 last week. Islamabad rejected the claim, but on Sunday the American Embassy in Islamabad said the United States was looking into the report. The offensive use of an F-16 warplane against its neighbor might have been a violation of the sales agreement.

“We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information,” the embassy said in a statement. “We take all allegations of misuse of defense articles very seriously.




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