Arms procurement not foolproof and self-reliant

Arms procurement not foolproof and self-reliant

Former Army chief Gen Ved Prakash Malik, under whose command the Kargil war was successfully fought, asserts incumbent Army chief Gen V K Singh’s written communiqué on military’s operational capabilities is something many Army chiefs have done in the past. In a candid interview to Deccan Herald Principal Correspondent Gautam Dheer, Gen Malik lamented the poor track record of the 5-year Defence Planning and its implementation. He strongly maintained that the rot is about lack of accountability and fear of CAG, CVC and the CBI. He says its not possible for any nation with 70 per cent dependency on imports for defence equipment to improve its defence capabilities. Excerpts of the interview:

The revelations in the Army chief’s letter to the PM tend to expose country’s military strengths to hostile nations and dampen the morale of citizens and soldiers?

It is the responsibility of the Chiefs to keep the political leadership informed about the operational capabilities of his force. This is done frequently in conferences and sometimes through letters. But the details are not made public as that exposes defence weaknesses of the nation to a likely adversary and affects the morale of the citizens and soldiers.
In the present instance, it would be wrong to blame the Army chief for making his letter public. He has done (written) what many of us did in the past. And every Chief realises the implications of such correspondence falling into public domain. The leak appears to be somewhere else.

As a former decorated Army chief, how do you see the current rows involving the incumbent Army chief and others?

It is unfortunate, sad and undesirable! This row and the resultant atmosphere created in the country is in no one’s interest. It is doing much harm to the otherwise high image of the Army and the institution of the Army chief. It is also adversely affecting the image of the defence minister and the Government of India, particularly the Ministry of Defence. It is definitely not in national interest and needs to be plugged soonest.

Has Gen Singh’s assessment of operational capabilities been a cause of concern since long, given that India‘s defence capabilities have grown over the years?

Operational capabilities of the armed forces in terms of weapons and equipment have always been affected due to lack of self-reliance in the country and the long periods it takes to procure these items. It is not just the budget. It is more due to cumbersome procurement procedures, lack of accountability and transparency, friction between service headquarters and the Defence Ministry staff, and the fear of CAG, CVC and the CBI. We have an extremely poor track record of 5-Year Defence Planning and its implementation.
This perpetual problem has always been a cause of big worry for the services chiefs who have the ultimate responsibility of fighting and winning a war. You will recall that even during Kargil war, when questioned by the media, I responded that ‘we shall fight with whatever we have’. We must remember that it is not possible for any nation, which has 70 per cent dependency on imports of defence equipment, to improve its defence capabilities when the crisis is on.

So far as the public is concerned, we must realise that for very long we had kept all aspects of defence planning under wraps. This has led to lack of awareness. We have made no serious efforts to correct our systems. There is hardly any expertise on this important issue at the political level.

Do you recall any kickbacks or bribe offer during your tenure as indicated by the present Army chief?

The arms trade, all over the world, is extremely competitive and also unethical. You have touts, dealers, corrupt officials and leaders. Sometimes, even political leaders turn into lobbyists for manufacturers of their country. The manufacturers and dealers often try to offer kickbacks and bribes to people whom they consider vulnerable. During my tenure, we had strict procedures for the entry of arms vendors in Army Headquarters and keeping a record of what transpires when some such person meets a military officer. In any case, most of them went to the Ministry of Defence where price negotiations are done and final decisions are made.

I did not receive any report of kickbacks and bribes. No one came near me to indulge in such a talk. However, it would be difficult for me to state that no such attempts were ever made with others.

Do Army’s procurement procedures need an overhaul?

Yes, indeed! There have been attempts to improve Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) ever since 2002. The DPP, based on experience, have been updated many times since then. But as the latest scandal shows, these are far from becoming foolproof. As in all other fields, the implementation of laid down procedures seems to be a problem.

Do you think the controversies involving the MoD and the chief dented the image of the Army?

As I have already stated, it has dented the image of the Army, the Government and even the nation.

Is Gen Singh a whistleblower or a rebel? Could he have handled this entire issue any better?

It would be wrong on my part to pass  judgment on the chief’s conduct. 


Related Stories

Wheeling and dealing in defence contracts 

‘Mr Clean’  losing  his sheen?