Buying weapons to keep new defence minister busy

Buying weapons to keep new defence minister busy

Buying weapons to keep new defence minister busy

From fighter jets to submarines and artillery guns to helicopters, the next defence minister will have his hands full, if the next government wants to take forward the modernisation of the armed forces.

The acquisition process, said a retired officer, had come to a standstill for the last seven and half years under A K Antony, as allegations into every defence deal was probed thoroughly, often in a time-consuming manner.

Take the case of 126 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. More than two years ago, French aircraft Dassault Rafale was shortlisted for what is possibly India’s biggest defence deal. But even after two years of protracted price negotiations, the IAF still does not have the fighter jets.

“Our squadron strength is depleting fast. The two year delay is a massive loss on our firepower,” Air Vice Marshal P K Barbora, former IAF Vice Chief told Deccan Herald. While the IAF has the heavier (Su-30 MKI) and lighter (Mirage and MiG 21 BIS) jets, it is lagging in the medium range multirole fighters. “We don’t require so many heavier Su-30 MKI,” said Barbora, who was a Su-30 pilot.

Depleting fleet of the Navy’s underwater arm is another matter of concern, which the Navy would like the new defence minister to address. Decades ago, the Union Cabinet approved 30-year-long submarine construction plan that envisaged construction of 24 submarines in India.

But only six are under construction at Mazgaon dock. The second construction line – named P-75I – to build six more conventional submarines is awaiting the defence ministry’s approval for years.

“The submarine construction plan has to come back on the priority list. Also our dependency on Russia should come down as the Russians have a weak and corrupt supply system,” said former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash.

The air and sea wing of the armed forces, however, fared better, when compared with the Indian Army, which did not receive a single artillery gun since the Bofors guns in the 1980s. Even a government-to-government deal to purchase 145 M777 ultra light weight howitzers from the United States did not make any headway since October 2013, when the US offer expired, sources said.
Helicopters remain another area of concern.

From the Rs 3,000 crore deal to buy 197 choppers for the Army to 22 attack helicopters for the IAF, all procurement projects have been stuck for years. The Navy’s plan to buy 16 multi-role helicopters is hanging since 2000.

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