The Modi government completes three years in office in May 2017. Three years is a substantial period of time when you have only five years to look ahead, even with a clear mandate in the polls. By now, new policies should have been in place and the armed forces should have initiated the process of modernisation with a few major buys having been inducted.
During these three years, Ministry of Defence (MoD) has worked under three Ministers. To start with the PM held the reins himself, followed by a short tenure that Jaitley had as the Raksha Mantri. He is back again. However, for most of these three years, Parrikar led the Ministry. It’s his policies and initiatives that are mostly under the lense when an assessment of the MoD is attempted. An affable man with a sharp grasp, he displayed an ability to take the leadership of the forces on board as he swam against the currents built through ten years of neglect. Where does the country stand now is the question today. Has India achieved enough? Or, has the MoD been found lacking?
In June, 2016, the MoD released a document that brought out the key accomplishments of the ministry. It was a score card any ministry would envy. The armed forces couldn’t have asked for more, apparently. But the Indian Defence industry didn’t seem quite satisfied. Somewhere down the line, apparently, the bottlenecks continue to dog. They hadn’t received the volumes of orders, they had been hoping for. It always seemed, as if these orders were just round the bend; except that the production lines continued to exhibit deserted looks.
Policies and Processes
To deal with issues of policy first, Parrikar released the new Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 during the DefExpo 2016 in March last year, at Goa. The document was indeed path breaking. It has reduced the procurement cycle, laid emphasis on indigenisation, prioritised research & development, simplified procedures, attended to vexing issues like black listing that had effectively put the brakes on big ticket purchases, and is corporate friendly. However, the issue of Strategic Partners was not finalised. The Chapter on Strategic Partnership has only now seen the light of the day. In the bargain, by one estimate, $ 30 billion worth contracts involving programs for submarines, single-engine fighter aircrafts, helicopters and other systems had been held up.
Hopefully, with the SP issue having been resolved the armed forces will give Make in India a huge push forward.
The DPP 2016 also caters for provisions to procure equipment with enhanced parameters and funding of private design and development. The emphasis is also on the MSME sector. Fast track procurement procedures have also been made easy.
The Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) limit in Defence Sector had been increased from 26% to 49% in August 2014 via the approval route. From November, 2015 it’s through the automatic route. Above 49% will be on a case to case basis.
A level playing field has also been provided to the Private Sector as compared to the DPSUs.
Defence diplomacy has received a boost over the last few years. Defence cooperation MoUs have been signed with 16 countries. Further, Service to Service talks have been initiated with 12 countries. Indian ships have also undertaken hydrographical survey for a couple of our neighbours. A review is on to draw a roadmap for defence diplomacy.
As far as naval joint exercises go, the Navy participated in IMBEX with Singapore, Malabar (USA and Japan), Indra (Russia), Varuna (France), Konkan (UK), JIMEX (Japan), SLINEX (Sri Lanka), IBSAMAR (South Africa and Brazil), and AUSINDEX with Australia and Indonesia.
Indian Army carried out large number of exercises with France, Indonesia, Mongolia, China, Nepal, Thailand, USA, Khajakastan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and a few more countries.
The Army also participated in Exercise Jalrahat of National Disaster Management Agency in 2016.
The IAF exercised with a few air forces. More importantly, it also evacuated Indian nationals from Juba, South Sudan. A congregation of Navy, Air Force and Air India resources, co-ordinated by the MEA evacuated over 4000 people from Yemen when the violence there spread to pose a threat to the Indian nationals. In Maldives, the IAF faced a different crisis. The main RO plant of the island state broke down casing a huge drinking water shortage. The IAF pressed into service three aircrafts each of its C 17 and IL 76 fleet to lift 374 tons of drinking water from 5th to 17th May, 2014
As far as equipment induction is concerned the major gainers have been the Air Force and the Navy. The Rafale deal for 36 aircrafts has finally been concluded. Additional MI 17 and Chinook helicopters are also in the pipeline. The first two Tejas have already been delivered to the Air Force. HAL has orders for 20 more, followed by an order for 83 Tejas Mk 1A. HAL should get its Tejas 2 by then.
The IAF has also been delivered three Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control Systems by the Israelis on IL 76 aircrafts. Orders for two more have been placed.
32 Hawks (Tandem Seat Advanced Jet trainers) have been inducted. At the Aero India 2017, the latest model, Advanced HAWK, co-produced by BAE Systems and HAL was on display. HAL has designed the HTT 40, a basic trainer. It should also be meeting the requirements of our Air Force, in its own category.
The Navy has enough to cheer. An area where the Navy needed immediate surge is Mine Counter Measures Vessels. The MoD has sanctioned a contract worth Rs 32,000/- cr. There are also Frigates for Rs 48,000/- cr. The Navy is also to receive another Long Range maritime Aircraft Poseidon 8I. A total of eight such aircrafts have been inducted, completing the contract that was signed in 2009.
As we go to press, the government announced Rs 20,000/- cr for Landing Platform Docks, also known as Amphibious Assault Ships.
All three armed forces field aged helicopters. By one estimate, just the light, reconnaissance & surveillance helicopters that the IA and IAF require, totals to 440. HAL should be manufacturing 187 of these, while the rest will have to be sourced otherwise.
The Navy requires 127 and Coast Guard 14 light utility helicopters. Also on order are 16 multi-role helicopters from Sikorsky. 12 VVIP helicopters are also required. Augusta Westland had been shortlisted, but the order was cancelled.
The Army has ordered 114 indigenous Light Combat Helicopters. (LCH). It has also placed orders for Rudra, the armed variant. IAF has also ordered 65 LCHs and Rudras.
Meanwhile, Indians don’t seem to be entirely on the same page with the Russians for manufacture of 200 Kamov KA 226T helicopters with HAL as the Indian partner. Another 200 helicopters could follow. However, the deal seems to be stuck.
22 Apache attack and 15 Chinook heavy lift helicopters have been contracted. These will replace the aging MI-35 and MI-26 fleets with the IAF. The army wants another 39 Apaches for its strike corps. It’s a tussle that has gone on for long between the Army and the Air Force. Attack helicopters are an integral part of mechanised operations of the Strike Corps. The need to have these resources integral to the Army is an argument gaining greater acceptance. The latest news on the subject confirms government approval for 11 Apache attack helicopters for the Army.
Also on order are 16 multi-role helicopters from Sikorsky. There is also a need to procure at least 12 VVIP helicopters. Augusta Westland was due to provide them, but the order was cancelled.
For the Army, the big breakthrough seems to be in the area of guns. 145 Ultra Light M777 howitzers have been contracted through the foreign military sales route of the US government. The first two have arrived and will be used for developing our range tables. A formidable weapon system, these howitzers can be transported under-slung and deployed in mountainous regions poorly served by roads. With a mountain Strike Corps under raising, there was a requirement of guns that have greater mobility. These 39 calibre guns also range longer and can fire the entire range of NATO ammunition.
Orders have also been placed for 114 Dhanush 155 mm Howitzers with the OFB. These guns are based on the designs of the Bofors gun that were purchased close to three decades back. The technology transfer done then, is being utilised now. However, in conformity with New delhi’s traditions of no accountability, not a single man responsible for non-utilisation of the technology available in the office lockers has been asked to even explain the lapse.
The latest contract for guns has gone to L&T. 100 tracked 155mm Howitzers K9 VajraT have been ordered. The tracked guns are primarily for the mechanised formations. They have to keep pace with armour pincers. The Army will require much more than the 100 pieces that L&T will manufacture. If their guns prove up to it, surely a repeat order will follow in due course.
Orders for Smerch Rocket Systems for Rs 3000 cr has been placed on the Russians. Among the best Artillery weapon systems, it provides a range of 70 to 90 km. Complimenting the Smerch is the Indian Pinaca system by L&T and Tata Power SED. Two more regiments have been ordered. BEML will supply the vehicles while the two private sector companies will produce the launchers.
One of the weaker areas over the years has been Air Defence. Obsolescence of equipment is to be encountered both in the Army and Air Force resources. Work on making the Air Defence effective has been initiated. The new generation Air Defence radars are being inducted for early detection of threat. Medium Power Radars, Rohini Radars and Low Level Light Weight Radars have already been inducted in the IAF. The Low level Transportable Radars are in the process of induction. Two Aerostat systems have also already been inducted.
Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORADS) for IAF and Army are being processed. The induction of SPYDER Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) has commenced and the Medium Range SAMs are due shortly. Purchases of five S-400 Triumph Air Defence Systems are being processed. Close in weapon systems are also planned to be inducted through ‘Make in India’ route.
Air Defence assets are being networked in an Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS). A fused Air Situation picture from the network of ground based sensors and relaying it to weapon systems, will now be feasible. The integration of AWACS provides a lot more teeth to both detection and control capabilities. The sensor-shooter cycle can be reduced with the IACCS in place.
Acquisition of close to 600 mini UAVs has already been approved by the Defence Minister. The services are looking for Medium Altitude Long Endurance models.
The DRDO has developed Rustam 2. We have approached the US for up to 100 Predator UAVs. These UAVs are already battle tested in Afghanistan. We require both the surveillance and the armed variants.
Indigenisation of Defence Inventory
A thrust that is clearly discernible is the indigenisation of our defence equipment inventory. We are the biggest importers of defence equipment. In the 70 years since independence we don’t seem to have produced a rifle that the infantry soldier is sure will shoot straight at 300 meters, while having sent the Chandrayaan to moon quite capably. Obviously, our R&D establishment has not been firing on all guns. However, things may have changed for better.
The DRDO has substantial projects that should restore its pre-eminence as a defence R&D asset. Major DRDO projects in the pipeline include Long Range Surface to Air Missiles, Astra Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missiles, Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Rustam 2, Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System and Guided bombs.
Indigenisation has also received a boost with the DPP 2016 having been made effective. The addition of the category of IDDM (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured) and its being given the top priority provides Indian defence innovators a greater chance.
A total of 119 industrial licences were issued in the two years: 2014 – 2016, as compared to 214 licences issued in 13 years from 2001 to 2014. In 2015–16, equipment worth only Rs 22,422 cr was contracted to foreign vendors as compared to Rs 35,082 cr in 2013 – 14. Defence exports also reached Rs 2014 cr in 2015–16, close to double the figures of 2013-14.
The MoD has definitely started getting its act together. An organisation, identified as a sloth for decades has shed some of its inertia. However, when viewed in the context of the poor state of defence preparedness, even the current pace is inadequate. Indians have to take into account the pace at which their adversaries are going ahead, before getting too smug about the progress made.
Money is a big constraint. Let’s not hide behind the often touted Finance Ministry retort that the MoD keeps surrendering funds from its outlay for Capital acquisitions. It’s worth getting to the bottom of it. Is it that the Ministry of Finance arm twists Defence Finance? Is it also a case of Finance sitting on proposals for too long to be booked within the financial year?
At perhaps an all time low of 1.62% of GDP, is there any further evidence required to underscore the argument that Indians are short-sighted in defence planning. Jaitley has to find the money, and it starts with prioritising competing needs.
Inspite of the new DPP 2016, the attitude of officers dealing with acquisitions and the prevalent culture in both the MoD and the Service HQs remain rooted in their historical past. They are not ready to push things forward. The shadows of an all pervading fear, even after three scandal-free years, hovers overhead when an officer has to sign a document. Service officers dealing with procurement also lack knowledge. The Americans have an University devoted to the subject. We expect on the job learning being adequate for undertaking this billions of dollars worth national investment.
Little progress has been made in terms reorganising the forces for jointness. Neither has Chief of Defence Staff been sanctioned nor Permanent Chairman Integrated defence Staff.
Finally, it needs to be stated with vigour that Parrikar has done a very fine job within the resources, both monetary and attitudinal (of his staff) that he inherited. In inter-actions with the political leadership of the day, what’s often encountered is, ‘we can’t correct the situation brought about by neglect of a decade, in a day’. However, the current dispensation has to realise there are gaping holes in the nation’s defence capabilities. It cannot be handled with foreign policy initiatives being the prime strength. A strong military is essential for foreign policy outreach to bear results. None other than us can defend our country; the size of a sub-continent. India has to cut expenses elsewhere, including the subsidy bills with its huge seepage as money travels from Delhi to the recipients at remote peripheries.
Without denying that a great start has been made, let’s face the fact that the Ministry of Defence is well short of the target, as yet.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retired)