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Modernization Of The Armed Force

Are we catching up with neighbors in modernizing Armed Force?

After about a quarter century since the Bofors controversy broke out in 1986, the Indian Army is now finally going to get some howitzer guns. The Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh broke the news in his Army Day eve Press Conference in New Delhi. He said, “I am very hopeful that we should be able to see some induction of one type of artillery gun in this year itself. For others there are certain trials in progress and certain request for proposals in the pipeline.”

The fact is that the commercial negotiations for 145 US made 155mm M777 ultra light howitzers are to begin soon under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Under the army’s 20,000 crores rupees artillery modernization program, 1580 towed guns, 814 mounted gun systems, 180 self propelled wheeled guns and 100 tracked guns have also been planned for induction if and when these clear field trials. In reply to a question, the army chief told the Editor in Chief of Asia Defense News Col. P.N. Khera that the Army is a knowledge based organization and due care is being taken to impart the necessary skill and technology to the forces so that they remain fit for quick response to attacks. He said, “Our Army has been systematically creating a strong technological base for all ranks and empowering them with the required technical knowledge and skills. Training is aimed at all levels, from basic to super specialization.”

While technology absorption is fine, there can be no denying that our forces are deficient in state-of-the-art weapons and weapons systems. Talking to newsmen, the General disclosed that the Army at present uses a mix of 105 mm field and 130 and 155 mm medium artillery guns. Obviously, there is less than adequate number of 155 mm medium guns.

India imported 410 Bofors guns in 1986 of which about 200 are still in service. In the Kargil war of 1999, these guns played a decisive role. One may recall that the Army chief in a seminar organized by Confederation of Indian Industries in May last year admitted that India is lagging behind in modernizing its artillery. He said, “While other advanced nations have leapt far ahead in the field, we are still lagging behind.”

The shortage is not affecting the Army alone. The Air Force which already operates a lesser number of aircraft than officially mandated, is short of radars. The Navy, whose present warship strength is less than the sanctioned level, is also facing an acute shortage of submarines so much so that over two-thirds of its submarines will go out of service by next year.

But, are we meeting the deficiencies fast enough? To quote Gen Singh, Russian made multiple rocket launcher Smerch is still being inducted in the army. It was in service in Russia in the 1990s and is now in the process of replacement there.

But, why are we not importing adequate number of sophisticated weapons and weapons systems? The Defense Ministry is returning to the exchequer unspent funds every year. Even as late as in 2008-2009, it returned 7088 crore rupees. So, funds shortage is not the cause. The fact remains that though in the past two decades Defense Procurement Procedure, DPP has been revised several times not a single acquisition proposal has been processed in time forcing the government to depend only on Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. But, this route of procurement has its own disadvantages. While in a competitive contract suppliers from various countries participate and India has the liberty of imposing its own conditions as to how and where it wishes to use an imported defense item, in the FMS it is not there.

Secondly, from the cost point of view also, the FMS does not necessarily guarantee the benefit of a competitive price. Therefore, it is time the Government gives a re-look at the matter and forms a group of experts to hammer out a DPP that works, of course not compromising transparency in defense purchases.

No country in the world is hundred per cent self-reliant in meeting its defense requirements but all countries are trying to be so. India also has a large number Defense Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) where facilities available can be compared with the best in the world.  Have they contributed sufficiently towards making the nation self-reliant in its defense requirements in the past fifty years of their existence? Sadly, the answer is No.

This is what strategic expert Lt Gen Vinay Shankar has to say, “Take China, Turkey, South Africa, South Korea, Israel and closer home even Pakistan. We began at about the same time and with a similar technological base. Today all these countries are way ahead of us. Pakistan too has done better than us.” He laments that India had the unique advantage of being able to access technology and defense systems both from the Soviet Union and the West but it failed to capitalize on this distinctive benefit of choice. Despite having a large number of defense PSUs even after sixty years of independence India today meets 70 per cent of its defense requirements through imports. That is why even an achievement like the development of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas fails to excite anyone. It took 27 years from 1983 to 2010 for our defense PSUs to produce Tejas. Air Chief Marshal PV Naik complimented the achievement saying it is a “MIG 21 plus plus”. But MIG 21 joined the service in 1960s and today we are producing something which is only “MIG 21 plus plus”. Will the air force that flies Sukhoi 30 MKI and dreams of soon acquiring fifth generation fighter, be keen to fly LCA?

There can be no denying that the private sector should be encouraged to actively participate in defense production process. In 2001 the defense sector was opened to the private industry. It was hailed as a measure long overdue. Several private companies made investments, created the infrastructure that they assessed would be required, explored collaboration with foreign firms, interacted with the defense services and the Ministry of Defense.

Sadly, until today the private sector has not been able to make any significant contribution towards making the country self sufficient in its defense requirements though, however, it has succeeded in bagging orders from abroad through international competition on several occasions. The private industries complain that they have been denied a level playing field. They point out why if a PSU is allowed to import an item without paying duty; the same concession is not available to the private sector. Similarly, in cases where the Government mandates that transfer of technology is necessary; offers from both the private sector and the PSU should be compared before awarding contracts.

*The article is written by Dilip Ghosh

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express/ADNI)

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