DEFENCE PREPAREDNESS FINALLY LOOKING UP

The festive season is upon us and it is time to celebrate. In the defence sector, there is finally cause for jubilation. The last few months have seen a steady improvement in India’s defence preparedness, which had hit alarming lows as a result of the lack of momentum over the past decade under the stewardship of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance. There has been a marked impetus in clearing essential defence requirements for the armed forces, witnessed since Mr Manohar Parrikar took over the defence portfolio. These pertain to many big ticket deals which had been languishing for years, despite the operational necessity of equipping the Forces to counter potential threats. Thankfully, such dilly dallying is now a thing of the past.

Great progress has been made in procuring essential requirements for the forces, which has improved defences preparedness considerably. While improvement is reflected across the board, three issues serve to highlight the changed environment. The first is the deal signed to make the Tatra vehicle indigenously in India. The contract has been awarded to Tata’s at a cost that is Rs 20 lac lower than the next competitor. The savings to the exchequer are substantial, given the fact that over a thousand vehicles are being procured. The spin off effect on India’s defence industrial base will also no doubt be substantial.

The second bit of heartening news is the progress being made on the acquisition of artillery guns. Ever since the Bofors scam broke out in the eighties, further acquisition of guns was put on hold, leading to serious voids in defence preparedness. The artillery modernisation plan of 1999, projected a requirement of 814 mounted guns, 1580 towed guns, 100 tracked self propelled guns,180 wheeled self propelled guns and 145 ultra light howitzers. While financially it is unviable to procure the entire requirement of the Army in one go, there is great forward movement in making up the voids, with G2G purchases from the USA, and contract being awarded to Larsen and Toubro (L&T), an Indian conglomerate, to supply up to 100 self propelled howitzers (SPHs) worth approximately USD 750 million to the Indian Army. In addition, the Army has given Bulk Production Clearance (BPC) to the Ordnance Factory Board for the supply of 144 Dhanush guns, production of which has started at the Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur. The DRDO is also developing 155 mm/52 Calibre Advance Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) that will upgrade the 155 mm/45 Calibre Dhanush in future.

For the Air Force, orders have finally been placed for the Tejas aircraft. In a break from the past, a long term view has been taken and the government has decided to induct at least seven squadrons of the made-in-India Tejas Mark 1-A Light Combat Aircraft or LCA into the Indian Air Force, to make up for a shortage of fighters. A product of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and defence public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Tejas has been more than 30 years in the making, but its induction will send a strong signal to the environment of the government’s commitment to the ‘make in India’ thrust. For the first time, bulk orders have been placed for the aircraft, which gives stability to the production lines, instead of piecemeal orders, as hitherto fore. The downside to the orders placed on HAL is that the earlier track record of this DPSU has not been very encouraging. This factor needs to be monitored and HAL held accountable, both for quality control and for deliveries on schedule.

In essence, forward movement in the Ministry of Defence reflects better decision making at the apex level. This perhaps is the most important signal emanating from the government, which should also give a fillip to the establishment of a defence industrial base in the country. Happy Diwali and Happy Reading.

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