The excitement, the glitz, the glamour, the large crowds of those interested in the event, hushed silence at times followed by raucous support for one or the other, heads turning collectively, left and right as the ball (!) in contention is hit from one side to the other; the disagreements with the line judges, disagreements with the umpire too (!), the final recourse to ‘Hawk-Eye’. It is “Game On”! But with a difference – there is no shaking hands with the opponent at the end of the match. Folks, it is not the French Open but rather the French Rafale deal (and Indian politics). A matter of critical importance to the nation is being tossed around with focus being lost on the issue which is paramount—National Security.

The profession of arms is one where you can scant lose focus or purpose in what you are doing because it could mean the difference between life and death. Collectively, the armed forces are working towards the very raison d’être for which they are established – to protect the nation from external threat. Given the nature of the business, the fact that weapon procurement and acquisition is an arduous process with large gestation periods, it is but natural that forward planning be suitably structured. And it is. The Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan provides a projection 15 years ahead, with subsequent up the line Services Capital Acquisition Plan and the Annual Acquisition Plan channelizing and systemising the process to stay within the laid down timelines and maintain the projected point of focus – National Security.

The draw-down of fighter squadrons in the IAF was writ large on the pages of the defence planning process. Given the vintage of our front line fighter assets, the IAF had laid down the predicted path of redundancy. HAL, the lone war-horse in the aviation manufacturing domain in India and a Public Sector Undertaking to boot, jumped onto the bandwagon with lofty promises of producing a state-of-the-art light combat aircraft which will replace the ageing MiG-21 fleet. Given our PSUs’ propensity to never meet scheduled time lines, it was a no-brainer as to where HAL was leading us. National Security would not be compromised, they said. We will have the LCA up and operational to overcome the draw-down. Well, we know our recent history and HAL has lived up to its track record.

The MMRCA acquisition was a ray of sunshine in the already gloomy forecast in 2000. But from conception to disaster it took 14 painfully long years, collapsing (as anticipated) to put us back to the year 2000 and now with crippling numbers of fighter squadrons staring us in the face – 75% of authorised strength. Did not the government, in all these years, nor the defence minister responsible, feel the urgency to accelerate the process so that National Security is not jeopardised? At the end of the day who is to blame? Realising the catastrophic situation, a crisp decision to stem the rot is taken by the Prime Minister—A much needed shot in the arm. But this country is made up of political puppeteers who manipulate the strings to eke out their advantage and create their own story. A superbly designed Gen 4++ state-of-the-art aircraft has (virtually) been put into a tail-spin. Allegations and charges of corruption have ramped up the excitement (remember 1st para?), raucous supporters have been garnered, heads are turning left and right (at every allegation and its counter), disagreements abound with the spokespersons (line judges), there is disagreement with the Supreme Court (umpire) and the CAG (Hawk Eye) is yet to give the final decision! Sil vous plait, Monsieur.

This country has reduced itself to the very depths of regard and respect in the eyes of the international defence and business industry. There is such a lack of confidence that a potential resurrection of the Indian defence industry through the “Make in India” platform is not achieving the desired success. Someone very rightly said, “National Security be damned, politics is more important in this country.” In conclusion, permit me to plagiarise a quote by the renowned German historian, Alfred Vagts to put the issue in perspective: “Again and again, military men have seen themselves hurled into war by the ambitions, passions and blunders of civilian governments, almost wholly uninformed as to the limits of their military potential and almost recklessly indifferent to the military requirements of the war they let loose”.

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction. He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

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