Aero India, a Re­minder of Ur­gency Needed in Mod­erni­sa­tion

India Strategic - - FRONT PAGE - Gul­shan Rai Luthra

Fe­bru­ary is a fes­tive month of spring, with flow­ers all over. Per­haps, many peo­ple also have their hopes bloom­ing this time of the year, at least due to the good mood spurred by good weather.

Aero India, held in the gar­den city of Ban­ga­lore, should also be in­dica­tive of good times to come for the armed forces, who have a cu­mu­la­tive back­log of some 30 years in equip­ment, thanks to the paral­y­sis gen­er­ated in the Min­istry of De­fence due to the al­le­ga­tions over the ac­qui­si­tion of Bo­fors in the mid-1980s. Many hope­ful plans put up by the Army, Navy and Air Force have been scut­tled ever since over al­le­ga­tions, mostly un­founded, and of­ten prompted by vested in­ter­ests. One such ex­am­ple men­tioned by a se­nior Army Of­fi­cer was about the Army’s plans to ac­quire ther­mal imagers a few years back. The Army tried and tested var­i­ous sys­tems, homed on to one, and then fol­lowed anony­mous let­ters and even re­ports in a sec­tion of the me­dia lead­ing to the can­cel­la­tion of the process.

The Aero India this time was not what it used to be in the past years. Par­tic­i­pat­ing com­pa­nies of course claimed that big ac­qui­si­tion plans in India get scut­tled, some­times with­out ex­pla­na­tions. In­stances are given of the Medium Multi Role Com­bat Air­craft (MMRCA) com­pe­ti­tion and that of the Air­bus A330 midair re­fuller ten­der.

I sup­pose the Gov­ern­ment must have valid rea­sons. None­the­less, the de­lay in the gen­eral process of ac­qui­si­tion is crip­pling, and some­how, how­so­ever, the Prime Min­is­ter, Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity, and Min­istry of De­fence have to de­vise ways and means to 1. In­crease the ac­qui­si­tion bud­get for all the three Ser­vices, and 2. Cut down the time­lines by speed­ing up the move­ment of files and trial of sys­tems.

How do you make up for the back­log? Ob­vi­ously, by re­duc­ing it. How do you re­duce it? Ob­vi­ously by in­creas­ing the ex­pen­di­ture and cut­ting down the time­lines. The fact that IAF does not yet have an air­craft of MMRCA ca­pa­bil­ity, with mod­ern sen­sors and sys­tems like AESA, hits you hard, par­tic­u­larly at shows like Aero India. Ev­ery Air Chief is hope­ful of some­thing hap­pen­ing dur­ing his ten­ure, and the new Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Mar­shal BS Dhanoa, has equally re­posed his con­fi­dence in the Gov­ern­ment’s plans for an in­dige­nously pro­duced fighter jet in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a for­eign man­u­fac­turer. The ex­pres­sion used is strate­gic part­ner­ship.

There are of­fers for Make in India pro­duc­tion of Boe­ing F/A-18 Ad­vanced Su­per Hor­net, Lock­heed Martin’s up­dated F-16 Su­per Viper, Saab’s new gen­er­a­tion Gripen, and again, a new ver­sion of the Rus­sian MiG-35 which is still un­der tri­als. There will be no ten­der this time. Di­rect Gov­ern­ment-to- Gov­ern­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions to eval­u­ate what’s on of­fer and at what price. En­ables for fast se­lec­tion!

I hope IAF gets what it wants, and quickly.

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