De­fence Mod­erni­sa­tion in Three Years

The three ser­vices had suf­fered pro­longed ne­glect in re­spect of mod­erni­sa­tion in the pe­riod 2004 to 2014 ow­ing to a num­ber of fac­tors


AS THE NA­TIONAL DEMO­CRATIC Al­liance (NDA) Gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi completes three years in power on May 26 2017, its per­for­mance with re­gard to the mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian armed forces is bound to come un­der scru­tiny and crit­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion by not only by an­a­lysts and think tanks alike, but also by those within the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Given the lofty prom­ises made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dur­ing the cam­paign in the run up to the na­tional elec­tions in 2014 that led to el­e­va­tion of ex­pec­ta­tions all round, there is con­sid­er­able anx­i­ety as well as a de­gree of im­pa­tience not only amongst the gen­eral pop­u­lace, but amongst the per­son­nel of the In­dian armed forces too with re­gard to the state of their oper­a­tional pre­pared­ness.

Given the ris­ing ten­sion with both Pak­istan and China as well as the rag­ing fire in the state of Jammu and Kash­mir to which there ap­pears to be no solution in sight and which has the po­ten­tial of ig­nit­ing a full scale war with our western neigh­bour with pos­si­ble col­lu­sion be­tween the two hos­tile neighbours, the con­cern over the state of oper­a­tional readi­ness of the Inda­ian armed forces is quite un­der­stand­able and valid. This is fur­ther height­ened by a re­cent com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­lated to na­tional se­cu­rity, to all of­fi­cers of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) by Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), IAF. In his mis­sive is­sued soon af­ter as­sum­ing charge as the CAS, he has di­rected all of­fi­cers to prepare for short and in­tense war with Pak­istan last­ing around ten days and for a war against China last­ing for around 15 days. The in­fer­ence from this mes­sage is that for the In­dian armed forces, the fourth largest in the world, to be re­garded to be op­er­a­tionally ready for war, they must be ad­e­quately equipped to take on both Pak­istan and China in the event of war break­ing out on both the North­ern and Western fronts si­mul­ta­ne­ously.


When the Modi-led NDA Gov­ern­ment was sworn into of­fice on May 26, 2014, it in­her­ited the In­dian forces that was not ready for war. The three ser­vices had suf­fered pro­longed ne­glect in re­spect of mod­erni­sa­tion in the pe­riod 2004 to 2014 ow­ing to a num­ber of fac­tors. Apart from the mind-bog­gling com­plex­ity of the process of ac­qui­si­tion of mil­i­tary hard­ware reg­u­lated by the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP), there was a de­gree of political apa­thy that com­pounded the prob­lem and had brought the process of mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian armed forces prac­ti­cally to a halt. But what was most dis­con­cert­ing for the In­dian armed forces as also for the orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers (OEM) abroad was that the process of ac­qui­si­tion of de­fence equip­ment by the In­dian Ministry of De­fence (MoD) was rid­dled with cor­rup­tion. With scams of dif­fer­ing mag­ni­tude in the pro­cess­ing of ten­ders for de­fence con­tracts sur­fac­ing ev­ery now and then, projects for the ac­qui­si­tion of plat­forms or weapon sys­tems were can­celled re­peat­edly and

even global aero­space and de­fence ma­jors of re­pute were black­listed. Some cases of black­list­ing proved to be self-in­flicted in­juries as this ac­tion by the gov­ern­ment im­pinged on other on­go­ing con­tracts where the af­fected for­eign com­pany was al­ready in­volved. The net ef­fect was that the process of ac­qui­si­tion of de­fence equip­ment had prac­ti­cally come to a grind­ing halt, shat­ter­ing all hopes of the In­dian armed forces of de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity to con­front the chal­lenge posed by the two ad­ver­saries, ei­ther singly or in col­lu­sion. How­ever, in the last three years un­der the NDA gov­ern­ment, there has undoubtedly been some for­ward move­ment, bring­ing some relief for the In­dian armed forces.

In the last three years, in an ef­fort to speed up the process of mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian armed forces, the NDA gov­ern­ment cleared a to­tal of 136 pro­pos­als for the pro­cure­ment of mil­i­tary hard­ware. Most of these pro­pos­als ini­ti­ated by the three ser­vices had been pend­ing for some time for one rea­son or an­other. The to­tal value of these 136 pro­pos­als for the mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian armed forces is es­ti­mated at around $59 bil­lion or ` 4,00,000 crore. In a con­ser­va­tive as­sess­ment, while this may not be re­garded as a mod­est al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources for the In­dian armed forces, when viewed in the con­text of the evolv­ing geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion and the rapidly de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion in the re­gion, this would only be a small part of the to­tal re­quire­ment for com­pre­hen­sive mod­erni­sa­tion. Undoubtedly, there is in­deed much re­mains to be done in the interest of na­tional se­cu­rity.

Shift­ing the fo­cus to the IAF, the sit­u­a­tion with re­gard to mod­erni­sa­tion pre­vail­ing at the end of the three year rule by the NDA gov­ern­ment is enu­mer­ated in the suc­ceed­ing para­graphs.


Ef­forts by the IAF dur­ing the UPA II regime to pro­cure 126 medium multi-role com­bat air­craft for which the IAF had iden­ti­fied the most ca­pa­ble and po­tent com­bat plat­form but some­what ex­pen­sive, the Rafale jet fighter from Das­sault Avi­a­tion of France, hit an in­sur­mount­able road block. Soon af­ter as­sum­ing of­fice, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi through per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion with the Pres­i­dent of France dur­ing a state visit to that coun­try, broke the stale­mate and sal­vaged the sit­u­a­tion but only par­tially. In­stead of 126 air­craft, a di­rect deal with the French gov­ern­ment was ne­go­ti­ated for 36 air­craft for which the con­tract has been con­cluded and de­liv­ery is sched­uled to com­mence in 2019 and all 36 air­craft are to be de­liv­ered by 2022. While this will only pro­vide par­tial relief, in the con­text of the alarm­ing ero­sion of com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity on ac­count of ob­so­les­cence of the com­bat plat­forms ac­quired from the Soviet Union com­menc­ing in the mid 1960s and with no fresh in­duc­tions af­ter the Su-30 MKI that com­menced at the be­gin­ning of the last decade, the IAF has been and con­tin­ues to be in the those of a cri­sis.

To ad­dress prob­lems af­flict­ing the com­bat fleet of the IAF, the gov­ern­ment pro­vided the necessary push to the in­dige­nous light com­bat air­craft (LCA) Te­jas pro­gramme. Apart from com­mis­sion­ing the first squadron of the Te­jas Mk I at Ben­galuru al­beit with just two air­craft, the gov­ern­ment has sanc­tioned a sec­ond pro­duc­tion line for the Te­jas Mk I to en­hance the rate of pro­duc­tion from eight air­craft per year to 16. As the Te­jas Mk II was still a long way off, the MoD au­tho­rised the Te­jas Mk IA with en­hanced ca­pa­bil­ity to al­le­vi­ate short­ages in the com­bat fleet. The IAF has placed or­ders for a to­tal of 120 Te­jas which, sub­ject to the sec­ond pro­duc­tion line being com­mis­sioned soon, is ex­pected to be de­liv­ered by 2025-26.

But per­haps the most ex­pe­di­tious step by the NDA Gov­ern­ment to re­store the com­bat po­ten­tial of the IAF has been to pro­duce a proven sin­gle-en­gine com­bat plat­form in large numbers within the coun­try through col­lab­o­ra­tion with the selected for­eign OEM un­der the Prime Min­is­ter’s 'Make in In­dia' pro­gramme. The selected OEM will es­tab­lish its pro­duc­tion line in In­dia and with full trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy, pro­duce the com­bat plat­form not only for the IAF but also for the global market.


In the regime of he­li­copters, the NDA Gov­ern­ment has made no­table head­way to­wards mod­erni­sa­tion is for the ac­qui­si­tion of the light util­ity he­li­copter (LUH). This plat­form is re­quired by the three ser­vices in fairly large numbers to re­place the ob­so­les­cent fleets of Chee­tah and Chetak he­li­copters whose in­duc­tion had com­menced in the 1970s. Ten years of ef­fort to pro­cure LUH for the In­dian armed forces went in vain as the ten­der was can­celled twice in this pe­riod on ac­count of al­le­ga­tions of wrong do­ing by the agencies in­volved. How­ever, the NDA Gov­ern­ment has suc­cess­fully ne­go­ti­ated a deal di­rectly with the Rus­sian Gov­ern­ment to set up a fa­cil­ity in Tumkur, North of Ben­galuru, to man­u­fac­ture the Kamov Ka-226T un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ scheme. The ini­tial re­quire­ment for the three ser­vices has been as­sessed as for 440 ma­chines. When in­ducted, this plat­form will sig­nif­i­cantly en­hance the ca­pa­bil­ity of the ser­vices of pro­vid­ing lo­gis­tic sup­port es­pe­cially in the moun­tain­ous re­gions of the North and the North East.

A con­tract has been signed for the pro­cure­ment of Apache at­tack he­li­copters and Chinook heavy lift he­li­copters from Boe­ing of the US. In­duc­tion of these will boost of­fen­sive and heavy heli-lift ca­pa­bil­i­ties of IAF. In­duc­tion of ALH Mk-III & ALH Mk IV and Weapon Sys­tem In­te­grate (WSI) of he­li­copters is un­der progress. Ten LSP light com­bat he­li­copters are also being pro­cured from HAL.


The third ma­jor project to be fi­nalised un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme of the NDA Gov­ern­ment is the re­place­ment of the ob­so­les­cent Avro fleet of 56 air­craft cur­rently in service with the IAF by the Air­bus C295 twin-tur­bo­prop trans­port air­craft. This plat­form will be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia by Tata Ad­vanced Sys­tems Lim­ited in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Air­bus De­fence and Space.


Apart from air­craft, the IAF is in the process of in­duc­tion of a va­ri­ety of sys­tems to revamp the air de­fence of In­dian air space. The sys­tems un­der in­duc­tion or are un­der pro­cess­ing in­clude new gen­er­a­tion Air De­fence radars, Very Short Range Air De­fence Sys­tems (VSHORADS), SPY­DER QRSAM, MRSAMs and the S-400 Tri­umph Air De­fence Sys­tem. But where the NDA Gov­ern­ment has made no­table progress is in its ef­forts at sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of pro­ce­dures for the pro­cure­ment of de­fence equip­ment and indigenisation of the In­dian aero­space and de­fence in­dus­try through en­hanced par­tic­i­pa­tion by the pri­vate sec­tor. The Strate­gic Part­ner­ship model is de­signed to help boost indigenisation of the de­fence in­dus­try.

Hope­fully, Prime Min­is­ter Modi will find time to ap­point a per­ma­nent Min­is­ter of De­fence to over­see and pro­vide the much needed im­pe­tus to the pro­grammes for mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian armed forces.



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