The year gone by – Not in vain!

The In­dian Air Force needs to in­duct mod­ern com­bat air­craft ur­gently to re­store the strength of the com­bat fleet to the au­tho­rised level and re­gain a re­spectable level of op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity


As the Modi Gov­ern­ment com­pleted one year in of­fice on May 26, the on­go­ing cel­e­bra­tions by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the na­tional level are be­ing marred by a rag­ing de­bate on its per­for­mance that is be­ing eval­u­ated against the com­mit­ments made in its elec­tion man­i­festo. While the on­slaught on the BJP-led gov­ern­ment by all the op­po­si­tion par­ties com­bined should have been ex­pected, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that in a large na­tion like In­dia with a di­verse po­lit­i­cal sys­tem un­der a fed­eral struc­ture of gov­er­nance, col­lec­tive de­ci­sion mak­ing and prob­lems of mind­bog­gling com­plex­ity that have re­mained un­re­solved for decades, 365 days is much too short a pe­riod to ex­pect any dra­matic turn­around across the board by any gov­ern­ment. In any case, pro­duc­ing tan­gi­ble re­sults that are vis­i­ble on the ground, is far more dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing than de­liv­er­ing speeches to win votes. How­ever, what could jus­ti­fi­ably be ex­pected is that in the first year of of­fice, the new gov­ern­ment enun­ci­ate pro­gres­sive poli­cies for in­clu­sive growth, set the tem­plate for the bal­anced de­vel­op­ment of all seg­ments of the econ­omy and above all en­sure a con­vinc­ing dis­play of pos­i­tive in­tent.

The ini­tial in­di­ca­tions of the ap­proach of the NDA gov­ern­ment to­wards the In­dian armed forces and as to where they fig­ure in its list of pri­or­i­ties was some­what dis­ap­point­ing. It be­gan with the ap­point­ment of Arun Jait­ley, the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, as a part time Min­is­ter of De­fence. This was par­tic­u­larly in­con­gru­ous as de­fence fig­ured high on the list of pri­or­i­ties in BJP’s elec­tion man­i­festo. A per­ma­nent Min­is­ter of De­fence was ap­pointed only six months later. The lack of fo­cus of the gov­ern­ment of the day on de­fence was once again re­vealed in the al­lo­ca­tion for de­fence in the bud­get for fi­nan­cial year 201516 pre­sented by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley who held charge as De­fence Min­is­ter. The al­lo­ca­tion for de­fence was en­hanced by a measly 11 per cent, a fig­ure that was not ad­e­quate even to cater for in­fla­tion! This was par­tic­u­larly unin­spir­ing for the armed forces as the bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion for de­fence did not cater for the in­duc­tions of a large num­ber of weapon sys­tems and plat­forms ur­gently re­quired for ca­pa­bil­ity build­ing by all the three wings of the armed forces as an in­te­gral part of their re­spec­tive mod­erni­sa­tion plans that had been pend­ing for years.

But credit must be given where it is due. Dis­play- ing the rare abil­ity of out-of-the-box think­ing to take on a prob­lem head on when it came to a prob­lem of na­tional se­cu­rity, Prime Min­is­ter Modi found a way to break the log­jam in the ten­der for 126 medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA) that had been lan­guish­ing for eight years and there ap­peared to be no so­lu­tion in sight. Both the par­ties in the deal were not pre­pared to climb down from their re­spec­tive po­si­tions that had led to a stale­mate. By­pass­ing the stalled ten­der, the Prime Min­is­ter suc­ceeded in ar­rang­ing a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment trans­ac­tion for 36 Rafale fighter jets to start with. The In­dian Air Force (IAF) needs to in­duct mod­ern com­bat air­craft ur­gently to re­store the strength of the com­bat fleet to the au­tho­rised level and re­gain a re­spectable level of op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity.

Ear­lier on, two months af­ter the BJP Gov­ern­ment came into power, the pre-poll prom­ise of speedy de­ci­sions on pro­cure­ment of weapon sys­tems was put into ac­tion with the then De­fence Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley in his very first meet­ing of the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC) cleared pro­cure­ments worth over ` 34,000 crore. Sim­i­larly, in May this year, the DAC headed by Min­is­ter of De­fence Manohar Par­rikar cleared a num­ber of pro­pos­als in­clud­ing the sin­gle-ven­dor of­fer by Air­bus-Tata con­sor­tium to re­place the IAF’s age­ing fleet of 56 Avro air­craft and ac­cepted Rus­sia’s of­fer to build 200 light-util­ity he­li­copters un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive.

The DAC also cleared ac­qui­si­tion of 145 M777 ul­tra-light how­itzers from the US un­der a gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment deal as dur­ing the UPA rule, the ten­der floated glob­ally for this weapon sys­tem had been can­celled five times. But per­haps the most im­por­tant ex­er­cise that the Min­is­ter of De­fence has un­der­taken is the re­vamp of the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure that had ac­quired a sem­blance no­to­ri­ety as un­der this pro­ce­dure over the last decade only one deal, i.e. for the Pi­la­tus PC-7 Mk II ba­sic tur­bo­prop trainer, had gone through suc­cess­fully.

The gov­ern­ment has the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­liver; but will need time. The na­tion needs to ex­er­cise pa­tience. But what has dis­ap­pointed the ex-armed forces com­mu­nity is the in­or­di­nate de­lay in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­vised pen­sion scheme which was a part of the pre-poll com­mit­ment by the Prime Min­is­ter him­self.


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