De­f­expo – Killing the con­cept

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the au­thor.

The for­mer De­fence Min­is­ter A.K. Antony was blamed by all and sundry of keep­ing the de­fence forces starved of crit­i­cal equip­ment and keep­ing the de­fence in­dus­trial com­plex largely de­funct in his 10-year ten­ure in that ap­point­ment. It is to his dis­credit that even for­mer diplo­mats com­mented that the mil­i­tary had been re­duced to the level of what it was in 1962.

Gen­eral V.K. Singh, then Army Chief (now MoS in the Modi Gov­ern­ment) was con­strained to write to the then Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh about crit­i­cal­i­ties in the army. But then the lack of a na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy 68 years af­ter in­de­pen­dence it­self is in­di­ca­tion that na­tional se­cu­rity has all along been given lip ser­vice with un­ac­count­able gen­er­al­ist bu­reau­crats man­ning the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) and De­fence Min­is­ters who are bound by the ad­vice of this very bu­reau­cracy. But this does not mean that the De­fence Min­is­ters have lost any fo­cus on their voter con­stituency even as de­fence and se­cu­rity is­sues re­mained on the back­burner.

When A.K. Antony laid the foun­da­tion stone for the Coast Guard Academy at Azhikkal, it was the sev­enth ma­jor de­fence pro­ject to be com­mis­sioned in the state since Antony was given the de­fence port­fo­lio. About 20 km away from the Coast Guard Academy is the In­dian Naval Academy at Ezhi­malla, which was in­au­gu­rated by Man­mo­han Singh in pres­ence of De­fence Min­is­ter Antony. Antony also gave the green light to the ` 600-crore Na­tional In­sti­tute for Re­search and De­vel­op­ment in De­fence Ship­build­ing (NIRDESH) near Kozhikode. Then was set­ting up of the strate­gic elec­tron­ics unit of the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL) at Kasar­god cost­ing ` 200 crore spe­cial­is­ing in avi­a­tion elec­tron­ics, build­ing radars, nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems, mis­sion com­put­ers and early warn­ing sys­tems for the LCA, ALH and Sukhois, all un­der HAL’s Hy­der­abad-based avi­a­tion di­vi­sion. In ad­di­tion was the fourth man­u­fac­tur­ing com­plex of the Bharat Earth Movers Lim­ited (BEML) at Palakkad a cost of ` 260 crore for build­ing Ta­tra ve­hi­cles, float­ing bridges and all other forms of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles. The Bharat Elec­tron­ics Lim­ited (BEL), another DPSU, set up a prod­uct sup­port cen­tre at Kochi’s Ker­ala In­fra­struc­ture De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (KINFRA). In­ci­den­tally, the cruise mis­sile man­u­fac­tur­ers, BrahMos Cor­po­ra­tion took over the state-run Ker­ala Hitech In­dus­tries Lim­ited (KELTEC), and re­named it as BrahMos Aerospace.

Antony’s fo­cus on Ker­ala was ev­i­dent when while lay­ing the foun­da­tion stone for the Coast Guard Academy at Azhikkal he stated apart from de­fence projects even public sec­tor in­sti­tu­tions could be brought to Ker­ala. In fa­cil­i­tat­ing a se­ries of de­fence projects back home, Antony’s pri­mary aim was to earn him brownie points with the elec­torate in Ker­ala.

Now De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar has an­nounced that the next De­f­expo in In­dia will be held in his home state Goa from March 28 to 31, 2016. Glob­ally, de­fence ex­po­si­tions are held at fixed venues, gen­er­ally at the coun­try’s cap­i­tal be­cause of valid rea­sons like in­fra­struc­ture, ac­ces­si­bil­ity by both par­tic­i­pants and more im­por­tantly visi­tors, ac­com­mo­da­tion and the like. In In­dia, all the eight edi­tions of De­f­expo till now, an ex­hi­bi­tion of land and naval sys­tems, have been held in the na­tional cap­i­tal for these very rea­sons, in­clud­ing the fa­cil­i­ties avail­able at Pra­gati Maidan.

Even the Aero In­dia is held at Ben­galuru in the sprawl­ing com­plex of the IAF base. Com­pared to these, Goa only has a small naval base which can hardly ac­com­mo­date a show of this mag­ni­tude un­less the in­ten­tion is to go in for mas­sive avoid­able and in­fruc­tu­ous ex­pen­di­ture. Shouldn’t MoD de­clare what that ex­pen­di­ture would be and give jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for such ex­pen­di­ture? Sure it would give the lo­cal hote­liers a field day for many days but then Goa never has a lull of tourists and a De­f­expo has much dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments than In­ter­na­tional Literary Fes­ti­val or film fes­ti­vals. De­f­expo is an im­por­tant meet­ing ground of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of some of the world’s big­gest arms com­pa­nies and re­quires much larger in­fra­struc­ture. As it is de­spite the ‘Make in In­dia’ call the in­dus­try is frus­trated with the hype of $16-bil­lion worth of de­fence projects ‘cleared’ but not a sin­gle re­quest for pro­posal (RFP) or ten­der is­sued. If these are be­ing held back to be re­leased just be­fore the planned De­f­expo at Goa to at­tract firms into a mad rush to make a bee­line for Goa, it is ill-ad­vised. The ex­cuse that the In­dia Trade Pro­mo­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ITPO) can­not make Pra­gati Maidan avail­able for De­f­expo 2016 is truly laugh­able un­less ITPO has been handed over to Pak­istan, as is the di­ver­sion­ary state­ment that no de­ci­sion has been taken yet to shift Aero In­dia from Ben­galuru as yet. Modi Gov­ern­ment needs to take a call on its de­ci­sion to hold the next De­f­expo at Goa.

The ex­cuse that the In­dia Trade Pro­mo­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ITPO) can­not make Pra­gati Maidan avail­able for De­f­expo 2016 is truly laugh­able un­less ITPO has been handed over to Pak­istan


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