Fresh ten­ders for fight­ers

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

The De­fence Min­istry’s dis­clo­sure about its plans to in­vite a for­eign man­u­fac­turer to make 110 fighter jets in In­dia has ex­pect­edly set the world’s ma­jor mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plexes agog with ex­pec­ta­tions. Nearly three years af­ter the Modi gov­ern­ment scrapped the ten­der for 126 fight­ers and then opted to buy 36 from the French, the wheel has come around in a full circle. The gov­ern­ment had de­fended its re­tail-level pur­chase of just two fighter squadrons by hint­ing at an­other pur­chase plan up its sleeve that would bridge the gap be­tween the re­quire­ment (42 squadrons) and the in­ven­tory (31 squadrons). It now ap­pears that the gov­ern­ment has for­malised its of­ten-aired in­ten­tion of ask­ing a for­eign com­pany to set up a com­bat jet man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in In­dia.

This is an op­por­tu­nity preg­nant with sev­eral pos­si­bil­i­ties. If the plan suc­ceeds, In­dia will be able to lift it­self in the tech­nol­ogy adap­ta­tion lad­der by sev­eral notches. The com­bat jet plant could be­come a strate­gic as­set if the planes are ex­ported to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. But as the UPA I dis­cov­ered af­ter in­ef­fec­tu­ally grap­pling with the 126 fighter jet ten­der for the bulk of its term, de­fence tech­nolo­gies are not read­ily avail­able on tap. There may hardly be an ex­am­ple of a for­eign de­fence behemoth trans­fer­ring sen­si­tive tech­nol­ogy. They pre­fer to ex­port ready-made jets or, at best, as­sem­ble them in the re­cip­i­ent coun­try.

In­dia’s pro­cure­ment cul­ture is marked by a lack of trans­parency and of­ten na­tional se­cu­rity be­comes the stan­dard ar­gu­ment to avoid ac­count­abil­ity for pro­fes­sional ne­glect. No heads are likely to roll for hav­ing kept the IAF fleet de­pleted for over a decade. The malaise ex­tends to the other two ser­vices as well — out­go­ing ser­vice chiefs at times have drawn at­ten­tion to the dan­ger of In­dia fall­ing be­hind the equip­ment curve. Apart from fail­ing to ef­fi­ciently man­age its arms pro­cure­ment de­ci­sions, the ab­sence of the Planning Com­mis­sion means the gov­ern­ment is un­able to take into ac­count na­tional and so­ci­etal needs while planning to in­duct ex­pen­sive ad­vanced weapons sys­tems. This ab­sence of a na­tional planning sys­tem may prove costly for the coun­try’s na­tional se­cu­rity in the long run.

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