Aero India, a Reminder of Urgency Needed in Modernisation
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.