10 November 2016
Source: The Statesman
Keeping the armed services “state-of-the-art”is a continuous process, and the approvals just accorded to the acquisition of equipment worth some Rs.82,000 crore have to be seen in the context of the finalisation of the Rafale deal with France, and the arrangement with Russia for a sophisticated “missile-shield”, frigates and helicopters. A feature of the latest approvals is that they pertain to indigenously produced equipment, albeit some with foreign assistance. That establishes that “make in India” is not an empty slogan for the forces, and the craze for imported “toys” has not been allowed to run amuck. Keeping the domestic industry in business is of much relevance to the self-reliance effort; alas the involvement of the private sector in defence production is still in its infancy. A welcome feature of the deals for more tanks, UAVs and rocket launchers is that the purchases have been “cleared” before severe shortages were felt, a significant change from the past, although the military “wish-list” continues to remain long. It is also important to note that among the approvals is the purchase of close to 100 units of the advanced version of the Tejas LCA - that should set at rest lingering doubts about whether the Bangalore-built fighter would eventually take its place on the IAF’s “front line”: only when “numbers” are produced can efforts at fine-tuning pay desired dividends. An additional 400 Avadi-built T-90 tanks and an array of UAVs would also boost the security effort.
Unfortunately, approvals of the Defence Acquisition Council are a mere first step: there is still a lot of red tape to be unraveled, then the production units have to be geared up to ensure supply at the requisite level. In the past the forces have had to look to foreign sources only because the sarkari manufacturers failed to maintain time and cost schedules. Greater involvement of the private sector would inject both competition and efficiency into the production exercise. That might be attained if, at its next round, the Council focuses on equipment produced in the private sector - which remains commercial in outlook, orders are its life-blood.
Is there a political signal to the approvals? In the context of tension on the western border, the commitment to “keep the powder dry” would be appreciated by the military: a building of “war reserves” cannot be under-estimated, remember that after the restricted “action” at Kargil the stocks of ammunition, etc., were gravely depleted. The acquisitions, however, will be fully appreciated by the “uniforms” only when they perceive sincere efforts to resolve their grievances with the Pay Commission award, status, disability pensions and the burning OROP issue: - the booming of “new” guns will not silence those woes.