Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, has been sent back to Goa in the party’s interest to take over as …..
Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, has been sent back to Goa in the party’s interest to take over as the chief Minister once again. His departure has created a void at a critical time when the state of defence preparedness and slow pace of military modernisation need the government’s urgent attention. Major operational voids in the war establishment of the three Services need to be made up early in order to enhance combat readiness.
It is only in the last six months that Parrikar had launched a concerted drive to make up the existing deficiencies by invoking emergency financial powers of the government. The government had at long last begun to address the ‘critical hollowness’ plaguing defence preparedness ~ a term used by General VK Singh. He had also initiated reforms in the procedures for the acquisition and indigenous manufacture of weapons and equipment. A new minister will take time to settle down and learn the ropes of defence procurement. Large-scale deficiencies in ammunition and important items of equipment continue to adversely affect India’s readiness for war and the ability to sustain military operations over 20 to 30 days. According to a CAG report, the army is reported to have some varieties of ammunition for barely ten days of conflict and it will cost over Rs 20,000 crore to replenish stocks. It will be recalled that during the Kargil conflict in 1999, about 50,000 rounds of artillery ammunition had to be imported from South Africa. The occurrence of such a situation during a time of crisis must be avoided through a prudent replenishment and stocking policy.
The government has signed contracts with Russian manufacturers to procure ammunition and spares worth Rs 5,800 crore for the army and Rs 9,200 crore for the air force. Similar deals are being negotiated with French and Israeli companies. However, it has been reported that the traditional norms of stocking ammunition at intense rates for 30 days of fighting and normal rates for 30 days are being watered down. If this is true, it would be a retrograde step.
Modernisation of the armed forces has been proceeding at a slow pace due to the inadequacy of funds, rigid procurement procedures, frequent changes in the qualitative requirements, the black-listing of several defence manufacturers and bureaucratic red tape. Parrikar had appointed a committee led by Dhirendra Singh, former Home Secretary, to review the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). Several pragmatic amendments were approved by the Defence minister and DPP 2016 was issued in early-April 2016.
Weapons and equipment purchase projects worth over Rs 1,50,000 crore have been accorded ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AON) by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by the Defence Minister since he took charge in late 2014. Contracts have been signed for acquisitions worth approximately Rs 90,000 crore. However, it will take three to five years before deliveries begin. In the army, artillery modernisation is yet to begin. There is an urgent need to acquire approximately 3,000 pieces of 155 mm/ 52-calibre guns to replace obsolescent guns and howitzers. So far a contract has been signed only for 145 pieces of M777 155 mm/45-calibre howitzers from the US. Air defence and army aviation units are also equipped with obsolete equipment that has degraded their readiness for combat and created vulnerabilities.
Modern wars are fought mostly during the hours of darkness, but most of the armoured fighting vehicles ~ tanks and infantry combat vehicles ~ are still ‘night blind’. Only about 650 T-90S tanks of Russian origin have genuine night-fighting capability. The infantry battalions need over 30,000 third generation night vision devices. Other requirements for infantry battalions include 66,000 assault rifles ~ a soldier’s basic weapon, carbines for close quarter battle, general purpose machine guns, light-weight anti-materiel rifles, mine protected vehicles, 390,000 ballistic helmets, and 180,000 lightweight bullet proof jackets. Action to acquire these items has been initiated and needs to be constantly monitored by the minister himself.
The Navy is in the process of building an air defence ship at Kochi to replace the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, six Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Docks and 22 destroyers, frigates, corvettes and other ships such as fast attack craft, landing ships and support ships. However, India’s maritime security challenges are growing and the Navy not only needs to modernise but also expand its footprint in the Indo-Pacific region.