There is a growing sense of purpose in the Indian defense establishment about the need to procure arms and equipment quickly, with generosity assured in the procurement budgets for the armed forces and an increasing recognition to cut down on bureaucratic delays.
Over the past two days, the Defense Minister AK Antony has repeatedly expressed the need to free the process of defense procurement by the Indian armed forces from binds of reams of red tape. On Tuesday, at the 11th Asian Security Conference at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, the minister virtually admitted helplessness, pointing out the availability of the requisite budget was not the problem. “I have been Defense Minister for few years. I am yet to find a solution. Money is not the problem. How to spend it is the problem,” he said.
Again on Wednesday, while inaugurating the ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar Seminar on Dominance of Air Power organized by the Center for Air Power Studies in New Delhi, he said, “Present-day technology and systems are changing at a hectic pace. In fact, modernization of our armed forces has long been overdue. However, even though our government is earmarking huge budgets, it is not being fully reflected in our modernization efforts. Allocation of money has never been a problem. The issue has rather been the timely and judicious utilization of the money allocated. We need to cut down on unnecessary procedural delays, bottlenecks and red-tapism in our procurement mechanism. Keeping these developments in mind, we have framed our Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP).”
The issue is one that has been on a lot minds in the defense establishment. Earlier this week, the Secretary, Defense Production Pradeep Kumar said, “The process of acquiring complex systems is a little long — the technical evaluation takes time,” but reassured, “In certain cases Fast Track Procurement is built into the DPP.” He too patted the generous mood and thick pockets of the Indian government, saying, “Where funds availability is concerned, there is no constraint. Despite the meltdown, there will be no scaling down in our modernization”. He pointed to the attendance expected at the Aero India next week. “In fact, the turnout of companies for our show is good, in fact better than last time, even though the impact of the downturn is being felt in the civilian side.
Procurement by the armed forces has been on the fast track since the attacks on Mumbai last November. Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major also clarified on Wednesday that the IAF’s procurement plans were on track. “I think we will spend the entire amount allotted to us.” Giving the instance of the tender for the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), “I reckon that they (user trials) may start by April or May. I would not say that there has been a delay because technical evaluation of six top-of-the-line fighter aircraft is a very complex job,” he said, adding, “If we start the trials around April or May, we may be able to complete our summer trials. These trials are going to be in many phases.”
Six international vendors are in the fray for the contract which is expect to amount to around USD 12 billion. The list Lockheed Martin’s F-16 IN, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company’s (EADS) Typhoon Eurofighter, Dassault’s Rafale, the Russian Mig-35D and Saab’s Gripen. Some of the purchases India plans to make include eight Boeing P-8I maritime aircraft, six C-130J Hercules aircraft, three Phalcon AWACS mounted on Il-76 aircraft, 24 Harpoon missiles, 4100 French-origin Milan-2T anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), with the last, reported to be an urgent requirement. This is besides the planned induction of 1657 T-90 tanks and 45 Mig-29s (naval variant) amongst other planned purchases.