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A Mega Acquisition to Meet Defence & Security Needs and Boost Military Modernisation

Acquisition

The big defence acquisition programme cleared on February 13, 2018 by the Defence Acquisition Council ought to answer critics and political opponents about the Centre’s commitment to defence and security. When sections of the commentariat and political opposition began building the narrative that the government has been slow in filling the gaps in the Indian military’s weapons systems, the mega announcement of Capital Acquisition Proposals of the Services valued at approximately Rs 15,935 crore appears to bust that narrative. But before we look at the details of the procurement programme, let us go over a bit of background and see what the current administration inherited and what it did with that inheritance.

Introduction: The Turnaround

It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that there has been a sea-change in India’s defence sector since the change of government in 2014. One of the first actions of the current administration after assuming office to have the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) clear critical procurements. In fact, around the time the government completed three years in office, the DAC had cleared several high-end and critical defence procurement proposals amounting to approximately Rs 4 lakh crore. Moreover, the DAC’s decision-making was characterised by speed and unprecedented transparency in the process, as is on record.

Again, the entire procurement procedure was overhauled by the current government, with the new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 which came into effect on April 1, 2016. The DPP focuses on institutionalising, streamlining and simplifying defence procurement procedure and promotes indigenous design, development and manufacturing of defence equipment, platforms, systems and sub-systems. Not only did the government clear private investment in defence platforms but it also opened up the defence sector 100% FDI. The relaxation in FDI policy has been accompanied by exchange rate variation protection for domestic industry, provision of a level-playing field to the private sector in terms of excise/customs duty at par with PSUs, liberalisation of the licensing policy and extension of the validity of industrial licensing to 15 years, as well as the streamlining of defence offset guidelines and the restoration of services as an avenue for discharge of offsets.

The Background: The Legacy Bequeathed to This Government by Its Predecessor

The significance of what the current government has done in defence becomes starker when contrasted with what had happened under the last administration and how it had jeopardised India’s defence procurement as well as the operational preparedness of the military.

The last administration’s decade-long tenure in office was largely a decade of peace wasted which should have been utilised for speedily implementing reforms in the defence sector and in modernising the Indian Armed Forces. Instead, A.K. Antony’s long run (almost 8 years) as Union Minister of Defence in the last government had ended up jeopardising the military’s operational preparedness, with a near-complete halt on arms procurement, blanket bans on foreign vendors and also a winding down of defence diplomacy. But such “caution” could not prevent alleged scams, such as the AgustaWestland case. The MoD under Antony was also mired in controversy involving service chiefs. We also witnessed the serial mutilation of the Indian Navy through a series of incidents.

The higher defence management under the last administration appeared to have remained indifferent to substantive issues which tend to affect the military’s morale and operational preparedness. It did not pay attention to inducting new platforms for the Navy, for example, and compelled the Navy to persist in exploiting old platforms such as its Kilo-class submarines well beyond what should have been their normal life cycles. The last administration also failed to induct a new artillery gun for the Army. If we looked for the last straw that nearly broke the defence sector’s back, there would apparently have been many.

But the last government’s tenure also saw strategic paralysis in South Block. Then Defence Minister Antony had, for instance, appeared to deliberately slow down India’s engagement with the US by citing Chinese concerns. The uncanniness of this cannot be understated since Beijing had never objected to Pakistan’s decades-long military relationship with the US. China never protested when Washington DC had declared Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally”. Why then would New Delhi defer to Beijing’s supposed apprehensions about India getting closer strategically to the US? Again, under the last government, the MoD had appeared to limit the global outreach of India’s military by ensuring security cooperation would not become a key component of Indian diplomacy.

The above instances are only a few select examples of how India’s defence sector as well as its foreign policy were forced to contract before the change of change of government in 2014. By wasting a decade of peace and not beginning the process of military modernisation, by turning the clock back on international security cooperation, the last administration had left an unenviable legacy for its successor. This is what the current government picked up and turned around. We have noted above the pro-active actions from the defence establishment – especially the MoD and DAC – but, to get the bigger picture, we must recall that among the things the current administration did was sign a revised framework for defence cooperation with the US and it also brought military diplomacy centrestage in reaching out to global powers and regional partners. What the current administration pursued from the very beginning was closing the gap between regional/ global demands for security cooperation from India and meeting those demands.

The Acquisition Programme At a Glance
  • Rs 1,819 crore for procurement of essential quantity of Light Machine Guns for the three Services through the Fast Track Procedure.
  • This answers criticism that links the situation in Jammu & Kashmir to arms procurement. The LMG procurement will meet the operational requirements of the troops deployed on the border.
  • Approval for procurement of 7.4 lakh Assault Rifles for the three Services at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore.
  • Procurement of 5,719 Sniper Rifles for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of Rs 982 crore.
  • To enhance the anti-submarine warfare capabilities of Indian Naval Ships, the DAC has approved the procurement of Advanced Torpedo Decoy Systems (ATDS) for the Indian Navy.
  • In the last month, the DAC had already fast-tracked procurement of the three main personal weapons — Rifles, Carbines and LMGs.
Prominence for ‘Make in India’

While the procurements cleared will fill critical gaps which are legacy issues inherited from the last administration, the Centre has also incorporated “Make in India” into the latest acquisition announcement. With this, other allegations that there has been no room for self-reliance in defence procurement should be laid to rest too – once again. The True Picture has earlier rebutted such claims, and the present acquisition proposal further strengthens the case for the Centre’s current defence procurement policy.

Let us, therefore, look at the focus on “Make in India” in the latest programme:

  • Purchase of Light Machine Guns being processed for the balance quantity will be procured under the “Buy and Make (Indian)” category
  • 4 lakh Assault Rifles will be “Made in India” under the category of “Buy and Make (Indian)”, via both the Ordnance Factory Board and the private sector
  • While high-precision Sniper Rifles will be bought under “Buy Global”, the ammunition for these will be initially procured and subsequently manufactured in India
  • In the anti-submarine warfare system, the “Mareech” system has been developed indigenously by DRDO and has successfully completed extensive trial evaluations. The “Mareech” systems will be produced by Bharat Electronics Limited, Bengaluru, at an estimated cost of Rs 850 crore.
In Keeping with Military Modernisation

In fact, the present administration had begun the process of overhauling the Indian Army in September 2017, acting on the Shekatkar Committee report which had recommended measures for enhancing the combat capability and for rebalancing defence expenditure, with the objective of increasing the “teeth-to-tail ratio”.

This involved measures like recruiting for 57,000 posts, optimisation of signal units, restructuring repair and ordnance echelons, closure of military farms and postal establishments in peace areas. The detailed take on this first phase of reforms to be completed in December 2019 was documented in our earlier article Examining the First Major Overhaul of the Indian Army After Independence.

The latest procurement announcement seems to be in line with the earlier systematic efforts at military modernisation. As noted above, under the current government, the DAC had cleared several high-end and critical defence procurement proposals amounting to approximately Rs 4 lakh crore within the first three years itself. Some of these efforts have been documented earlier in our article Against Charges of ‘Critical Hollowness’, Here’s a Broader Picture on Defence.

 

In conclusion, it may be said that defence and national security have been receiving an unprecedentedly sharp focus. The record of this administration reads bright, whether in the matter of resolving the 40-year demand for One Rank One Pension or instances like the latest procurement clearance.

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