A year ago, because the British manufacturers did not any more have the plant needed to make modifications, the Jaguar aircraft of the Indian Air Force were refitted at HAL, Bangalore. The average cost per aircraft for making them airworthy and fighting fit for at least the coming five years was around Rs 4 crore each, or less than US$ one million. However, when President Nicholas Sarkozy of France and his charming consort Carla Bruni came to Delhi, the conversation at dinner and other tables must have been exhilarating, for the UPA agreed to refit its French-built Mirage-2000 fleet. Not in India, although superb facilities exist within the country, but in France. Although the matter is still under negotiation, the French side would like an average takeaway of not less than Rs 150 crore per aircraft. This, despite HAL being able to do the same refit for a tenth of that huge value. Indeed, the cost of just a refit of the Mirage would equal that of a new multi-role aircraft.
Why is the UPA so generous to President Sarkozy and his beautiful princess? Why not? Who is there to ask questions, now that the EVMs have disgorged the figures implanted in them, and given the UPA 262 seats? Across the world, EVMs are being banned, because of the ease with which they can be tampered and results manipulated. This would be especially simple in states where the UPA partners are in command, which incidentally just so happen to be states where the UPA has done spectacularly well. Those who wish to look into this phenomenon can visit the website government.wikia.com/wiki/tracking_the_elections.
The website, which came out of discussions between a few friends interested in the 2009 polls and the possibility of EVM misuse, contains data that are self-explanatory. If the implications behind the data presented are accurate, it would explain why the Congress Party has been riding roughshod over its allies, not to speak of the Opposition, ever since May 16, 2009. And why the Mirage-2000 refit will cost more than thirty times the Jaguar refit.
The many defence mirages in Delhi are not just French. The UPA is on the cusp of signing away a further Rs 9000 crore for additional work on the Russian hulk, the Admiral Gorshkov, on which nearly Rs 4300 crore have already been committed. This for a ship that was given “free of cost” by Moscow. Given that an India-built aircraft carrier would cost less than Rs 2000 crore, does it make a sense to pay more than four times that for additional charges alone? Would it not be better to tow the ship (which seems to have immense difficulty staying afloat) to India, and get the Cochin Shipyards to conduct the refit, the way an Indian manufacturer was— after the foreign option dried up— allowed to refit the Jaguar aircraft? Given the experience thus far, the Gorshkov is unlikely to ever be able to sail for long stretches, except at the cost of maintenance that would bankrupt the Indian Navy. Then why is the UPA—especially the present Defence Secretary—so eager to agree to the outrageous demands of the Russian yard where the sinking aircraft carrier is berthed?
This writer can vouch for the personal integrity and honesty of Defence Minister AK Antony even today, alone among cabinet ministers, Antony’s wife and children use public transport rather than a car. They lead a simple lifestyle that depends greatly on Mrs Antony’s modest salary. However, sad to say, the Ministry of Defence has remained a procurement cesspool, even under an Antony. From 70 per cent of core equipment needs being met by foreign producers, the figure is on track to rise to 85 per cent within three years, because of the immense volume of external procurement. For example, the French are being as unreasonable as the Russians in escalating costs. The Scorpene submarine deal with France will cross Rs 20,000 crore, because of the repeated cost escalations demanded by the French. And because of Carla Bruni’s charm—no question that Italians are very charming—the Ministry of Defence has been passive in facing up to such escalation.
Antony needs to understand that India needs a nuclear submarine force, for only such a vessel would be able to fulfil the responsibilities of a great power such as the country hopefully will evolve into. Rather than blow up hundreds of crores of rupees fattening the pockets of the international arms industry, he needs to take a hard look at the future. After all, that is what Rahul Gandhi claims to be all about. This writer has never hidden his soft corner for the only son of Rajiv Gandhi, although the jury is still out as to whether the “Rahul Effect” will be yet another mirage or not. Certainly the omens are not good.
As for aircraft carriers, all that the Gorshkov would be good for is to fight the Maldivian navy, rather than any of the present potential foes of India. Even a ship as small as the Gorshkov (about 45,000 tonnes displacement) cannot berth in any except two Indian ports at present, but no effort is going into increasing the draft of the many ports this country has. What India needs is a carrier of double the displacement of the Admiral Gorshkov, that can carry nearly a hundred aircraft, including AWACS, instead of 40 aircraft (and no AWACS) that the Gorshkov can carry. India needs ships that can reach West Asia and East Asia, not vessels that stagger in their normal state, and will be moored to the Andaman Islands when not undergoing maintenance checks. A lot of the equipment so recklessly being purchased at huge prices from abroad is useless in any conflict situation involving actual potential enemies of India, which are not many in number.
What needs to be done is to allow the entry of Indian companies into the defence production sector, and give them priority over foreign companies. Also, to develop India as a source for advanced weapons to its friends. China is rapidly overtaking even the US in many countries, because of the lavish way in which that country supplies military equipment to others. India needs to follow the same path, as that is the only way to ensure that regional militaries ally with Delhi rather than with hostile capitals. However, all this seems only a mirage at present.
Antony was a humble, honest CM in a cabinet where several of his colleagues were neither. In his second term as Defence Minister, he needs to think beyond the political needs and compulsions of the UPA to the security of India. Because of the dependence of India on foreign countries for core defence needs, any of these suppliers can apply pressure on Delhi to stop counter-measures in the event of an attack. The defence industry needs to be self-reliant by 2020. And the procurement of items needs to be from the view of India’s expanded geopolitical reach and requirements, rather than be based on 1970s military logic. Hopefully, the next session of Parliament will witness a lively debate on the many mirages in India’s defence planning and implementation.