Editorial:Defence procurement for self-reliance
While pushing through the multi-billion dollar Rafale Aircraft deal, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “It is fair that for complex matters it takes some time, but there is a difference between ‘some time and too long.”
The estimated deal of Rs 120 to 150 thousand crores which has been under consideration to supply 126 Rafale fighter jets manufactured by the French giant Dassault Aviation since January 2012 holds paramount importance for the French Government for its commercial value. But since the Modi Government is mulling over increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence production, the quest for self-reliance rather than commercial consideration should be government’s prime objective.
The Air Force is in urgent need for fighter jets. Currently, the Air Force has 32 squadrons; a minimum of 39 are sought by top officers. This backlog is not new.
A Defence Procurement Procedure was designed in 1999 by the previous NDA government Request for proposal (RFP) Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) with the exclusive objective of acquiring fighter aircrafts. Another important objective was to leverage MMRCA design and engineering capabilities to manufacture fighter aircrafts by 2005. Till date there is neither the complete acquisition of MMRCA nor an effort towards developing ‘indigenous capability’.
India’s gestation period for realising its technical capability for fighter aircrafts is believed to be six times higher than any other country. As the deadline to issue RFP could not be met, the Mirage 2000 was upgraded at a staggering cost of Rs 18000 crores during Congress led UPA rule. Can a country of India’s size and security dilemma and troubled neighbourhood afford such delays? Is it in national interest to be in another deal like Mirage 2000 where there is no technology transfer or enhancement in India’s defence capabilities?
These questions strike you all the more when the PM of the new government in India is talking about ‘self-reliance’ in defence sector.
To develop self reliance, the need of the hour is to make realistic assessment of all defence deals including that of fighter aircrafts. As India has become the third-largest economy in the word in terms of purchasing power parity, its move to acquire improved defence technology has attracted major global defence manufacturers keen to do business with us. Therefore, India at this stage will require to develop a larger perspective, keeping national interest in mind.
Bringing in transparency and cost effectiveness in defence deals should be the first priority. A defence deal should aim at transfer of state of the art technology and guaranteed partnership in Research and Development to develop next generation aircrafts. Complete designing, manufacturing and assembling of infrastructure should take place on Indian soil for all the defence equipments including radars. Other than this, private indigenous players should also be allowed to forge effective partnerships with foreign manufacturers for the same.
One need not be an expert to tell that foreign supplies cannot assure national security in critical times. We have already experienced that in the case of Bofors. Of course, the urgency of equipment needs and larger foreign policy dynamics has a role to play in defence deals, but, the long term self reliance should be the ultimate objective.
PM Modi spoke about a strategy to win battles by invoking Bhagvatgita in his first election meeting at Rewari in Haryana, which was attended in large numbers by ex-servicemen. Elaborating the context of what he meant he had said- while standing at the battlefield, the person who has potential, confidence to win, strategic skills and the desire to lead from the front, is the one who can win a battle. It is this dictum that should be our guiding force in realising strategic self reliance. Otherwise, Rafale will turn out to be another Mirage of Defence Preparedness.