A successful foreign policy is predicated to a large extent on a country’s defence posturing. A robust defence posturing in turn is not possible without motivated men complemented by requisite arms and equipments.
In the last decade or so, India’s defence preparedness suffered on account of both lack of material wherewithal and subversion of the military leadership. Deliberately the three services were made to starve of most critical equipment imperative in conduct of any military operations. The army cannot fight without artillery support, but it was constantly denied 155mm guns. The navy’s submarine fleet dwindled to pathetic levels of 40 percent of the minimum requirement. The fighter squadrons of the air force were allowed to be depleted to nearly 60 percent of the mandatory need.
Internal and external sabotage was the main reason for India’s arms deficiencies. As revealed in the disclosures on acquisition of Tatra vehicles, a well-oiled corruption chain had evolved in the procurement process. In the first place, these vehicles were procured by the BEML, ironically a PSU of Defence Ministry, and sold to the Indian Army at four times the international market price. To ensure that no suspicion was aroused, these routine procurements were made out of revenue budget and not capital budget. The perpetrators included senior officers in the army, officials of the PSU; bureaucrats; politicians and at least one national security advisor. This former NSA was literally pulled out from his tottering life by a journalist, to declare the then army chief as the ‘worst’ India had seen. The cardinal mistake that this particular army chief, now a minister in Modi’s cabinet, committed was that he put an end to this ‘Tatra loot’.
The same army chief had revealed as to how the Indian Army was deliberately denied 155mm gun and the blueprint of the BoforsGun. As buying equipments from a foreign company is a more lucrative option, some officials in the army and the MoD purposely did never mention about the availability of technology transfer of BoforsGun. Thus, during Mr Antony’s tenure as defence minister, procurement of all critical equipment that had reached fruition stage after years of painstaking trials and negotiations were torpedoed.
It was true even with the subversion of military leadership. Gen VK Singh was inflicted with the age issue because he raked up several misdeeds in procurements. An ex-air force chief was made the scapegoat for VVIP helicopter scam. Then in the Indian Navy, there were a series of 13 accidents. The then navy chief was harassed into resigning. Another naval officer was superseded. No sooner, as contrived, the desired naval chief took over, all age related problems of naval arms and equipment disappeared overnight. It was a clear case of manipulation of naval hierarchy by internal and external forces, of which Mr Antony was more than aware.
The very edifice of India’s defence was therefore under attack by vested interests. It is under these circumstances that the Modi government took over. To a degree, it has addressed the fundamental rot in the defence apparatus. While the armed forces leadership is a fate accompli inherited from the last regime, it has been ensured that the new policy and procurement procedures obviate the possibilities of wrong doing by this very leadership, which was put in place for internal and external manipulation.
The policy of the new dispensation has ensured that the clout and influence of the middlemen is neutralized. It has ensured that nothing comes in the way of defence preparedness. The decision to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft from France in government to government deal is giving many sleepless nights to the lobbyists. The other decisions with regard to procurement of absolutely critical items are: replacement of 56 Avro aircraft by Airbus C295 (40 to be made in India), procurement of 197 Kamov helicopters from Russia (to be made in India), procurement of 145 x M777 guns from US, an arming of six Navy War ships with BraMos missile. Thus, the government has ensure that the critical requirements of fighter aircraft, air transport capabilities of the air force, fire power and aerial capabilities of the army, and the requisite muscle of the navy are addressed.
Compare to not even 25 percent of the strategic roads (19 out of 73) under the UPA regime on our eastern frontiers, as per the MoD, 16 of these border roads will be completed this year and by the year 2018, all the 73 will be in place. The Modi government has therefore addressed the procurement concerns of critical items of the armed forces in a very innovative and imaginative manner. A message has gone down to the leadership of the armed forces that manipulators will no longer be tolerated. It has been pursuing creation of defence infrastructure with the sense of urgency, and by announcing ‘one rank one pension’, an age old demand by the veterans, it has demonstrated its commitment to the welfare of the soldier community. An impressive achievement in a year’s time!
RSN Singh (The writer is ex-Joint Secretary, RAW)