During the UPA regime (UPA I and II) the situation with regards to modernisation and replacement of old equipment had deteriorated considerably and it was widely acclaimed that the new Narendra Modi Government which took over the reins of the country in May 2014 would rectify the situation.
While the then technology savy Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who took over in November 2014, did bring dynamism into the bureaucratic functioning of the Defence Ministry, but with his departure to Goa as Chief Minister in March 2017, it became business as usual. Arun Jaitley who was dual- hatted, and brought back to defence ministry once again, could not be expected to handle two vital ministries both of which required fulltime attention of its Minister.
Nirmala Sitharaman, took over as India’s first full-time woman defence minister on Thursday, 7 September 2017. Her dynamism to get things done was seen as a positive development by the Services she was seen actively pursuing her goals, however nearly two decades of neglect will not be easy to overcome in a short period.
The army has been the greatest sufferer with regard to modernisation because it needs replacement of nearly all its weapon systems starting with the assault rifles, carbines, air defence weapons, towed, mounted and self propelled howitzers for the mountains, plains and desert terrain respectively, reconnaissance and observation helicopters which are in an atrocious state, surveillance assets such as unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their combat variant, and various categories of missiles, night fighting capability for our tanks and infantry weapons, and various categories of ammunition to build up the stocks of war wastage reserves to fight a war of a given duration in the future. This is the state at a time when we are possibly facing a two front scenario with Pakistan in the west and China in the north and east.
On January 16, 2018, we were informed by the media that the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Raksha Mantri Smt Nirmala Sitharaman, met and cleared procurement of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines on fast track basis for 3,547 crore.
On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, the Defence Acquisition Council cleared 15,935 crore worth of proposals including the one to procure 7.40 lakh ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ assault rifles at a cost of 12,280 crore for the three services. This clearance also included light machine guns & sniper rifles.
A major doubt arises is regarding the various proposals. Are the proposals of January 13, 2018 and February 13, 2018 going to be merged or will two different procurements be made and if that be so then the army will have three types of rifles namely the rifle of January 16, proposal, the rifle of February 13, proposal and the current INSAS rifle to be replaced by the improved version of the INSAS by the DRDO! Has any thought been given to the logistic problems of repair, maintenance and the ammunition? Will the ammunition be common to all three?
The announcement of February 13, 2018, follows the terror attack on the army family quarters at Sanjuwan, Jammu, on February 10, 2018, after which it seems the poor state of weapons in the infantry has suddenly dawned upon the hierarchy where as if we go back in time, it is a clear case of neglect by the government.
A similar case was regarding the cancellation of the negotiated USD $500 million deal with Israel for the Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM). As per reports, the deal was to be inked soon and in anticipation the Israeli company, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, had even set up a missile sub-systems manufacturing unit near Hyderabad in partnership with the Kalyani group. After Putin’s visit the fate of this deal hangs in balance.
Why are our governments, political leaders, bureaucrats and the senior military hierarchy so indecisive? We leave the judgment for our readers.