How not to arm a nation

Oct 05 2013, 08:32 IST
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SummaryDefence PSUs must be penalised for non-delivery

get its required number of trainers in time, how will it ensure the training of sufficient pilots to guard our skies, for the Kirans have been over-flogged and would be finishing their life too? And one cannot do basic training on the advanced jet trainer.

But how have our nation’s procurement plans come to be affected by the power of self-styled specialists, anonymous letters and disgruntled arms merchants? The answer is simple — they know that India has no indigenous industry to fall back on and a stalled contract will result in a re-tender, bringing them back in contention. The reality is that the recent tinkering with the rules in Defence Procurement Procedure 2013 is no solution, and the much-touted offset policy to facilitate the introduction of critical technology still remains only on paper.

These infirmities will persist unless the government demands accountability and punishes incompetence and slippages in the programme schedules of agencies entrusted with R&D and production. It is good that exit clauses in indigenous programmes have been incorporated so that the services retain their operational bite and national defence is not compromised by the non-delivery of defence public sector units (DPSUs). That this has become an unfortunate norm in technology intensive projects is no state secret. It is a reality that makes the services’ procurement wings as well as the defence ministry wring their hands in despair and foreign arms merchants laugh their way to the bank. The defence ministry press release shows that the IAF’s case for more Pilatus-7s is based on this fact alone — the inability of HAL to live up to its promise of fielding the indigenous HTT-40 trainer aircraft on time.

The writing is on the wall. The HAL example quoted here is symbolic of the widespread malaise of non-performance that afflicts our DPSUs and the Ordnance Factory Board. Incidentally, has anyone been made answerable for the void in the artillery arm of the army and the submarine capabilities of the navy due to interruptions in their re-equipping plans? And the 197-helicopter project seems to have had a second burial, with pilots continuing to fly the vintage Cheetahs and Chetaks.

In a recent Defence Research and Development Organisation seminar in Delhi, the defence minister openly said, “Perform or perish”. One hopes it is a true declaration of intent, with concrete action to follow. The next few months will be critical and should indicate which

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