'Timely delivery of weapons important'

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: May 30 2009, 05:27am hrs
Voicing concerns over the delay in the delivery of major defence acquisitions for the armed forces, the government has said that delivery on time is important, as it is a major factor in containing cost escalation by countries like Russia.

Defence minister AK Antony, while dedicating the first of the three eye-in-the-sky airborne early warning and control systems (AWACS) to the nation, said: I conveyed my anxieties to both of them (Israel and Russian ambassadors) here that they should deliver the remaining AWACS on time... so that the Indian armed forces get the latest, modern weapons systems. The anxiety is not country specific.

Indian defence procurement is expected to touch $100 billion in the next ten years, and several foreign companies including those from the US, Europe and Asia are vying with each other for a big chunk of the deals.

After recurring delays, the $1.1-billion AWACS deal, which had been inked in 2004, the first of the three systems was delivered only this week.

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of the function, Antony said, We have to further speed up procurement as the security scenario around us demands that we must equip our armed forces with the most modern equipment. He pointed out that delay in delivery resulted in the technology becoming old in the wake of speedy technological advancement.

The minister said defence secretary Vijay Singh would be leaving for Russia this Sunday to hold talks over the inordinate delays in supply of defence equipment, in particular the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier price re-negotiation, and to press for the timely supply of two more AWACS, which are part of the $1.1-billion deal, for the IAF before the end of 2010.

According to him, the delays in the delivery of the systems have resulted in problems of cost escalation. Infact, the acquisition of the Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, has been delayed for long with Moscow continuously increasing the price.

However, he said the problem of delayed delivery was a cause for concern with not just the two major suppliers, but with other countries as well, though he did not name the US, France, Britain and Italy, who handle the rest of the defence contracts in India.

Cost escalation is a problem not only with Russia but with other countries too. The real answer is to get the delivery on time. We are in constant touch with countries that supply to India.... We are trying to impress upon them that delivery on time is important, Antony said.

Russia has pushed up the cost of Admiral Gorshkov to be inducted in the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya, from $1.5 billion to $2.7 billion, and Russians are now demanding $2.9 billion.

Along with this, the delivery of INS Chakra, the Russian-built nuclear-powered Akula class submarine, has been delayed and insiders indicate that Moscow is planning to hike its price citing the global economic meltdown.

Extremely critical of the prolonged procurement process for even vital defence weapon system, Antony cited the 20-year delay in acquiring the Hawks advanced jet trainers from Britain, which were delivered only last year after several rescheduling of deadlines.

Russia and Israel are the two largest military suppliers to India. New Delhi had recently signed contracts with Tel Aviv for supply of medium range surface-to-air missiles worth Rs 7,500 crore. It has also inked pact with Russia for design and development of fifth general fighter aircraft and medium transport aircraft.