AK Antony tries to clear the air on Defence matters

Fellow journalist Mukesh Kaushik, a busybody on the defence beat took pains to send out the entire reply given by Defence Minister AK Antony in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday on the grants for the Ministry of Defence.

This must be the longest Antony has spoken. Some passages in his speech were playing to the gallery, but a lot of information, some old, some known to a few and some new, emerged from the speech. For those of us who watch and report on security and strategic matters, it was important. I am sure for many others too who are interested in the defence sector this would prove to be useful. Here are the exceprts.


Mr. Vice Chairman, Sir, at the beginning, I would like to place on record our salute to the heroic memory of our soldiers and officers, who laid their lives for the protection of the sovereignty and integrity of our country. Before the start of this discussion today, nearly for one hour, the entire House paid glowing tributes to the memory of our greatest patriot, greatest poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Without any exaggeration, when I stand here, I feel the spirit of Tagore, yesterday and today, while we were discussing our Defence Budget. I don’t find any narrow political batting or any attempt to settle scores, or, pointing scores. Instead, all the hon. Members, either on that side or this side, nearly 24 Members, and, finally, the Leader of the Opposition, were speaking as true Indians, Indian nationalists. That was the spirit of Rabindranath Tagore. So, this discussion, yesterday and today, actually gives more strength, not only to me or my officers but also to the entire Armed Forces of our country. Yesterday’s and today’s discussion in this House is the greatest tribute, which this House and the nation have given to the Armed Forces of our country.

I thank all the hon. Members from the other side and this side for participating in this debate in a very very enlightened atmosphere and, at the same time, giving suggestions, healthy suggestions, that can improve the functioning of the Ministry of Defence and also improve the performance of our Armed Forces, and as a result we can strengthen our national security and our defence preparedness. I assure the hon. Members that I will take every suggestion from you, every criticism from you with a serious note. I will try my best and wherever corrections are needed, we will make corrections and with your support we will make every effort to make Indian military stronger so that we can face any challenges coming from any quarters in the coming years. Today, in the final stage of the debate, the hon. Leader of the Opposition also joined the debate. Actually, through his speech, he has taken this debate to a new height. I congratulate him for his wisdom in taking this debate above politics, above party lines and giving suggestions to strengthen the preparedness of our Armed Forces. As everybody knows, the primary duty of the Armed Forces is to defend our country in the event of an armed conflict. That is their primary duty. For that, they have to be vigilant in land borders, in air, in sea, in space and, in recent years, in cyber area also.

I know there are limitations. There are shortages of officers, state-of-the-art equipment, in certain areas of ammunition. I am not trying to justify anything. But please think for a moment. Is it a one-day affair? Did it happen this year or last year or in the last five years? Whether you like it or not, but it has been there from the independence onwards. Many Members were referring to the letter written by the Army Chief to the Prime Minister. I was going through the records during the last few days to know what happened in the past. What I understood is that there is nothing new in it. From the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru onwards, the first Prime Minister’s time onwards, Army Chief of that day used to write to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister about the shortage of arms and ammunition and also the need to strengthen the Armed Forces. So, it has been there since then.

It is not a justification. I don’t find anything extraordinarily wrong in Army Chief writing to the Prime Minister or to the Defence Minister. The Service Chiefs used to write to the Prime Ministers and to the Defence Ministers to express their anxiety. They want the best equipment for their respective forces so that their forces remain the most modern and effective to face any challenge. We have to improve in every area. We have to strengthen our armed forces by giving them the most modern platform, ammunition, and more officers. And we have to look after their welfare. These are our duties. We must do that. There is no second opinion about that. At the same time, with all the limitations, even today, we are not inferior to anyone. The Indian military, even today, with all these limitations, is one of the best in the world. It is in great demand. We have defence cooperation with 47 countries, including all the major powers. All demand joint exercise with Indian armed forces. Why? They think that they can also learn many things from our armed forces. Even today, with all the limitations, we are one of the best militaries in the world. But we have to further strengthen it. Here I agree with the observations made by the Leader of the Opposition. Times are changing.

Threat perceptions are changing. I am very careful in using words. I know the gravity of the situation. We are living in a very, very volatile and dangerous neighbourhood. Nobody can predict the emerging security situation around us. What will happen in
Afghanistan after one or two years? Nobody knows this. What will be the fallout of that in Pakistan and India and in our neighbourhood? Nobody knows it. What will be the political future of our neighbouring countries? Nobody knows it. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, the growing proximity between China and Pakistan is also a cause of serious worry. Threat perception changes according to the emerging situation. Threat perception today is not similar to the threat perception ten or twenty years ago. Dynamic changes are taking place. But I assure the House that we are also changing our strategy. Most of the major parties in this House, one day or the other, were in the Government. They know how we are giving direction to the armed forces. Defence Ministers direct the armed forces. That is the guiding policy of the Government. Recently, we have given a new direction to the armed forces to prepare themselves to meet the challenges in the context of emerging new threat scenario. That preparation is going on. In this connection, we have to give them the most modern equipment. There are certain shortfalls.

In artillery, we have a problem. Even after 26-27 years, we are not able to give a new gun to the Indian Army. It is because of various controversies. There also, we have not succeeded so far. We attempted twice or thrice but, we failed. Our negotiations with one company, Singapore Technology, were almost in the final stages. What can I do when we found that that company was engaged in corrupt practices and gave money to the Chairman of Ordnance Factories? We have to cancel that contract. It was in the final stages. Then, according to the Army’s assessment, they have selected one of the best guns in the world which suits Indian conditions. They selected it. It was almost in the final stage. Again, unfortunately, what can I do when we found that Rheinmetall were also caught by the CBI? That company is also blacklisted. It is a real problem. But, now, we are trying to find a solution. That is also at the final stage. There is some problem of deviations. When we failed in our attempt to get guns from Singapore Technology and Rheinmetall, there was a process to get LUH. That is at the final stage. Trial is over. But, when the trial was over and trial report came, Army raised a question of deviations. Then, we appointed a committee under DRDO Chairman, Mr. Saraswat, to go into these technicalities. I think that report is ready now. He is here. He says that it is ready. So, we are now taking that report to the DAC. That is our final attempt. Let us attempt to find a breakthrough. Period of 26-27 years is a long delay.

In the area of Army Air Defence also, it was in the final stage. Again, some problem came up with IMI. I do not know why these people are doing that. Again and again, we are telling them not to engage in corrupt practices but even then, they try to influence by tempting people. That company is also blacklisted. Now, Army is trying to find out an alternative. These are some of the problems that we are facing. With all these problems, which we face, I had 2-3 rounds of discussions with the Army Chief. We have found solutions to most of the issues and now, we are moving forward. I hope that in the coming months and years, we will be able to provide new guns and ammunition to Army Air Defence. Out of 142 items of ammunition, 113 types of ammunition are produced by our own ordnance factories. 29 types are imported. Out of these 113, because of the blacklisting, ordnance factories are facing some problems. But, we are at the final stage of solving those problems also. I am sure, even though there are some problems, with the cooperation of our DRDO, PSUs, ordnance factories and private sector under Armed Forces, we will be able to find solutions to most of these problems. I assure the House that as early as possible, we will give state-of-art equipment and ammunition to our three Services.

Sir, coming to Indian Air Force. The other day, some hon. Members mentioned about MiG-21 and MiG-27. It is a reality. Thirty-year or 40-year old aircraft are there in our inventory; nearly 40 per cent. But I can assure you that things are changing. In the coming years, things will change. We are now procuring more Sukhois, MRCAs, LCAs and Fifthgeneration aircraft from Russia. Then we are upgrading MiG series as well as mirage aircraft. Then AWACS, in security areas; we are upgrading our Air Force. For transportation, so many aircraft are coming. Air Force is also in the process of modernization in the last few years.

The Navy Chief was telling me today that there was a meeting of Navy Commanders. He was telling me that in the coming years the Indian Navy was going to get five modern new warships every year. Things are going upwards. Even though it is very late, I would like to inform the House with happiness that in the early part of next year, 2013 long-awaited Vikramaditya will come to our shore. In the early half of next year, India’s first indigenous strategic submarine would also join the Indian Navy. In-between the Navy has leased nuclear-powered INS Chakra from Russia.

That is already with the Navy. The Navy is also in the process of modernization. We have to strengthen it. I will come to that later. I need the support of Parliament and also the Government. We have to have a second look at the Defence Budget in the context of new threat perception as well as defence preparedness. The hon. Members, cutting across party line, expressed their concern about developments in Pakistan and China. In that context, I would like to share with you some of the steps we are taking. Yesterday, my hon. colleague, Shri Balbir Punj, started his opening speech on Siachen. I do not know where the confusion is. But the fact of the matter is, a very responsible Member like him raised this subject and after that many of the hon. Members joined him. I would like to clarify that. In fact, in the last few days, across the country, some people are saying that India is hardening its position on Siachen. Here some of the friends are saying we are softening our position on Siachen. The fact of the matter is, we are neither hardening, nor are we softening. We are standing where we were. Our position is the same. We have a
policy. Our position is the same. I will tell you about the policy. There is no secret. Till today, 12 rounds of Indo- Pakistan talks have been held on Siachen. The 13th round is going to take place next month, in the 2nd week of June.

Don’t expect dramatic decisions from that. It is a very complicated issue. Let us handle it with all sensitivity. And national issues are there. So, in the last round, our position was that while Pakistan stated that it reiterated its earlier stand of seeking is engagement and redeployment without agreeing to authentication of the present positions, the Indian side stated that authentication of the present positions and alienation both on the map and on the ground followed by demarcation are prerequisites for subsequent steps to be considered. That was the position which we took in the last round. We have not changed the position. Our position remains as it is. It is a national position. It is not a Government position. So, we are not softening and we are not hardening. We are taking a decision which we took after considered discussions and debate with the Government, with the Armed Forces and with experts of the country. That position remains.

This is what I would like to inform the House. Regarding China and Pakistan, our approach is two-fold. As a Government, we want to maintain friendly relations with all our neighbours. In fact, if we can have a peaceful time, then, India’s rise will be much quicker and easier. Left to ourselves, we want friendly and cordial relations with all our neighbours. That is why, with Pakistan and China, we are trying to have friendly relations, and, at times, dialogues are taking place. At the same time, on the one hand, while dialogues will continue, on the other hand, we will strengthen our capabilities. Just as while continuing the dialogues, they are strengthening their capabilities, we will also strengthen our capabilities. We are doing that. We are aware of the responsibility.

If China can increase their capabilities in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, — it is their territory; we have accepted that they have the right – if they can increase their military strength there, then, we can increase our military strength in our own land. In Arunachal Pradesh, in Sikkim, and in every Indian State, we can strengthen our capabilities. In the past, we did not perform our duty. That is our mistake. Now we have learnt our lessons. We have started taking decisions and implementing them. In fact, recognizing the need for enhancement of our capability, the CCS had, in 2009, approved the raising of two Infantry Divisions, one Paradip battalion, one air defence brigade and one pioneer company for the Eastern Command, one armoured regiment, one artillery brigade and one pioneering company for the Northern Command. That process is going on. This has happened after 27 years. The Indian Army is almost in the state of completing the formation of two divisions after 27 years.

Out of 61 roads, I said only 16 are completed. Other roads are in the process of completion. We speeded up the process. Whatever money is required, whatever equipment are needed, and if we want to increase the number of workers, we will do that. We will give topmost priority to the completion of strategic roads mainly, and also to roads in the Eastern sector. We have also prepared a plan for 14 Railway lines in the border areas. For that, we need financial support of the Planning Commission. The plans are ready. We are trying to complete this. We are in the process of finalising roads, Railway lines etc.

  1. May 10, 2012 -

    Good start and hope will be taken to logical completion!