Mr. “St.” Antony & India’s defence procurement

Defence Minister AK Antony with Air Force Commanders
Photo:Courtesy: DPR, Defence



Defence Minister AK Antony, has been under fire for mishandling several raging controversies in his ministry, but on Tuesday, he took refuge behind several big ticket deals that the Indian Air Force is on the verge of signing or has signed in a couple of cases to make a point that not everything is wrong in the Ministrty of Defence.

Emerging from Air HQ after interacting with top Air Force Commanders on Tuesday, Antony said: “Today is lucky day for me. We met with air force chief and officials. It was exciting. Air force signed 317 capital acquisition contracts. It is a record. They are more confident. I am happy today because things are much better now.”

What the defence minister did not conveniently on elaborate was that these contracts have been spread over the past five years and not all of them have fructified.

While the entire list of contracts is not readily available,  previous Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, in an elaborate interview to me in June last year ( listed the new hardware that the Air Force was about to acquire or had acquired.

ACM Naik had said then : “126 (jets) MMRCAs is well-known.  214 fifth generation fighter aircraft that will be coming around 2017; 42 SU 30’s additionally, we require. The RFP has been issued to HAL; 75 trainers -that process is well on its way, two more AWACS of IL-76 base which we are waiting for; 10 C-17s–another famous deal cleared by CCS; 80 +59 medium-lift helicopters; 22 attack helicopters; 12 VVIP helicopters…”

A very heartening development going by the above-mentioned list.
Now let’s take just two major items and see where they stand.
The Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract, as the mother of all deals (worth an estimated 20 billion dollars), has come to be known, is in a limbo after the French-made Rafael aircraft emerged L-1. The selection was arrived at after a complicated, scientific process benchmarked against 50 plus parameters. The process (started in 2007 and ended in 2012) earned kudos from all the bidders. It was transparent and fair so much so that ACM Naik said he had half a mind to patent the procedure!
And yet, St. Antony, at the first sign of  trouble in the form of an objection by a member of Parliament (who may or may not be well-versed with the entire process), has put the price negotiation on hold till further notice, further delaying the vital deal.
Remember, even if India was to seal the deal tomorrow, it will take at least another three years before the first aircraft joins the Air Force!
Despite the operational urgency, there is no apparent procedural urgency on Mr Antony’s part!
For a moment forget combat jets assuming that in this season of pappis and jhappis our Western neighbour is not in a mood to launch any air strike and therefore IAF can live with what it has in terms of combat fighters!
But look at where the Indian Force stands in terms of imparting basic flying lessons to the newly-joined cadets at the Air Force Academy at Dundigal. Ever since the ancient HPT-32 trainer aircraft ran into problems and accidents, the basic flying training at the AFA has suffered.
A Swiss trainer aircraft, Pilatus has been identified as an immediate replacement.
The selection was done over a year ago.
As I write this, Air HQ sources say the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) may clear the purchase of 75 of these aircraft in the next few days. Again, assuming that the deal is cleared this week, the induction may as well take another six to eight months, depriving hundreds of cadets of their basic flying lessons!
One can add several other examples of excruciating wait that defence manufacturers have had to endure to get their orders after being selected.
It is not at all my case that contracts should be signed without due diligence but they should also not be subjected to endless, time-consuming, energy-sapping delays brought about by complaints initiated by losing bidders and vested interests or simply by an indecisive, lazy mindset in the Defence Ministry.
Unfortunately, in his obsession to maintain the image of “Mr Clean,” AK Antony has slowed down the processes and injected a sense of uncertainty among defence ministry mandarins leading to policy paralysis that will cost the Indian armed forces dearly in the long run.
Before I close here, I cannot resist citing an example of the lazy, or call it casual, approach that the MoD adopts in writing its annual reports.
Talking about China, MoD said in 2010-11: “India is conscious and watchful of the implications of China’s evolving military profile in the immediate and extended neighbourhood.”
Cut to 2011-12. The MoD says: “India remains conscious and watchful of the implications of China’s military profile in the immediate and extended neighbourhood.”
Not a word changes! There are several other instances in the annual reports that have passages after passages which are products of nothing but a cut and paste job.

So much for our ministry that is entrusted with ensuring national security.

  1. April 12, 2012 -

    Just read today that CBI has appointed two Colonels to help them Interpret the Tatra Deal. Wonder how unbiased would these Serving Colonels be…. They should have appointed any retired JAG officer who has experience in Corporate Contracts and is currently working in any Corporate Legal Department.