The defence ministry on Wednesday night cleared several major long-pending stalled projects worth over Rs 25,000 crore, including the Rs 11,929 crore one for 56 medium transport aircraft by the Tata-Airbus consortium, Rs 2,900 crore for 145 American M-777 ultralight howizers and Rs 3,000 crore for around 200 Russian Kamov light utility helicopters.
The defence acquisitions council, chaired by defence minister Manohar Parrikar, also cleared the acquisition of two Boeing 777-300 (extended range) aircraft from Air India for the dedicated use by President Pranab Mukherjee and PM Narendra Modi as the Desi Air Force One, as was first reported by TOI earlier this week. The two wide-bodied aircraft will now be reconfigured for the VVIPs, which will include a an executive office and bedroom, and then fitted with advanced self-protection suites to jam and defeat hostile incoming missiles and encrypted satellite communication facilities by Boeing.
In terms of sheer money, the biggest proposal to be cleared was the Rs 11,929 crore mega project for the Indian private sector to supply 56 medium transport aircraft to the IAF despite there being only one bidder, the Tata-Airbus consortium, in the fray. As reported earlier, the dominant view in the defence establishment was that the green signal should be given to the Tata-Airbus venture since its technical and commercial bids were submitted in a competitive environment, with the other seven contenders backing out for one reason or the other.
The project, under which the first 16 aircraft are to be bought from the foreign original equipment manufacturer and the rest 40 to be manufactured by the Indian Production Agency (IPA) within eight years, is meant to encourage the Indian private sector to enter into the domestic military aerospace sector. Incidentally, it was the Modi government's first DAC in July — then headed by Arun Jaitley - which revived the Avro replacement project after it was put on hold by the UPA-II regime last year due to strong opposition from the powerful PSU lobby and ministers like Praful Patel, as reported by TOI earlier. The other big takeaway was the long-pending Rs 2,900 crore deal with the US government for 145 ultra-light howitzers, which are to be acquired for the new Army divisions being raised along the border with China.
The direct government-to-government deal had been stuck due to high costs and a non-compliant offsets proposal offered by artillery manufacturer BAE Systems. The Army, however, has been for long been demanding 155mm/39-calibre light-weight howitzers, with a strike range over 25-km range. Such howitzers can be swiftly air-lifted to "threatened high-altitude areas" along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, which has the military infrastructure in place to swiftly mobilize troops and equipment to outnumber Indian forces by 3:1 there.
The DAC also cleared the initial construction planning process for the country's second aircraft carrier, the 65,000-tonne INS Vishal, as well as the Rs 2,700 crore acqusition of nine systems of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile for three Talwar-class stealth frigates and three Delhi-class destroyers. Developed jointly by India and Russia, the missile flies at Mach 2.8 or almost three times the speed of sound. The Army and Navy already have the BrahMos missiles, which are also to be soon tested from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter.