What is the use of a gun without bullets? Or a shark, even if a metal one, without teeth? Using this logic, the Navy has sought a waiver from the government to ink the Rs 1,800 crore deal with Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica for torpedoes to arm its Scorpene submarines.
With the first Scorpene INS Kalvari set to head for year-long extensive trials this August, Navy has pressed the panic button of "critical operational necessity" for the acquisition of 'Black Shark' torpedoes from Finmeccanica subsidiary Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel (WASS).
All fresh deals with Finmeccanica are banned under the graded blacklisting norms notified for the conglomerate in August last year due to the fallout of the infamous VVIP helicopter scam, in which another of its subsidiaries AgustaWestland was the accused.
As it is, the ongoing Rs 23,562 crore construction of six French Scorpene submarines at Mazagon Docks (Mumbai) is running four years behind schedule. The first Scorpene, which was finally "undocked" on April 6, is now to be commissioned in September 2016. The other five will be delivered by 2020, at intervals of nine months each.But the Scorpenes will be toothless without heavyweight torpedoes. While the submarine can also fire SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missiles from its six firing tubes, the torpedoes are its primary weapons to maintain stealth.
Defence ministry sources on Thursday said the law ministry's opinion had been sought for the "special exception" of the contract with WASS for 98 Black Shark torpedoes. "No final decision has been taken yet. It is being actively considered," said an MoD source.
The new defence procurement policy (DPP), which will liberalize blacklisting norms keeping operational military requirements in mind, is also still "some months away" from being finalised. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar told TOI recently that an expert committee led by former home secretary Dhirendra Singh is "still examining" the proposed DPP changes to simplify convoluted procedures and remove the "atmosphere of suspicion" dogging arms procurements. In August last year, the Modi government relaxed the original blanket ban imposed on Finmeccanica by the previous UPA regime since it held such indiscriminate embargos adversely affected military modernisation projects.
Under the "partial" ban, while all ongoing contracts with Finmeccanica are now progressing, all new ones are on hold even if it has been declared L-1 (lowest bidder) after competition. WASS had won over the Franco-German Atlas Elektronik Gmbh, which produces Seahake torpedoes, in the torpedo competition well over five years ago.
But the deal was first put on hold since Atlas complained to the CVC about "irregularities" in the selection process. Then, after being cleared by the special technical oversight committee, the deal once again stalled due to the VVIP helicopter scandal. -timesofindia