August 31, 2015

MoD trying to make up for lost time

The Defence Ministry may be under fire right now for the delay in implementation of the much-expected One Rank One Pension scheme for military veterans but behind the scene, many quick decisions to acquire critical equipment for the three armed forces over the past year have been taken, making up for lost time in the second term of the UPA government.

Figures available with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) show that 30 major and small contracts worth more than Rs 55,000 crore have been signed or indents placed. The biggest beneficiary has been the Indian Navy with the government giving a go ahead for construction of seven frigates worth Rs 45,021 crores. By comparison, the next biggest sanction in terms of value for the Army to buy the Smerch Multi Rocket System worth Rs 2625.27 crores looks paltry but the acquisition itself is crucial to fill the gaps in Army's defences.

In addition, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC)--the crucial body that takes final decision on what to buy for the military--has accorded what is called Acceptance of Necessity (AON) approval for 22 proposals worth Rs 56912 crore. More interestingly, only seven of these 22 proposals will be fulfilled through what is called the Buy (Global) category. On the other hand, an overwhelming 95 per cent proposals worth Rs 54,116 crores will be met under the Buy and Make (Indian) category, giving a big boost to the Make in India programme.
As Defence Minister Manohar Pariikar said in his address to the military on the eve of the Independence Day: "The government is well aware of the need to maintain all round vigil on the nation's borders, to prevent any misadventure from across the borders. Therefore, keeping our war machinery in readiness and to be able to mobilize troops to forward positions at short notice is imperative. At the same time, there is the need to constantly upgrade and modernize the weapon systems and equipment. We have taken a number of steps to equip our forces with the best of the arms currently available and are constantly striving to make most of them indigenously."

Acquisition of crucial weapons platforms apart, many significant projects have progressed further, filling some crucial gaps in India's defence preparedness. Building on the earlier successes, Agni series of missiles (one of the few projects that did extremely well under the country's longest serving Defence Minister AK Antony) are being tested by the users. The successful trial of India's first Intercontinental ballistic misile (ICBM), Agni-5 on 31st January will help India further fine tune its plan for a nuclear triad and so will the first successful test firing of the ship-launched ballistic missile Dhanush.

Enhancing infrastructure along the China frontier has also received renewed attention in the MoD. According to figures available now, 762 crucial roads in the border areas of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh have been included in the Border Roads Development Board programme allowing the Director General Border Roads to grant financial sanction without any further approval from the Ministry. Earlier, the DG, Border Roads had to take case by case sanction for each maintenance grant, delaying the projects considerably. Given that roads are a key element of India's defence preparedness against China, this step will help immensely.

However, it must be remembered that military modernisation is a never ending process and therefore Parrikar and his team must ensure that the pace set by them does not slacken even as prudent use of resources becomes a mantra for the MoD in coming years.


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