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What Parrikar needs to focus on in 2017

January 14, 2017 12:50 IST

A T90 tank

'The defence minister needs to focus on human resources-related issues at the same pace in 2017 as he did on acquisitions in 2016,' says Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).

As we step into 2017 new challenges and old rivalries in the geopolitical arena raise their heads to pose a threat to our strides to the goalposts of being a major power in Asia.

Our geographical strengths, vast land mass and the fact of our island territories extending deep into the waters of the Indian Ocean through which some of the busiest sea lanes run compel us to have the strength to ensure stability in the region.

Under the circumstances, what would be the nation's and neighbours' expectations of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in 2017?

Will we continue to stride at the pace that we did pick up in 2016?

The defence ministry and the three services's performance cards in 2016 have been stellar. After a decade there is apparently a defence ministry that is taking a few decisions. Some of these are worth reflecting upon.

We released the new Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 (truncated) during the DefExpo in Goa on March 28.

A pathbreaking policy that also promises to evolve as we move along its guidelines. Post the release, the chapter on guidelines for blacklisting is also out. The chapter on strategic partners is yet to be released.

The major capital procurements in 2016 include frigates and minesweepers for the Indian Navy at a cost of Rs 48,000 crore (Rs 480 billion) and Rs 32,000 crore (Rs 320 billion) respectively.

For the Indian Army, Smerch rockets and weapon locating radars for Rs 3,000 core (Rs 30 billion) and Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion) respectively.

For the Indian Air Force, Akash and Barack missiles for Rs 4,800 core (Rs 48 billion) and Rs 875 crore (Rs 8.75 billion).

22 AH-64E Apache, 15 Chinook and 48 MI 17 V helicopters have been contracted, the first two of US and the last one of Russian origin, for almost Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion).

Other equipment in the process of being delivered includes four additional long range maritime patrol aircraft Poseidon P8I. The navy already has a fleet of eight aircraft, which has an operating range of 1,200 nautical miles with four hours over the station.

The navy's surveillance and anti-submarine capabilities will be substantially enhanced by the four additional aircraft.

The deal for 36 Rafale jet aircraft is also a reality.

After perhaps the longest-ever price negotiation in defence procurement, these aircraft will join IAF squadrons over the next few years.

The gunners who man our artillery have barely seen better days.

After two decades spent under the ghost of the Bofors scam without a single gun being inducted to replace ageing equipment, the dam seems to have burst open.

We have finalised the procurement of 145 lightweight American M777 155 mm howitzers.

These will give a boost to our artillery in the mountain divisions facing the Chinese and also certain parts of our Line of Control in Kashmir.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation has also got into overdrive. DRDO has produced a 155 mm 39 calibre howitzer based on the designs of the Bofors model.

Further, the Dhanush 155mm 45 calibre gun has also been delivered. Currently, DRDO is testing the 155mm 52 calibre howitzer.

If we can get all these projects to fruition, we have a fair chance of making a dent in the global market with cost effective models for any army.

Beyond DRDO, L&T has all but bagged the order for the self propelled 155 mm Vajra T.

The gun built in collaboration with Samsung, and mounted on a tracked chassis, will be a great boon for our mechanised formations.

Our helicopter fleet must rank among the oldest in the world. It requires extensive replacement.

We are progressing with the Russians for manufacture of over 200 Kamov Ka-226 helicopters in India.

An agreement has been signed between the governments; however, keeping in view that the Kamov has other partners manufacturing various parts, including the engine, there could be problems in terms of convincing other sovereign governments to share technology.

On the penultimate day of 2016, the newspapers announced the US offer of jointly developing and production of a future vertical lift aircraft (helicopters).

The project involves development of five different models over the next 15 years. The project cost is around $8 billion (about Rs 55,200 crore/Rs 552 billion).

Our only helicopter manufacturer of repute is the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Given the prospects of 200 Kamov helicopters and HAL's present capacity, a new project would be required to meet the needs of the three services that together works out to over 1,200 helicopters in the next 15 years. Further, a futuristic model would be able to garner a market abroad too.

The Americans have also offered a future infantry combat vehicle (FICV) for joint development. We have an FICV project of our own.

The prototype development is under way with the Ordnance Factory Board and two private players including L&T in the fray.

However, with the Americans having declared us as a major defence partner, the US proposal holds out the promise of easier technology access.

It may be possible to co-associate the chosen Indian private player/OFB, whoever makes the cut after the prototypes are assessed, to partner with the US agency.

In 2017, progress is also expected in the procurement of amphibious aircraft, quite a necessity for power projection in the Indian Ocean region, as also for relief and rescue missions.

The Japanese ShinMaya US2 has been under consideration for a long time without the deal being finalised.

It is also hoped that Scorpene submarines production will not face a stiff obstacle post the leaks and allegations against DCNS, the French manufacturer.

Without compromising on security aspects, there is need to continue with the project as per timelines we have for it.

The air force will definitely want to augment its air assets.

HAL's LCA Tejas and its proposed improved model, along with barely 36 Rafales, would not be able to bridge the deficiency of 10 squadrons that it faces.

There are offers of co-operation for a futuristic stealth aircraft from both the Russians and Americans.

In addition, the US has also offered manufacturing the F-16 in India. The F-16's vintage, already 40 years, is a serious handicap.

A lot of activity is likely to be witnessed on the unmanned aerial vehicles front.

Acquisition of close to 600 mini UAVs has already been approved by the defence minister. We are looking for Medium Altitude Long Endurance models.

The DRDO has developed Rustam 2. We have approached the US for up to 100 Predator UAVs. These UAVs are already battle tested in Afghanistan.

We require both the surveillance and the armed variants for all three services.

While an UAV's endurance, altitude ceiling, radar signature and other such parameters are important, the critical issue is obtaining the best payloads that they will carry for the various tasks we have for these assets.

The DRDO promises a lot of action in 2017.

Amongst its major projects are Long Range Surface to Air Missiles for the navy, Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile -- Astra -- for the air force, and Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems and certain other existing projects.

In 2017, the navy will continue with the construction of 60 ships at a host of shipyards.

It is also are looking forward to a Russian nuclear submarine replacing the INS Chakra, the currently leased one, in 2020-2021.

The Coast Guard is also being provided additional ships to reach its targeted expansion to a 150 ships force by 2020.

There are billions of dollars worth purchases to be made as we play a more assertive role for stability in our region and also prove to be dependable partners of most SAARC and ASEAN countries.

Greater thrust now needs to be directed at ensuring the armed forces are able to attract the right quality of manpower to man these sophisticated machines.

It is time to say yes to non functional pay upgrades in the officers pay scales, resolve the military service pay related anomalies for JCOs, disparities in the disability component on retirement, allowances for difficult areas that are lower than their civil counterparts, among other major issues.

The issue of mutual status between the civil services and the military needs immediate attention. The current equations, and especially the badges of rank that police officers wear, are a joke.

The defence minister needs to focus on human resources-related issues at the same pace in 2017 as he did on acquisitions in 2016.

Surely, if we want to be a major player as a nation in the region, the country will need to base it on the strength of its armed forces.

The Central Reserve Police Force or the Border Security Force cannot reach us anywhere close to it.

Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd)