INDIA TO FAST TRACK WEAPONS BUYING
By Bulbul Singh
04 Feb 09. India is to fast track weapons procurement under a special drive to equip the defence forces with latest equipment. “The move comes as the Indian defence ministry has failed to use all the funds allocated for defence in the current financial year,” said sources.
Procedures are being relaxed for fast-track procurement, as the defence forces have complained about not getting much needed weapons and equipment even as India-Pakistan came close to another military action in the wake of the of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
“The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by the Defence Minister and the three Service Chiefs, which clears weapons and equipment is preparing to meet more frequently to clear the purchase,” said sources. After the DAC clears the purchase, it is cleared by the Union Cabinet on Security, headed by the Prime Minister, which will also be held more frequently. Currently it takes two-to-five years for a weapons deal to be cleared, as it goes through various layers of bureaucracy in the Indian defence ministry from the initial stage of Request for Information to the final stage of contract signature .
Under the fast-track process being set in motion, procurement will take between six months to one year, in a fixed time scheduled, in which several layers of bureaucracy are erased and the process travels fast to the DAC which itself will meet within a time framework.
However, the list of weaponry and equipment which will be
included in the fast-track list is not known. Sources added that some important defence deals are likely to be cleared in the next one-to-two months including the multi-billion deal on Indo-Israeli Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile project, and Coastguard assets.
The Indian defence ministry had been slow on finalization of weapons’ procurement deals for the last two-to-three years but decided to float Request for Proposals (RFPs) in 2008 in bulk, worth over $9 billion before the ruling government faces general elections in early 2009.
“Fearing criticism from the defence forces, and political quarters, the government wants to send procurement to the fast-track process machine ahead of the general elections,” said sources.
The Indian Army needs to procure a variety of 155mm/52 calibre guns worth over $2.5 billion in line with a long pending policy to upgrade all field guns to 155mm/52 calibre. However, the process of acquisition has been slow ever since the plan was mooted in 1999. Not a single 155mm/52 calibre gun has been procured. Besides, the Indian Army urgently needs to replace its aging Russian-made air defense
systems, as the homegrown Quick Reaction Missile, Akash, is delayed by over 10 years. In addition, the Indian Army needs to procure advanced weaponry to fight urban warfare, and thermal imaging systems.
The Indian Air Force is also looking for Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems, and other air defense systems. However, it took nearly 15 months to ink the deal in late 2008, even after the entire
procurement process had been completed in early 2007 for purchase
of Spyder QRSAM systems from Rafael of Israel. “The Indian Air Force has yet to sign the Mirage upgrade deal with Thales, worth over $1.5 billion even after the Indian Air Force cleared the upgrade six months ago,” said sources. Both the Indian Army and Air Force need to purchase varieties of helicopters, but the procurement process for purchasing 197 multi-utility helicopters had to be abandoned in early 2008. A fresh bid has been floated but the procurement process is
slow largely due to bureaucratic delays.
The Indian Navy needs to procure submarines as the Russian-made submarines are on the last leg of their life. The Navy needs to add more warships to sustain the minimum level of fleet level of around 140 warships which is threatened by the decommissioning of aging warships.