|Gen. VK Singh at a ceremony to welcome Malaysian counterpart Datuk Abidin in New Delhi on Monday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, April 2: The government today gave belated approval to a 15-year weapons purchase plan a week after army chief Gen. V.K. Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister detailing critical shortages in weapons and ammunition was leaked.
At its core, the plan will translate into a huge shopping list that global military companies will study before bidding for contracts worth billions of dollars.
But defence minister A.K. Antony also told the army that its purchases were delayed because of its own failings. “He directed the army to streamline its acquisition process in such a manner so that accountability can be fixed in case of any slippage,” a defence ministry source said.
India’s armed forces find themselves in a peculiar situation.
They are among the world’s largest importer of weapons — the defence budget for the current year totals Rs 1.93 lakh crore after a 17 per cent increase over last year’s allocations — and yet each of the three services lacks some of the most basic equipment that each says is absolutely necessary to maintain a military balance vis-à-vis Pakistan and China.
The air force, for example, does not have basic trainers — the first aircraft on which flying branch cadets train.
The navy’s only aircraft carrier (INS Viraat) has outlived its time and the effort to acquire another (the Admiral Gorshkov from Russia) is still an unfinished story after a decade-and-a-half.
The army has not got heavy artillery guns for more than 25 years.
The Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) for 2012-2027 would be the “mother document” from which each of the services would structure their own requirements. It is based on a national security strategy from which a national military policy is drawn.
Simply put, the plan lists weapons, systems, ammunition and logistics — a list of equipment to be procured over 15 years. It also lays down before the Defence Research and Development Organisation and industry the kind of capabilities they should seek to develop.
The list is distilled from the government’s assessment of current and emerging threat scenarios and the capabilities the armed forces want to acquire.
“The LTIPP has been drawn up periodically for a long time but it was never followed in spirit. This one was overdue. There was a prolonged delay, but at least it’s come now,” said Major Gen. (retired) Mrinal Suman, a former procurement official and now advisor to defence industries.
Defence minister Antony chaired two meetings today.
The first was specifically on proposals for the army’s procurements. The army is critically short of air defence weapons, ammunition for its tanks, night-vision devices, heavy artillery and special forces’ equipment. Ministry sources said today’s meeting was the third review of the army’s requirements after meetings in September last year and January this year.
Apart from army chief Gen. V.K. Singh, it was attended by defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and the director general (acquisitions), Vivek Rae.
In the second meeting, the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC), comprising the chiefs of the army, navy and air force and the chief of the Integrated Defence Staff, discussed the LTIPP and the Five-Year Defence Plan (2012-2017). The defence plan, also carved out of the LTIPP, includes proposals for manpower and infrastructure expansion.
Adoption of the plans does not guarantee that procurement will be speeded up. While Antony asked the army to tone up its planning and selection process for equipment by reducing the time taken in trials, he also said he was ready to give more funds to the services.
The Indian defence procurement system basically has two sets of authorities piloting a purchase.
The services are responsible for projecting the need (statement of case), identifying the standards for a system (general staff quality requirements), the request for information from vendors, the request for proposals (tenders), trials and evaluations and recommendation of the selected item to the ministry.
The ministry than evaluates the recommendation of the service in the light of the defence procurement policy that it revises nearly every year and fiscal viability.
Then it gets the system vetted by the Central Vigilance Commission before piloting it through the ministry of finance, the National Security Council secretariat and the Cabinet Committee on Security (for purchases above Rs 1,000 crore) before drafting and signing a contract.
The defence ministry has said for the first time that it will upload an unclassified version of the 15-year plan (called Technology Perspective Capability Roadmap) on its website.