| A.K. Antony
New Delhi, Feb. 24: Defence minister A.K. Antony has cleared Rs 10,000 crore worth of pending military purchases at the fag end of the UPA II government, but deferred four big-ticket projects.
A big proposal for the army that has been cleared is the acquisition of 44,000 light machine guns (LMGs). The defence acquisitions council (DAC) specified that these guns would be made in India. The technology is likely to be imported.
LMGs are currently made at the Ichapore Rifle Factory near Calcutta and at the Tiruchirappalli ordnance factory in Tamil Nadu.
Unless these plants demonstrate the capability to absorb newer technology for the updated LMGs, the project could go to the ordnance factory at Korwa in Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi constituency. But Ordnance Factory Board sources said it was still “too early” to take a decision. The project would cost Rs 1,328 crore.
The DAC that Antony chairs refused to take a call on the purchase of M777 ultra-light howitzers — projected by the army as a desperate need since it has not acquired artillery guns in 30 years.
The next DAC would take a decision on the purchase that could total as much as $785 million (around Rs 4,800 crore). Defence ministry sources could not say if the next DAC will be held within the term of the current government.
The other postponed projects are proposals to acquire 16 maritime reconnaissance helicopters for the navy, four landing platform docks (amphibious ships) for the navy and an Indian Air Force project to replace its outdated Avro aircraft.
But the DAC cleared projects worth Rs 10,299 crore, two clear beneficiaries of which are the Tatas and the Israeli Rafael defence company.
The DAC approved a second phase of the modernisation of airfield infrastructure (MAFI) project for the Indian Air Force. The project would modernise 37 airfields. The main contractor is Tata Strategic Electronics Division. It would cost an estimated Rs 1,125 crore.
Rafael would be given a repeat order for 250 pieces of its Spice stand-off, autonomous, air-to-ground bombs for Rs 622 crore.
Among the other proposals cleared is a major project to give the army’s armoured divisions the ability to see at night.
A total of 2,000 thermal imaging sights for its T-72 Russian-origin tanks (Rs 1,000 core), 1,800 for its T-90 (also Russian-origin) tanks (Rs 860 crore) and 1,200 for its BMP armoured personnel carriers (Rs 964 crore).
The DAC also decided to earmark Rs 1,400 crore to acquire 4,000 pieces of laser range finder hand-held thermal imagers (HHTI) — also night-vision devices. Israeli-origin HHTIs are currently in service in the army.
The DAC also approved Rs 1,800 crore to modernise five ordnance depots.
Early last week, the IAF scrambled a Su-30MKI after its radars detected a slow moving unidentified flying object near Amritsar coming towards India from the International Border with Pakistan.
As the aircraft was launched, air traffic was asked to be cleared at heights between 25,000 and 30,000 feet as the UFO was flying at 28,000 feet, IAF sources said.
Later on, the Su-30MKI identified that the object was a weather balloon which was flying with the wind towards the border and it returned after being airborne for around 20 minutes, they said.
Reports suggested that the air force aircraft came close to two civilian planes while flying in the area. The air force denied that there was any “near-miss incident” involving the aircraft.