Uphill task: Defence procurement getting directionless

It is not just MMRCA fallout or temporary strategic incompatibility with once close partners of India that is rattling the Ministry of Defence, now it seems the MoD is facing challenges from all quarters at a time when the government is getting weak and directionless.  

The disease that is manifested today is something the MoD has been suffering from a long time. On the top of it, rampant corruption has already become a hallmark and nepotism has taken roots at every level.  

The high voltage MMRCA contest has really created more complications for India which the establishment privately confessed had never thought of. Both US and Russia, although both have got their shares from the pie in other deals, are now up in arms against India.

While Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has written a strongly worded letter to Indian Prime Minister seeking clarification about MiG-35 which does not exist for all practical purpose, the Americans have started reviewing all cooperation with India from strategic to military, political and economic.      

Ghost of MMRCA

“The MMRCA issue was blown out of proportion as if there is no tomorrow for Indo-US relations and India was being treated as a country of the 60s. The Indo-US cooperation is necessary in some areas and absolutely not needed in quite a few areas going by the current environment. There is no near agreement on many issues,” remarked a secretary in the Government of India.   

The ghost of MMRCA fallout, which initially appeared getting subsided, is back on the table to haunt India at various international forums. On the top of it, even some present and past defence deals in other sectors are getting affected.

The US first turned its back at the NSG meeting while its Ambassador and other dignitaries tried to assuage the feelings of the Indian leadership, at least publicly. The very point is NSG operates on the basis of consensus, now the ENR ban against India must have happened through consensus only.

That is why it is difficult to hide behind one’s thumb. The defence cooperation is a mere business it is not a relationship. Interestingly, all the top powers having defence ties with India are now saying that sustainability of their nuclear cooperation with India will continue at all cost. It is all because India is needed, it can not be ignored.       

Now, Russia is creating problems in couple of naval deals and prohibiting its weapons being fitted into foreign platforms for which India needs to take prior permission from Moscow otherwise it will be considered as violation of intellectual property rights (IPR).

The Brahmos project had funded Russian Yakhont missile development at a time when Russian defence industries were being locked up or turned into goods stores. But now the threat of source code sharing is emerging in the post-MMRCA short-listing period.

Similarly, the US which raised strong doubts over the selection process of MMRCA deal is asking India to adhere to more stringent protocols of NSG and sign new clauses which will make Indian Parliament Liability Bill redundant.

This is another way to nullify what is legal and law of the land by now. If not, then the whole nuclear isolation which ended with lot of fanfare will now revisit, may be not in a similar fashion but in phased manner or as per the suitability.

Defence deals which are being used to propel national power by other countries, India is an exception because power play in global chessboard is new for many Indians. The MMRCA right from the beginning is a deal having no direction and appears to be lacking much strategic purpose or logic.

Since the deal has moved quite further, there is no point in discussing all that. But there are certain facets one should note carefully. First, the former IAF Chief ACM Fali Major had no clue what IAF is looking for from MMRCA, will it be war fighting machine or just end up in Air Force museums after few years of service.

He said in various interviews that in MMRCA he does not need AESA technology and stealth features are not necessary at the moment. Thus, the RFI never mentioned about AESA and stealth technology as IAF was not sure what it wants.

Now with the change of head, suddenly AESA and stealth are back on the table. The MoD will have to almost renegotiate during the offset evaluation process about AESA technology and stealth features with two short listed contenders.

It is simple for anybody who has any basic strategic sense of South Asian theatre that without AESA and stealth no aircraft can fly even within its own border to carry out air sanitization patrols as it will be vulnerable to long range surface to air missiles, forget about entering into enemy air space.

This was precisely the case with LCA. Each year or each time there is a change of service chief at IAF HQ, the LCA’s feature will also change. This lack of strategic planning is the contributing factor for India’s woes as to why it has failed in defence technology when its civilian industrial base is doing extremely well.

Strategic planning failure

On the top of it, MoD fails to carry out any assessment study about futuristic scenario of India’s two prime adversaries. In fact, MoD has no resources to monitor defence industry trend world over and no clue about possible change of strategic equations in the region which will affect India.

It is only last year, the Government of India started deputing few officers to various Indian missions to get acquainted with emerging technological and industrial developments in the West.  

The Army now realizes it needs to focus on China border. When China was building road and rail networks Indian leaders said it is the birth right of China to develop these backward regions of Western China.

Now suddenly, there is a lot of discussion about Chinese border infrastructure which has become a national threat. Raising Special Forces or air borne assault troops in two years is not easy. It needs lot of rigorous efforts but Indian Army mindset is totally Pakistan focused.

Army topbrass dealing with war strategy and weapons acquisition, mainly the artillery, were surprised over a report published in STRATEGIC AFFAIRS that how an artillery system can be employed into a moving airborne platform.

There are hundreds of examples in which such systems were fitted and produced extremely well results. Since the 70s, a wide range of artillery systems such as 105mm and 40mm canons were fitted into AC-130 and various flying platforms including choppers to inflict heavy casualties in mountainous region of Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The USAF’s A-10 is still a feared platform for Taliban which employs GAU-8, a 30 mm canon. But it indeed became an item of news for the Army and particularly those who claim to be the brightest experts in artillery.

Recently, a foreign defence attaché based in Delhi asked General V K Singh about Indian Army’s perspective planning for another 15 years. General Singh remained silent despite the same question pitted to him thrice. One wonders, first of all, if any such plan exists as far as India is concerned. Secondly, the strategic planning is an alien culture to Indian military establishment.

Several debates in National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), a body full of retired personnel of the distant past who badly need rehabilitation, have witnessed intra service rivalries through various innovative arguments.

Once they will advocate the creation of chief of defence staff. But if one gets the wind that CDS, if at all created, could go to another service then the other will withdraw the argument under some pretext about the CDS, for the very creation he had once advocated.