November 6, 2016
NEW DELHI: The Army's much-delayed modernization drive continues to be stymied by cumbersome procurement procedures, bureaucratic bottlenecks and corruption allegations at a time when border tensions with Pakistan are at an unprecedented high in recent years.
After the scrapping of the long-pending mega tenders for new-generation assault rifles and close-quarter battle carbines due to a mix of unrealistic technical parameters and graft allegations, the Army's case for urgent induction of the
M-777 ultra-light howitzers
for the China front received another setback on Saturday.
Defence ministry sources said the Pentagon's "letter of offer and acceptance (LoA)" to sell 145 the M-777s to India for $737 million "expired" on Saturday. "The LoA for the government-to-government deal was valid only till November 5.
The contract can be signed only after the Cabinet committee on security gives the final nod after the finance ministry's clearance," said a source.
Having already bagged Indian defence contracts worth over $14 billion in the last 10 years, the US of course is likely to once again "extend the validity" of the LoA to ensure it clinches the M-777 deal, under discussion for over seven years. But the case is an indication of the way the long-winded defence procurement system works in India.
Moreover, coupled with the absence of long-term strategic planning to systematically build military capabilities, India often does not get the biggest bang for its buck while its armed forces continue to grapple with critical operational deficiencies on several fronts from submarines and fighters to helicopters and artillery.
The 1.18 million Army, incidentally, has not inducted a single 155mm artillery gun since the infamous Bofors scandal of mid-1980s due to a recurring series of scandals and blacklisting of armament majors.
Apart from the need to exorcise the Bofors ghost, the Army wants the 155mm/39-calibre light-weight howitzers because they can be airlifted swiftly to "threatened high-altitude areas" along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.
The M-777s, with a strike range over 25km, are meant to equip the 17 Mountain Strike Corps being raised for effective conventional deterrence against China. The Army is being forced to cannibalize from its existing reserves to raise the 17 Corps, which will be fully in place with 90,274 troops by 2021.
Apart from the howitzer deal, the Army has around 120 big and small modernization projects meandering their way through the cumbersome procurement system. The force, for instance, recently relaunched its decade-long global hunt for 1.85 lakh new-generation assault rifles after scrapping the last tender for them last year, as was first reported by TOI.