NEW DELHI: The process of acquiring weapon systems for the armed forces has slowed down and needs to be accelerated while ensuring that there are no "avoidable controversies", Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said today.
In his first meeting with the Defence Ministry officials after taking over, Jaitley also reviewed the security situation in and around the country and promised all possible support to the armed forces in the modernisation process.
"There is a perception that the acquisition process has slowed down and this needs to be accelerated. There are set procedures in defence and we will have to ensure that acquisition takes place while ensuring there are no avoidable controversies," he said while interacting with senior bureaucrats in the ministry.
The new Defence Minister's comments come at a time when the Defence Ministry is grappling with controversial issues such as the AgustaWestland chopper scam and the Rolls Royce engine scandal. The Minister said providing the required equipment to the armed forces in a speedy manner would be the top priority of the Modi government.
"Speeding up the (procurement of) equipment required for their support are going to be priority areas as far as our Government is concerned.
"We are certainly concerned that in the last few years, some of these areas had actually slowed down and therefore expediting them would be a matter of top priority," he said while taking the "additional charge" of the ministry here.
He did not elaborate but was apparently referring to the delay in acquisition of modern equipment for the armed forces such as the 126 multirole combat aircraft, 197 light helicopters and a number of other acquisitions stuck up in the Ministry due to one reason or the other during his predecessor AK Antony's regime.
Jaitley, who primarily holds the portfolios of Finance and Corporate Affairs, said the Defence Ministry is expected to get a full-time head in a "couple of weeks" after the expansion of the council of ministers.
He said he would be devoting significant time to the Defence Ministry to "clear the backlog" and take other decisions related to the Ministry.
Asked about the demand for raising the 26 per cent FDI cap in the defence sector, Jaitley said it needs a deeper look. "This is an issue, which in both limbs, would be dealt by both my departments. It has already come up in my preliminary discussions today and therefore I do not want to say anything more before I look deeply into the matter."
He said if the 26 per cent FDI in defence had been "introduced during the Vajpayee government... These are areas which I am personally willing to examine."
On the issue of demands from increased budget for the Ministry, Jaitley said, "balancing the expenses of various departments is a priority area. This balancing act will have to be done."
Soon after taking over, Jaitley held a series of meetings with the various departments of the Defence Ministry. He held meetings with the three Services chiefs, the Defence Secretary, Secretary (Exservicemen Welfare) and Secretary (Defence Production) and all the officers above the rank of Joint Secretary in the Ministry.
Rao Inderjit Singh has also joined the Defence Ministry as the Minister of State for Defence.