NEW DELHI: The PMO is in an hurry to finalise the Rafale deal before French President Hollande’s scheduled visit to New Delhi as the chief guest for the next year’s Republic Day Parade.
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After Pakistan’s recent nuclear posturing and attempts at escalating boder tensions, Modi has his eyes set on revamping the country’s defence preparedness. Modi has set his sights on buying hi-tech military hardware from Russia, which he is scheduled to visit in December. In contrast, Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh never made any announcements regarding defence acquisitions during his many foreign visits. Moreover, his office was indifferent towards the equipment requirements of the armed forces. Both the PMO and the defence ministry are housed in South Block, but never before has the former exercised such a strong influence over the latter. Tightlipped defence ministry officials indicate a ‘surprise package’ to be announced during PM’s visit to Moscow.
With a technocrat, no-nonsense IITian as Modi’s Raksha Mantri, India’s defence establishment has great expectations from the PM’s Moscow visit. Parrikar is believed to have set the agenda for the visit. To work out the fine-print, he made a short trip to Russia last week. Besides taking crucial decisions on long pending projects like getting Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA), the stage is set for inking a deal for the new-generation Russian S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems that have the capability to destroy incoming hostile aircraft, stealth fighters, missiles and drones at ranges of up to 400 km. The Parrikar-led Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has given the go-ahead to sign on the deal in its last meeting on October 29. The IAF needs the S-400 to fill the holes in its air defence systems. Modi is also expected to wrap up the negotiations to build Kamov-226 T utility helicopters in India along with leasing two submarines to meet depleting underwater power of Indian Navy.
A senior defence ministry official told The Sunday Standard that projects like FGFA and MTA need to be finalised fast. “Issues related to these long-pending projects have not been resolved despite desperate measures taken to speed up the purchases by the defence ministry officials. Such matters can only be cleared at the highest level of leadership,”said an official. Under peacenik Manmohan Singh and the indecisive play-safe Antony, no files had been moved. India was to acquire 45 MTA to replace its ageing AN 32 fleet but little progress has been made even after the joint venture was set up in 2009 and a preliminary design contract was signed between India and Russia in 2012 to develop the aircraft. During Modi’s forthcoming visit, the unit price of FGFA aircraft is expected to be finalised and a clear delivery deadline set. Modi will also try to ensure the supply of critical spares for IAF’s frontline Sukhoi fighter jets being manufactured in India under licence. IAF fleet of 200 Sukhoi has witnessed five crashes since 2009, leading to grounding of the entire fleet three times.
It is not just defence deals that occupy the PMO’s agenda, but also the morale of the world’s second largest army. He is responsible for solving the One Rank One Pension deadlock, which is likely to be a Diwali present for the 25 lakh ex-servicemen in the country. Principal Secretary to the PM Nripendra Mishra took rounds of meetings with veterans to work out a middle path to end the impasse. The decision to put IAF women pilots on operational alert bears the Modi stamp. After IAF chief Arup Raha and Parrikar’s “negative” remarks over the recruitment of women fighter pilots, the PMO asked the defence ministry to do a rethink, implying the importance the prime minister lays on ‘naari shakti’. Ultimately, after many deliberations, on October 8, IAF Raising Day, the air chief made the historic announcement, which was approved by the defence ministry.
Focusing on ‘Make in India’, the PMO is also tightening the screws on DRDO and its 50 labs, five defence PSUs, four shipyards and 39 ordnance factories to ensure timely delivery in a cost-effective manner. The private sector is being pushed to enter defence production in a major way. The PMO seeks monthly reports from DRDO on its on-going projects, to avoid cost overruns due to repeated delay.
The absence of critical military hardware to some extent has affected the army’s dominance over Pakistan and capability to provide a deterrent to China. But in an indication of Modi’s emphasis on national defence, NDA cleared around 40 new defence acquisition proposals, worth over Rs 1 lakh crore, during its first year.