Somebody has filed a petition in a court in Mumbai asking the government the reason for making our pilots fly old and obsolete flying machines. Wing Commander Abhinandan was flying such a machine and was chasing a much modern aircraft in a dogfight high over the POK when he came under ground fire and was hit. He had to eject himself but, unfortunately for him, his parachute came down in enemy territory. He was lucky that he was not lynched like his Pakistani counterpart who, it seems, was so badly roughed up by the local people that he reportedly succumbed to the injuries he suffered, unfortunately for him, on the ground in his own country.
The petition in the court is apparently born out of frustration among the general public about government’s inability to provide a sense of security to the people. Defense procurements have always been controversial, steeped in corruption by the politicians and connected officials and sundry others, including middlemen. Political machinations also keep the governments busy in finding the truth to give convincing reply to those who oppose such deals.
Procurement of fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been a victim of political acrimony so much so that the situation regarding need for new fighter aircraft has been desperate for quite some years.
In the circumstances, the IAF has to use the vintage aircraft from its stable in times of need. Mig 21 is one such aircraft which Wing Commander Abhinandan was flying before he was brought down to earth. These aircraft are considered as second generation aircraft that appeared on the scene in 1950s and are being pitted against fourth generation fighters like F-16 that Pakistan operates. These aircraft are therefore generally referred to as “flying coffins” as they would seem to have no chance against a more sophisticated current generation aircraft. So far 177 pilots have been lost flying these obsolete aircraft. It is because of this reason that Wing Commander Abhinandan has created history by downing a F-16, the first ever F-16 that was downed by an aircraft as puny Mig-21(Bison).
Prime Minister Modi has recently asserted that with Rafale the results of the air attack on the Jaish e Mohammed jihadi training facility would have been different. Perhaps, it would have been so. Rafale is the most modern aircraft and India has been trying to acquire 126 of them for quite some time. It is a long story. Perhaps no case of procurement of defense equipment has taken so much time as this onr. The proposal was mooted more than 20 years ago during the time when Late Atal Behari Vajpayee was the prime minister. Then came UPA I when nothing much happened except some negotiations.
UPA I short-listed various bidders and only in 2012 during the reign of UPA II Rafale was declared as the L 1 bidder. The negotiations were stalled on technology transfer for manufacture of 108 aircraft at HAL. The Rafale manufacturer Dassault, however, was not prepared to offer quality assurance in respect of those that were to be manu- factured by HAL. Besides, HAL estimated it would require 3 crore man hours to manufacture the planes which Dassault said was three times more than its own estimate of man power requirements. This also, they said, would inflate the price of each plane. HAL was probably not wrong in estimating the huge requirement of man hours as it kept in view the Indian public sector work norms and work ethics.
The contention of the Congress president that the prime minister had taken away Rs. 30000 crore from HAL and put the amount in the pocket of Anil Ambani is, therefore, patently false. It is also false on another count: Dassult’s off-set partners are 70 in number including Anil Ambani and hence he will not be the only recipient of the goodies if and when they come. Giving away by Modi of Rs. 30000 crore to Anil Ambani is another fable woven by the Congress president.
There is no denying the fact that defense procurements have always been controversial and a lot of people make mindboggling sums. It is never easy for the government to navigate through the maze of accusations and counter accusations and in the process it spends enormous sums to investigate the complaints through its investigating agencies like Central Bureau of Investigations and the Enforcement Directorate. The delays that take place frustrate the investigations and retard the country’s preparedness to meet external threats. The delays also are reasons for hike in total financial commitment of the government for the acquisitions. But then that is the democratic process and there are no two ways about it.
Thankfully, the prime minister has felt that the things would have been different had the country had the Rafale aircraft with it. Hopefully, politicians across the board would realize the damage that their political posturing cause to the country – and its the common people who have to work with the outdated and obsolete equipment including such vital things as howitzers, flying machines and various kinds of warships.
While one can only wish good luck to the party that has gone to the courts, it is felt that nothing much can be achieved except some platitudinous advice to the government and politicians. Courts cannot expedite the process of procurement of defense equipment unless the political class changes its mindset and the opposition, instead of throwing spanners in the works, cooperates with the government to acquire new defense equipment without any let or hindrance.
What the system needs is honesty right across the spectrum of governance. But, that is, perhaps, impossible as in today’s world honesty among the politicians is a rare commodity.