Indian government must streamline defence procurement process and should ensure that all legacy equipments are replaced well before they become obsolete
Indian military acquisition is a sorry tale of delays. Indian Navy, better of the three services, has been at the forefront of indigenisation and acquisition of vessels and equipment. In spite of this, there are many crucial programmes which can’t be delayed further. Many of these programmes are in the request for information (RFI) stage. Some of them have gone through the complete tendering process and the programmes were later cancelled. Some of them are going through the tendering process again. This has to end. This time it is imperative for the government to take the tender process to its logical conclusion. Some of the most important programmes are detailed below.
India is planning a follow-up carrier vessel to the under-construction aircraft carrier (ACC) INS Vikrant. Although, the project is yet to get the nod from the authorities and it is expected to be called INS Vishal. Navy is working on the specifications of the carrier.
The conventionally powered vessel is expected to weigh around 65,000 tonnes. According to reports, Navy is exploring the possibility of having Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMAL) to launch aircraft from Vishal. As of now, Indian carriers use ski-jump to launch aircraft. The carrier is still at the planning stage and if approved, the project will take not less than a decade to come up.
India’s under-construction ACC INS Vikrant is still at least two years away from joining the naval fleet. The slow speed of carrier acquisition is jeopardizing India’s three carrier plan to dominate the Indian Ocean Region where one carrier each would man the eastern and western shores and one carrier will be docked for refit.
The lone operational carrier INS Vikramaditya joined Navy on November 16, 2013, after a delay of over five years and a cost escalation of $800 million. For a period of four years, till the decommissioning of INS Viraat in 2017, India had two operational carriers.
It is the follow-up programme of the ongoing Project-75 under which India is building six conventionally powered French Scorpene submarines. In this project, six more conventionally powered submarines with land-attack cruise missiles, air-independent propulsion for significant longer underwater endurance, will be built in India by an Indian shipyard, through the strategic partnership model of defence procurement procedure. This project is open to private shipyards also.
The RFI for the project was sent to six firms’ including French Naval Group, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Sweden’s Saab group, Spain’s Navantia and Japan’s Mitsubishi-Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The last two firms did not respond to the RFI. The 60,000 crore project is expected to see engineering giant Larsen and Toubro and Reliance Defence and Engineering Limited (RDEL) competing with public sector shipyard Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL).
LANDING PATROL DOCK
In 2011, India sent out a Request for Information (RFI) to procure Landing Platform Dock (LPD) class of ships for the Indian Navy under Buy and Make (Indian) category. As per the RFI, out of four ships, procured from the foreign shipyard, two were to be built at public sector Hindustan Shipyard and rest by private Indian shipyard. Later, the first tender was cancelled and a Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), apex procurement body of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), last year, approved the project with an amendment to procure the LPDs from the Indian private shipyards. The shipyard will form a joint venture with a foreign shipyard and file joint proposal and the selected ship will be constructed in India.
Indian military acquisition is a sorry tale of delays. Indian Navy, better of the three services, has been at the forefront of indigenisation and acquisition of vessels and equipment. In spite of this, there are many crucial programmes which can’t be delayed further.
There are two contenders for the contract Reliance Defence and Engineering Limited (RDEL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The project is expected to cost over 20,000 crore to exchequers and will provide Indian Navy with much required amphibious capability for beach assault and humanitarian relief operations. For the project, L&T has joined hand with Navantia whereas RDEL has collaborated with Naval Group. Interestingly, India has been fiddling with this idea of LPD for a decade, in the meantime, Australia and Egypt have been able to procure them and Turkey is executing them.
Indian Navy is looking for the replacement of its legacy shipborne choppers for modern helicopters which can execute anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare, electronic intelligence, troop movement, special operations and commando roles. The requirement is for 123 Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH). India is currently operating Sea King in anti-submarine roles.
The RFI for the requirement was sent out last year. The procurement will be made through the Strategic Partnership Model. The probable main contenders for the project are Lockheed Martin’s MH-60R and Eurocopter’s EC 725 Caracal.
FIGHTERS FOR CARRIER
India is currently operating Russian MiG-29K fighter jets from its lone aircraft carrier. India bought 45 of these aircraft to operate from INS Vikramaditya. Marred by repeated engine failure, the availability percentage of Mig-29K is one of the lowest of all aircraft in Indian inventory.
India had planned to induct homemade Light Combat Aircraft (Navy) for its under construction INS Vikrant. But the aircraft failed to stand up to the naval staff requirements and Navy was compelled to look out.
In January last year, Indian Navy sent out an RFI for 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF). The request for proposal for the project is expected anytime this year. The main contenders for the tender are French Dassault’s Rafale M, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Swedish Saab’s Sea Gripen and Russian MiG-29K.
NAVAL UTILITY HELICOPTERS
In August last year, Indian Navy sent out a RFI for 111 Naval Utility Helicopters. These choppers will replace the decades’ old Chetaks (Allouette III) which are reaching their airframe life. The procurement will be carried out under Strategic Partnership model. The deal is expected to cost the exchequers around 21,738 crore ($3.2 billion). These choppers will operate from frontline warships and Offshore Patrol Vessels and will also operate from shore for search and rescue operations.
Probable contenders for this requirement are Lockheed Martin’s S-75, Airbus AS565 Panther, and Bell 429 GlobalRanger.
Indian Navy’s requirement of Amphibious Aircraft is yet to be fulfilled. Indian Navy issued the RFI for amphibian aircraft in 2011. ShinMaywa industries ltd, Japan responded to the RFI by offering its US-2 amphibian aircraft. An Indo-Japan joint working group was set up in 2013 to discuss the possibility of sale of US-2 through Government to Government route however the group was subsequently disbanded and MoD has been discussing the case since then.
Strategic alliances between two countries depends hugely on sale/purchase of military equipment. In spite of Japan offering concessional rates and sops in form of free training etc, the $1.6 billion deal is not moving forward at a pace it should. The decline in defence budget has further weakened its case. Apart from being a force multiplier for Indian Navy the deal was to help Indian Aerospace manufacturing sector as well. But with the delay the very purpose is getting defeated.