Rs 1 lakh crore defence purchases on Manohar Parrikar’s mind
In a marathon meeting on new acquisitions, defence minister Manohar Parrikar is set to discuss projects worth over Rs 1 lakh crore, including critical purchases like armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), an advanced air defence system, carbines for the Army and a range of vessels for the Navy.
A meeting of the high-powered Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) is scheduled for Saturday after a gap of several weeks and sources have told ET that the fate of several projects that have been in the works for years will be discussed. The forces are keen to move ahead on these acquisitions, several of which have not moved for over a year due to differences within the ministry.
High on the agenda is a proposal to acquire a new fleet of armed drone for the Indian Air Force, which will expand its options for punitive cross-border action in response to terror. While a $400 million proposal for acquiring armed Heron TP drones from Israel was given a quiet go ahead last year, the deal is yet to be inked.
India may now also have the option to purchase US-made Predator armed drones after its recent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime. Another major Air Force acquisition plan to be discussed is the $6.1-billion purchase of S-400 air defence system from Russia that is seen as a game-changer for the region. The S-400, which is also being procured by China, has a range of over 300 km and an ability to even target aircraft flying deep in enemy territory.
The Air Force is also expected to push for its plans to acquire the Indo-Israeli long-range surface-to-air missile. A long-pending proposal to equip two Boeing 777 VVIP aircraft that are being transferred from Air India with missile avoidance systems is also to be discussed. On the Army front, some clarity is expected on the $700-million plan to purchase M777 ultra-light howitzers under a foreign military sales deal with the us.
The plan to purchase 145 howitzers from the BAE Systems has hardly moved forward since January this year. Another Army plan that has been in the works since 2010 to replace its long – retired short-range carbines is also to be discussed. The Army wants to import 44,600 carbines and only one of the three competitors — Israeli IWI — has qualified after field trials.
A decision could also be taken on the long-running ‘short-range surface-to-air missile’ project of the Army to purchase an agile missile shield for forward moving forces. While the Israeli Spyder system has qualified, the decision has to be taken on whether to continue with the acquisition or replace it with the indigenous Akash missile system.
A range of Navy vessels that have to be bought are also to be discussed as the validity of their necessity is expiring shortly. Among these are six new-generation missile vessels expected to cost over Rs13,000 crore and a new range of fleet support vessels that could cost as much as Rs10,000 crore.