Strengthen the Teeth of IAF

The combat fleet of the Indian Air Force has dwindled to 30 as against the authorised level of 42 and will soon deplete further seriously undermining national security

Issue: 12 / 2019By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Illustration(s): By Anoop Kamath

Acquisition of military hardware for the Armed Forces is controlled by the central government with managerial control by the bureaucracy. Experience over the years,especially in the recent past, has shown that the process is riddled with complexities which make the acquisition of even the urgently required weapon systems time consuming and altogether a frustrating experience for the Armed Forces.

In the bipolar world gone by, on account of the then existing political disposition, the nation was largely dependant on the USSR for import of defence equipment. However, owing to lack of competition and only a single source available, the process was less complex as there was no multiplicity of vendors offering the weapon systems the Armed Forces wanted to induct quickly. As for quality of military hardware, the Armed Forces had no option but to accept whatever the USSR had to offer. However, with the emergence of a uni-polar world in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, the situation underwent a change. In the new environment, the government decided to remodel the procedure for the acquisition of military hardware with the objective of providing the Armed Forces with a wider range of choice as also better value for money. Thus it was that under the new Defence Procurement Policy introduced by the government, a fresh document called Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) was released for the first time in the year 2002. This was also done as part of a number of military reforms undertaken to address the several inadequacies observed and experienced during the conflict with Pakistan in Kargil in the year 1999. After the first edition promulgated in 2002, the DPP has been revised periodically and the latest edition being followed today is DPP 2016 duly updated as on April 30, 2019.

As the newly emerged unipolar world was likely to provide multiple vendors in a competitive bidding process especially for large inductions through a process of global tendering, the DPP was drafted accordingly essentially to deal with this situation. However, to cater for urgently required aircraft or other equipment in smaller numbers or quantities, the DPP also has a provision for direct government-to-government deal thus dispensing with the need for a tendering process. However, the second would not be the preferred option and would be used rarely as has been the case so far. Unfortunately the first option of global tendering has not been very promising especially in the induction of combat aircraft.

Soon after the promulgation of DPP 2002 by the MoD, the Indian Air Force (IAF) initiated a case for the procurement of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to replace the obsolescent fleet of MiG-21 combat platforms that were acquired beginning as early as in the mid 1960s. However, it was only in August 2007 that the Ministry for Defence (MoD) issued a global tender for the requirement of combat platforms by the IAF to which responses were received from six major global aerospace firms. After an elaborate evaluation procedure, in 2012, the IAF selected the Rafale jet from Dassault Aviation of France as the preferred platform. Unfortunately, after eight years of effort since the issue of global tender, the process encountered an insurmountable impediment created on account of the inflexible character of the DPP and hence was cancelled. This NDA government led by Prime Minister Modi switched to the second option under the DPP and went in for emergency procurement of 36 Rafale jets as against the requirement of 126 platforms.

A fresh move was then initiated by the IAF for 110 combat aircraft for which the MoD issued Request for Information (RFI) on April 6, 2018 to the major global aerospace and defence companies. Response from six firms that had participated in the global tender for 126 aircraft, was received on July 8, 2018. Fifteen months have passed since the receipt of response to the RFI; but for some strange reason, the Request for Proposal (RFP) or tender has not been issued by the MoD so far.

It should be abundantly clear from the experience so far with the two global tenders described above for the procurement of the urgently required combat platforms for the IAF that the procedural complexities of the DPP are indeed immense and are not easily surmountable. The fundamental issue is that the DPP is structured to ensure procedural and financial propriety with inadequate focus on the imperatives of national security. The net result is that the combat fleet of the IAF has dwindled to 30 as against the authorised level of 42 and will soon deplete further seriously undermining national security. The 36 Rafale jets will provide only partial relief and the IAF is in no position to bet on the indigenous light combat aircraft Tejas. Unless and until the DPP is restructured with primary focus on the demands of national security, the Armed Forces will not be in a position to attain and sustain the required operational edge over the adversaries.