Despite the ongoing fierce stand-off with China at the LAC, Defence Ministry cancels tenders for carbines and air defence systems for the Indian Army which will now be procured locally as the focus is on Atmanirbhar Bharat.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
According to media the government “has a plan to withdraw” the Request for Proposals (RFPs) of two critical programs. One is the $3 billion Self-Propelled Air Defence Gun Missile System (SPAD-GMS) deal and the other is the Fast Track Procurement (FTP) of Close Quarter Carbines. This was reportedly apparent at the end of a high-level meeting in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently. The manner in which this has come into media indicates that a firm decision to this effect has already been taken. In fact, a media report quoted high placed sources (MoD officials?) in saying, “Two critical programmes which have been getting delayed for various reasons are expected to be closed and these will now be made locally in an effort to ensure that the Indian Armed Forces’ dependency on imports is cut down. At the end of the meeting, it has been decided that the focus will be on `Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and announcement to this effect will be made soon.”
The fact that this decision has come at a time when we are locked up in a fierce standoff in Ladakh with China and Beijing is likely to up the ante to a limited war, there may be much more than meets the eye especially since the call for self-sufficiency was not given by the Prime Minister yesterday. Finances didn’t appear in short supply considering the series of defence procurements announced since the Chinese aggression in May as also the Rs 20,000 crore Central Vista Project going through. But possibly the Finance Minister presiding over the rapid decline in economy which is becoming more and more apparent with GDP having gone down 23.5 per cent in the last quarter, decided that the best place to strike the axe is the Army, which is not surprising given her disdain for the Army in her earlier avatar as Defence Minister. The irony is that even import of personnel weapon like Close Quarter Carbines meeting only partial requirement of the Army is axed despite ordnance factories not having produced a worthwhile model past 73 years. More important is the required urgency for equipping the troops facing the PLA and Pakistani army at this juncture.
Despite the Army making representations to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) by explaining the critical need for the Close Quarter Carbines, plans to cancel the RFP for 93,895 carbines is happening
Media reveals that despite the Army making representations to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) by explaining the critical need for the Close Quarter Carbines, plans to cancel the RFP for 93,895 carbines is happening. Their procurement was already delayed inordinately even though they were to come through the FTP route from the UAE-based Caracal. Ironically, politico-bureaucratic diktat is gospel truth for the CDS that he has proved time and again. Media reports that a fresh RFP for Close Quarter Carbines is expected to be issued sometime “next year” covering the overall requirement of 3.5 lakh carbines that will include the quantity 93,895 which should have been imported on immediate basis in view of the standoff and the “long haul” envisaged. For the bureaucracy importing 93,895 carbines is small contract and the ‘cuts’ being small, is inconsequential. How many years will it take for the Army now to be provisioned with the new Close Quarter Carbines is anybody’s guess?
As for the (SPAD-GMS), these were to replace 1360 obsolete Bofors L70 40mm single barrel and Soviet-era ZU-23-2 towed 23mm twin-barrel weapon systems of the Indian Army. The Army needs almost five regiments of these SPAD-GMS to provide fire support and which can also be relocated based on the threat perception. A global tender was floated in 2013, and an upgraded Tunguska system was fielded by Almaz Ante and Pantsir by KBP Tula systems from Russia. Both the guns failed the trials while South Korean ‘Biho’ SPAD-GMS by Hanwha Defence was left as a single vendor. Media states that the Hybrid Biho (improved version of original Biho) meeting all specifications of the RFP by Hanwha Defence was expected to be announced winner during DefExpo 2020; seven years after issue of RFP – sic. However, Russia had been voicing opposition over South Korea’s Hanwha Defence being given the deal despite being ‘single vendor’. Therefore, the RFP is to be withdrawn and instead Army will be equipped with an indigenous version. With this we should be looking at least another decade or decade plus before the Army starts getting equipped with the indigenous SPAD-GMS though the RFP was issued was issued in 2013.
With this we should be looking at least another decade or decade plus before the Army starts getting equipped with the indigenous SPAD-GMS though the RFP was issued was issued in 2013
The question is even if there is a single vendor situation despite a global RFP, what right has another bidder to object if its product has not met the specification. The single vendor clause is the red tape of our own making to avoid objections by opposition political parties. But we have no consideration for modernising the military. It is becoming more than evident that these delays, including cancellation of the two RFPs mentioned above, is to benefit the public sector in defence with the private sector at best subordinated to the former. This is a shame! Wonder how many politicians and bureaucrats know or care about the vintage of our weapons, weapon systems and equipment in the inventory of the Army, what categories of ammunition continues to be imported and the flaws in indigenous ammunition which henceforth will be covered up with the decision to not make reports by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) public anymore. Not many would know that 68 per cent of military equipment has remained vintage and why authorised ammunition reserves were brought down despite ralking of a two-front war. The problem with us is that operational requirements of the military get relegated because of vested interests and extraneous factors. The recent Chinese aggression should have rectified this but apparently the effect has not been much.
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of the author.