Jolted by 26/11,the Defence Ministry has directed the Indian Army to fast-track its hardware acquisition on the pattern of US land forces in Afghanistan and has projected more than 30 per cent hike in the capital outlay (Rs 42,000-43,000 crore) for the armed forces in the defence budget for the coming fiscal to maintain its conventional edge in the region.
The Ministry took up the delay in military hardware acquisition with the Army as it has not been able to spend its budgetary capital outlay this year though it is less than that of the Air Force and the Navy. While the budgetary capital outlay for 2008-09 for the 1.1 million-strong Army was Rs 7,607 crore,its revised estimates are pegged at Rs 5,740 crore. Both the Navy and the Air Force are expected to spend their respective capital outlays of Rs 16,108 crore and Rs 8,564 crore.
Government sources told The Sunday Express that the Army has been told to expedite the purchase of the latest generation Harop loitering weapon system aka missile firing drone,Heron long-duration unmanned aerial vehicles,armoured vehicles and Tangushka air defence systems. A classic example of delay in the Army is field guns or howitzers to replace the ageing Bofors 155 mm gun. Despite the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) giving an in-principle approval to the Armys proposal way back in 2001,the force is still to get back to the CCS with the finalised gun.
The fact is that Army Deputy Chief of Staff (Systems) Lt General Manbir Singh Dadwal was sent by the government to Israel after the Mumbai attack to explore hardware options to tackle asymmetric threats posed by non-state players in the region. With the US land forces in Afghanistan in mind,the Army is all set to acquire the Harop weapon system that has the capability to loiter in the enemy territory and pick up targets through its electro-optical sensors and destroy them with its 23-kg warhead.
The Defence Ministry is giving a hard look at the delays in weapon systems acquisitions as the capital outlay budget of Rs 32,826 crore was revised to Rs 28,110 crore but only Rs 27903 crore could be spent due to limited absorption capacities of the armed forces and the delays in due diligence particularly in the Army in 2007-08. In 2008-09,the budget capital outlay of Rs 37,482 crore was revised to Rs 30,614 crore as payouts earmarked for Admiral Gorshkov ($250-300 million),Brahmos missiles (Rs 2000 crore) and Eurocopter (Rs 3200 Cr) for the Indian Army were not made.
The Defence Ministry is now rushing to spend the revised capital outlay of Rs 30,614 crore even though it will not be able to pay the initial amount for the $ 2 billion acquisition of long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft from Boeing until the US Congress approves the deal. Also,the Finance Ministry has objected to any decision to park the advances with the defence PSUs. The South Block is now projecting a capital outlay of Rs 42,000-43,000 crore for 2009-10 keeping in mind the initial payouts (Rs 50,000 crore) for multi-role medium range combat aircraft acquisition for the Indian Air Force.