In a bid to boost defence cooperation, the government has asked the armed forces to compile a list of obsolete military equipment that can be “refurbished at minimal cost” and gifted to “friendly” countries, sources told The Indian Express.
Apart from the strategic significance, sources said, the government hopes to create a base “to expand export of newer defence platforms, which have been made in India, to these countries”. However, the move appears to have taken by surprise senior army and air force officers, who say much of the equipment that can be classified as obsolete is currently in use due to lack of funds.
Specific military platforms being looked at, said sources, are artillery guns, armoured vehicles, helicopters, naval patrol vehicles and radar systems that are obsolete or nearing obsolescence.
So far, India has only gifted used Mi25 helicopters to Afghanistan, although it has provided indigenous smaller equipment such as patrol boats to some countries in the neighbourhood.
Speaking to The Indian Express, government sources said: “In the course of our engagement with many foreign countries, especially during various high-level visits, a number of friendly foreign countries have projected a requirement for second-hand military equipment for their armed forces on a gift basis.”
These requests have come from some countries of the Indian Ocean Region, some African countries, Central Asian Republics and the Asia-Pacific region, they said.
Fulfilling the requests, sources said, would “open the way for deeper strategic engagement with these countries, but also pave the way for long-lasting partnership through deploying training teams, offering special courses in India as well as supply of spares, repair work being carried out in India over the long term”.
However, a top IAF official told The Indian Express that it had no spare helicopters to be gifted after it handed over three Mi-25 helicopters to Afghanistan in 2015. The official said the IAF was still using four-decade old Pechora missiles, which are obsolete but have not been replaced due to the limited defence budget this year.
A senior Army official expressed surprise at the preparation of a list of equipment to be gifted at a time when the armed forces is still struggling with obsolete equipment.
According to the Army Vice Chief’s testimony to a Parliamentary standing committee, 68 per cent of equipment is obsolete and no funds have been allocated to replace them. Hit by a shortage of funds, the Army has decided to stop purchasing certain types of expensive ammunition to build stocks for even 10 days of fighting.
The latest proposal by the government is akin to the Excess Defense Assets (EDA) programme of the United States where it transfers excess defence equipment to chosen foreign countries at a reduced price or as a grant. The reduced price is a percentage of the original acquisition value, based on age and condition of the equipment, and ranges from five per cent to 50 per cent of the original cost.
The recipient country, however, has to pay for packing, crating, handling and transportation, as well as refurbishment, if applicable. The Indian proposal envisages the transfer to be a gift.