From M777 howitzers to K9 Vajra, Apache choppers to Scorpene submarines, the Modi govt has finished what Manmohan Singh’s UPA started

by Amrita Nayak Dutta

New Delhi: The Indian military is set for several big-ticket military inductions this year, all of which have been in the pipeline for years.

Given the Indian polity’s propensity to turn every other military deal into a potential scandal, it’s no wonder, for example, that the Indian Air Force’s 2001 request for new fighter aircraft will turn into the Rafale jets only beginning 2019.

Of course, it is the prerogative of the government of the day to take credit for making things happen, and one can be sure that each of these inductions will be credited to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP government. After all, his government has got these files moving far enough for the deals to fruition.

But in each of these six instances, the UPA government, much-maligned for its inaction in the face of multiple scam allegations, was the one that set the ball rolling.

1. M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers

The first regiment of the M777 ultra-light howitzers is set to be operationalised this year. The Rs 5,000-crore deal will see the induction of 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers, which will be deployed mostly on the northern borders facing China.

In May 2012, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by then defence minister A.K. Antony, had cleared the deal for the BAE Systems’ M777 through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route of the US government.

This purchase had to be approved by the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). However, the process did not move forward from there.

In February 2014, the Ministry of Defence once again moved the cleared file, but then the general elections saw a change of government.

In May 2015, the deal was again cleared by then defence minister Manohar Parrikar. The contract for purchasing the guns was finally signed in 2016.

2. K-9 Vajra

The process of buying 100 155mm/52 calibre tracked (self-propelled) guns was also initiated during the UPA regime.

The first Request-For-Proposal (RFP) was floated in 2007. In 2011, L&T emerged as the top bidder.

In 2013, Antony had told the Lok Sabha that the deal is in progress, and three Indian vendors, including two private companies, had been selected for trials. However, the deal only got cleared last year by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by the prime minister.

3. Rafale Fighter Jets

While the IAF first moved the proposal to acquire new fighter aircraft during the tenure of the Vajpayee government, it was only in 2007 that a formal RFP was issued.

Following a series of trials, French aviation giant Dassault emerged as the winner in 2012.

In 2013, Antony told the Lok Sabha that proposal for procuring 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the IAF was at ‘commercial discussion’ stage with Dassault Aviation.

However, the deal never materialised. It was only in 2016 that a fresh deal for 36 Rafale fighters in flyaway condition was inked by the Modi government.

4. Apache And Chinook Helicopters

The acquisition process for the two helicopters was started in 2009, and was expected to be completed by December 2012.

However, due to bureaucratic delays both in the defence and finance ministries, the acquisition had been hanging fire since 2013, following the completion of all negotiations.

In 2015, the Finance Ministry gave its nod to acquire 22 Apache attack and 15 Chinook heavy deployment helicopters with over 13 price extensions, but it was only last year that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cleared the multi-billion dollar deal with American aviation giant Boeing.

5. INS Arihant

India’s first indigenously-developed nuclear submarine was sanctioned in the late 1970s, but it was only launched on 26 July 2009, by then prime minister Manmohan Singh.

In August 2013, the submarine’s atomic reactor was activated. Three years later, Prime Minister Modi inducted the submarine into the Navy.

INS Arihant, which completes India’s nuclear triad successfully, completed its deterrence patrol in November last year. The crew was received and felicitated by Modi.

6. Scorpene

In October 2005, India had signed a $3.75 billion (approx. Rs 16,875 crore at the time) deal for six submarines to be built by Mazgaon Dock Limited in Mumbai, with transfer of technology from what was then known as the DCNS Group (now Naval Group).

The project saw several delays, and the first submarine, INS Kalvari, was only commissioned by Prime Minister Modi on 14 December 2017.

INS Khandari, the second submarine, was launched on 12 January 2018, and is currently undergoing sea trials.