Indian state-owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) launches its fourth Scorpene-class submarine, the INS Vela, for the Indian Navy

Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, the chief of staff of the Indian Air Force, waited patiently at Ambala airbase in the north Indian state of Haryana.

It would be an exciting day for the IAF — the first five of the thirty-six Dassault Rafale fighters that India purchased from France were due to arrive from Merignac, France.

The aircraft had been touted in the Indian press as being “game changers” in the nation’s military strength, their expedited delivery owing to an urgent request following a series of border clashes with the People’s Liberation Army along the Himalayan border. 

In fact, two of these five aircraft were trainers and the original tender to acquire them had been launched in 2000 for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft — a far cry from five Rafale fighters.

Why Did It Take So Long To Acquire These Weapons?

The excruciatingly slow process of the acquisition of these aircraft is emblematic of the structural flaws that bedevil India’s defence procurement process, write Sumit Ganguly and Pushan Das of The National Interest.

It is so cumbersome and protracted that it may well imperil India’s national security — the Rafales just one example of the ongoing problems that afflict India’s flawed weapons procurement process.

A range of other weaponry, which the Indian armed forces urgently need, remain trapped in bureaucratic bottlenecks, National Interest reported.

For example, the inability of the IAF to procure six flight refuelling aircraft in a process that has now run for fourteen long years. The Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transport has been shortlisted twice with the request for proposal to be eventually withdrawn. 

Yet another case of India’s broken defence acquisition system involves the Indian Navy’s indigenously-built French Scorpene-class submarines which are being inducted without their primary weapon: torpedoes.

India cancelled its plans to buy Black Shark torpedoes produced by WASS (Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei), as the parent company subsidiary Augusta Westland, was blacklisted in a helicopter bribery scam, National Interest reported.

With no alternative in sight, the Navy now relies on a handful of obsolescent German surface-and-underwater target torpedoes on India’s four Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft Shishumar-class vessels.  

The reason why India is unable to streamline this process is no big secret.

The labyrinthine procurement organization which constitutes of the Ministry of Defence, Service Headquarters, the Integrated Defence Staff (now headed by the new Chief of Defence Staff) and the  vast array of laboratories under the aegis of the Defence Research and Development Organization have seen little or no procedural reforms, changes in institutional structures or increased accountability.  

This has led to a constant dependence on government-to-government defence purchases as well as resorting to “emergency procurements,” National Interest reported.

Neither of these routes are very efficient and represent the failure of the present procurement system to acquire much-needed weaponry in a timely, competitive process.

Sadly, the external security threats that India confronts, especially that from the People’s Republic of China, will not disappear soon, leaving the nation acutely vulnerable to its adversaries for the foreseeable future.