Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today asked the armed forces and the defence ministry to hone processes to fast-track military procurement.
Singh took note of delays and asked the services to prioritise purchases that can be made in the remaining two years of the Tenth Five Year Plan.
The Prime Minister was today briefed in the operations room of the defence ministry by service chiefs and defence ministry officials. The Defence Review Meeting discussed “the entire gamut of security-related issues,” an official spokesman said.
Singh asked the ministry to prepare a “draft core plan” to make up for the delay in its Tenth Five Year Plan, a defence ministry spokesman said after the meeting.
The draft core plan was expected to list high-value equipment that were needed to be purchased urgently. A “non-core” section would focus on soft purchases that can be staggered.
The draft core plan would seek to meet five objectives:
• A conventional military ability to deter “misadventure” by an adversary
• A quick response capability in low intensity conflicts
• A capability for protection against weapons of mass destruction
• A security grid for island territories
• A capability to deter third party intervention.
The meeting was held in the ministry and attended by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, defence secretary Ajai Vikram Singh, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee and air force head Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, army chief General .C. Vij, vice-chief of the navy Vice-Admiral Yashwant Prasad and national security adviser J.. Dixit and special adviser to the Prime Minister M.K. Narayanan.
A standing committee of Parliament had noted that the Planning Commission and the Finance Commission had not yet finalised the five year plan for the armed forces.
The armed forces — chiefly the navy and the air force — have been pointing out repeatedly that force levels were declining and unless decisions on procurements were taken fast, the fighting arms of the services would be in a crisis.
The navy has asked for submarines and surface vessels on an urgent basis and the air force for multi-role fighters to replace ageing MiG-21 fighters that form a bulk of the air defence fleet. Typically, purchases of high-value items take about 10 years before they can be inducted. The services say this is too long a period and have been demanding that major acquisitions be fast-tracked.
Mukherjee told the Prime Minister that he has already issued orders to review the existing procurement policy at the secretary level. A ministerial-level review would be conducted after the secretary’s report was submitted.
Mukherjee had earlier pointed out that despite the hike in defence allocations in this year’s budget, the ministry was left with little to make new purchases.
Most of the allocation would be taken up in paying for high-value items contracted in previous years, such as the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, the Hawk advanced jet trainers and the Phalcon airborne early warning systems that were contracted last year.
The ministry has projected a shortfall of nearly Rs 7,000 crore and has said it will be hard put to take up new projects.
Ministry sources say that after meeting contractual obligations, the ministry would be left with little more than Rs 1,000 crore. The navy is pushing for clearance of the Scorpene submarine deal, among other high-value items on its shopping list like maritime surveillance aircraft.
The defence allocations for the current year otal Rs 77,000 crore, a hike of more than Rs 11,000 crore over last year’s provision of Rs 65,300 crore. Despite the projected shortfalls, India was among the top 10 military spenders in the world last year.