The Indian Navy has commanded the headlines in recent months, for good reasons and for bad
8th Jan 2014
The Indian Navy has commanded the headlines in recent months, for good reasons and for bad. The refurbished ex-Soviet aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya was finally due to be delivered in mid-November, a decade after India originally procured it, and India's first indigenously built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, was launched in August (though it will not enter service for at least two more years). In another important milestone for the navy, the reactor was switched on in India's first home-built nuclear submarine, INS Arihant. But despite these advances, procedural and maintenance failings were laid bare when one of the IN's Kilo-class submarines exploded in dock in Mumbai, killing 18 personnel and writing off the vessel. India's submarine fleet was already short of several vessels, and the loss of INS Sindhurakshak only compounds the navy's operational challenges.
Procurement problems are not limited to the navy. The air force is becoming agitated over persistent delays to its flagship programme, the procurement of a new multirole combat aircraft. Though the French Dassault Rafale was selected a year ago, signing of contracts remains stalled over Indian demands that Dassault assume full responsibility for the quality of all 126 jets ordered for the IAF - even though the majority of the aircraft will be assembled locally by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, as stipulated by the MoD's procurement terms. Air force officials have now said that contracts will be signed before March 2014, and there are fears that the procurement could unravel completely.
India's defence establishment received some welcome news in the first half of 2013 when the Finance Ministry made a U-turn on defence spending cuts, agreeing to trim the budget only slightly, rather than inflict deep cuts as initially planned. Nonetheless, funding is going to remain flat for the next couple of years, which is problematic enough for a military desperate to move ahead with a range of overdue procurement programmes. Nonetheless, the scale of the challenge facing Indian defence was highlighted in June when the Army gave the MoD a list of top-priority items it now requires urgently - it ran to 700 items valued at around US$35bn.
Flooding in Uttarkhand state in June 2013 - a disaster that claimed an estimated 6,000 lives - has, as expected, led to the prioritisation of heavy-lift aircraft procurement. In the wake of the disaster, the MoD gave clearance for the acquisition of six additional Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. The head of the air force also revealed that he now plans to buy an extra 10 C-17 Globemaster III transports from Boeing to add to the 10 already on order.
These procurements have been enabled by the US's improving relationship with India. In an attempt to maintain this encouraging momentum, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited New Delhi in August and proposed two joint defence industry projects: one would involved the development of a next-generation anti-tank missile; the other would involve the development of an electromagnetic aircraft launch system for India's aircraft carriers. The US has also offered to provide assistance as India sets up its new cyber and space commands, in a further indication that Washington increasingly regards India as a key regional ally.