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Deep freeze on crucial deals

Deep freeze on crucial deals

Author: Rahul Datta
Publication: The Pioneer (web edition)
Date: March 17, 2001

Operation Tehelka has paralysed the defence establishment. With officials paranoid of landing in a soup, even legitimate arms contracts have been put on hold.

The modernisation programmes, already running way behind schedule, are being threatened by a further slow down. important agreements between India and foreign defence equipment suppliers are due to mature this month.

In fact, some delegations are already camping in the Capital for the past few days but the officials are unwilling to meet them.

The Smerch artillery system, SU-30 MKI jets, ammunition for AK-47 rifles and 7.62 and 5.56 mm self-loading rifles for the Army and para-military units, Sea Harrier naval jets, T-90 main battle tanks and the Barak anti-missile system are urgently required. However, their procurement is inordinately delayed, sources said.

The Israeli-manufactured Barak system, to be fitted on frontline Indian warships, figured in the video footage. Former Defence Minister George Fernandes said the need for this system was first put forward in 1996 and okayed by the Government the same year. A question mark over this deal will delay the modernisation of Indian Navy.

The need for the Barak system was felt to neutralise the threat posed by Pakistan when it acquired sophisticated weapons systems for its Navy in the early 90s.

Six Sea Harrier jets, sent to England for overhaul and refitment, are supposed to rejoin the Indian Navy before March 31 as per the contract. The government, however, is yet to give the necessary clearance for bringing back these planes.

The US had imposed sanctions on the British firm manufacturing certain components of these jets in the wake of the 1998 Pokharan nuclear tests. The upgradation process, therefore, was delayed by two years and the aircraft were lying idle in the UK. The sanctions were lifted some months back but the tehelka at home has delayed their flight to India.

The Kargil war highlighted the need for sophisticated multi-barrel rocket launcher system. The government had shortlisted a Russian firm manufacturing the Smerch system. A Russian delegation was here to finalise the deal. business, however, could not be conducted between the Indian officials and the visitors.

The first batch of SU-30 MKI supersonic long range jets are scheduled to start arriving in India after April 1. The officials are now hesitating to give the go-ahead. This indecision will hit the long-term perspective planning of IAF besides mounting costs, sources said.

The scandal will also hit the acquisition of the main battle T-90 tank from Russia. India has paid substantial money upfront as per the contract. Another fixed percentage has to be paid after an Indian delegation examines the assembly line production in Russia.

The first batch of these tanks is scheduled to arrive here in April. It now awaits clearance.

These tanks are supposed to restore the balance between India and Pakistan in the western sector. Pakistan had an edge over India after acquiring tanks.

Three companies from Romania, Poland and Ukraine were shortlisted for inviting tenders for 7.62 and 5.56 mm self-loading rifles and AK series of close combat weapons. The tenders were to be examined this month to finalise the main supplier. This too has been put in the cold storage.

On the hitlist

Smerch artillery system
SU-30 MKI jets
AK-47 ammunition
self-loading rifles
Sea Harrier Naval Jets
T-90 MBTs
Barak anti-missile system

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