India's Defence Ministry has given its nod to key proposals from its army, navy and air force for buying weapons, equipment and platforms worth over $4 billion at the acquisition council meeting, in what is seen as a major effort to equip its armed forces with critical systems.
Described as a marathon meeting by officials, the Defence Acquisition Council, headed by Defence Minister AK Antony met for nearly two-and-half hours to give the nod for buying quick reaction air defence missiles, bullet-proof vehicles, Dornier planes, warship guns and a pan-India communication network.
The approvals come even as the services chiefs have pointed out the hollowness of the army, navy and air force operational preparedness due to gaps in weaponry and equipment, apart from acute obsolescence.
The DAC approved eight regiments of Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missiles (QRSAMs) that can engage targets at 15-km range at a minimum altitude of 6,000 metres in under six seconds. QRSAMS, worth $2.4 billion, will replace the Russian-origin Kvadrat system.
The QRSAM deal for the army will have partnership and knowledge transfer clauses to ensure that a major part of the equipment is manufactured in India itself. The state-run Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) is to be the designated partner agency for the maintenance transfer of technology and will be involved in the deal for the production of the missiles.
The Indian Army has been desperate to upgrade its air defence capabilities and it had even floated a Request for Information (RFI) for these systems earlier this year. The current move is the second attempt in five years to obtain the QRSAMs. Global missile manufacturers including American Raytheon, French MBDA and Israeli Rafael had responded to the RFI earlier and may compete for the tenders that are to be Request for Proposals (RFP) issued soon.
The DAC, officials said, approved the $200-million Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal to buy 14 Dornier transport and reconnaissance planes from the Bangalore-based state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to boost its fleet to 55 planes. HAL is already involved in collaboration with the German aerospace manufacturer Dornier Flugzeugwerke.
It also gave its nod for extending the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), an IAF network, nationwide for $1.4 billion. The IACCS, of which Air Force Net (AFNET) is a part, had been launched as a pilot project five years ago in six air bases. Now, work to extend IACCS nationwide to link up all sensors --radars, satellites, aerostats and such -- will begin.
Under the 'Make Indian' category of the Defence Procurement Proposals (DPP), the Indian Army's requirement for 1,300 bullet-proof vehicles for $144 million was also debated by the DAC. The Indian Army will issue a RFP, a second time, for buying the vehicles. During the first effort, none of the companies competing for the tender had succeed in the trials held to test the vehicles.
The DAC also gave its nod to an Indian Navy proposal for 30mm guns -- 116 in number worth $300 million -- to be installed on its warships. The first lot of these guns are to be directly imported and the rest manufactured in India under a technology transfer contract.
In the meeting, attended by the army, navy and air force chiefs, defence secretary, defence production secretary and the director general acquisition, Antony called for increasing the capabilities of the defence PSUs to enable indigenous manufacturing of military systems.
He was quoted as saying that the practice of nominating of defence PSUs for defence systems manufacturing to be discouraged, thereby encouraging greater competition among both the public and private sector defence companies.
Antony also noted that nomination of of defence PSUs will be done only when the military equipment is operationally very important and urgently required.
The DAC, however, did not take up the amendments to the offsets clause in its Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). The Indian DPP-2011 stipulates offsets worth 30 per cent of any deal over $60 million.