India needs to modernise military inventory: Minister
Ladakh: Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju has expressed concern at the aging inventory of the Indian armed forces and said its modernisation is on the priority list.
With the Army's artillery modernisation plan in a limbo for decades, the air defence of the Army becoming obsolete and the Navy grounding its Sea Harrier combat jets, Raju said the government was alive to the problem.
"We need to modernise very fast. We have problems, with vendors getting blacklisted. These are setbacks. We are aware of the urgent need for modernisation," Raju said in an interview.
The Army has been waiting for 23 years for new artillery guns - a crucial element of its modernisation drive. The wait got longer with the blacklisting of artillery manufacturer Singapore Technology whose howitzer was the frontrunner for a Rs 29 billion (USD 612 million) order for 140 guns.
Singapore Technology was also a contender for a Rs 80-billion order for 400 155mm/52-calibre towed artillery guns as well as the indigenous manufacture of another 1,100 howitzers through the transfer of technology route.
The Army had purchased 410 Bofors 155mm howitzers in 1986 but the deal was mired in corruption charges and the name of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was dragged in. The Supreme Court eventually found no wrongdoing but the taint stuck to Bofors, as a result of which it was not considered for a new order.
Another area of concern is the air defence set-up - required to protect field formations and vital installations - that is approaching obsolescence.
"It (air defence) is one of our shortcomings. We are working on that," Raju said, when asked about the Army and air force's obsolete air defence system.
The L-70 air defence gun, which forms the backbone of the air defence system of the army, has been in use for nearly 44 years.
The air force had purchased Pechora missile units from Russia between 1974 and 1990. Most of the units have become defunct due to aging and lack of support.
The Navy's aviation has run into problems, with its fleet of Sea Harrier combat jets grounded. The aircraft have met accidents at an alarming rate. Inducted in 1980s, the Navy has been left with only 11 aircraft.
"As the fleet ages, problems come up. The Sea Harrier requires to be replaced," the minister added.
A recent crash of the Sea Harrier in the Arabian Sea left a pilot dead.