By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Jan 20
The all-time high participation of American-origin aircraft in Sunday’s Republic Day parade, alongside a noticeably reduced Russian presence, underlines the growing shift in India’s weapons procurement priorities.
While the Indian arsenal continues to field large number of legacy Russian weapons platforms, the new weaponry being inducted is mainly of US or Indian origin.
The American aircraft in the parade included the newly arrived CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter, C-130J Super Hercules special operations aircraft and the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter. In addition, the navy’s tableau featured the P-8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft.
In contrast, the parade featured only three Russian aircraft – the Sukhoi-30MKI and MiG-29UPG fighters and the Mi-17V5 medium-lift helicopter. Russian Ilyushin-76 and Antonov-32 transport aircraft also remain in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) fleet, but were absent, with the more contemporary American C-130J and C-17s being preferred for the parade.
There was also significant participation by Indian-built aircraft, including the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH), its weaponised version called the Rudra, Dornier light transport aircraft, and Jaguar fighter-bombers – all built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The Netra airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft, developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) on a Brazilian Embraer business jet was also showcased in the parade.
Meanwhile, the IAF tableau featured the indigenous light combat aircraft. The IAF has finalised, and is shortly slated to sign with HAL, an approximately Rs 26,000 crore order for 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters.
Similarly, ground systems participation, which has traditionally featured a large number of Russian weapons platforms, was noticeably biased towards indigenous and non-Russian weaponry. The only Russian ground systems featured were the T-90S Bhishma tank and BMP-2 infantry combat vehicle – which both continue to form the backbone of India’s armoured forces.
Meanwhile, Indian systems included the new K-9 Vajra-T self-propelled medium artillery gun (designed by South Korea and built by Larsen & Toubro in India), the Ordnance Factory’s Dhanush medium artillery gun and the DRDO’s Sarvatra assault bridge and eponymous Short Span Bridging System. The DRDO’s promising Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), which participated last year, was conspicuous by its absence.
There was a strong Indian flavour to missile and air defence systems as well. There was a debut appearance for the DRDO-developed Anti-Satellite Weapon (ASAT), which was ostentatiously tested last March in the so-called Mission Shakti – arousing international criticism, albeit shortlived, for allegedly creating space debris.
In the air defence arena, which was dominated by a range of Russian missiles for half a century, this year’s parade featured only DRDO’s Akash missile system, which is being deployed in numbers on the China border, even as an upgraded version is developed. Also on display was the DRDO’s eponymous Air Defence Tactical Control Radar (ADTCR), which will control the air defence campaign, being used for surveillance, detection, tracking, identifying and engaging enemy aerial targets from multiple command posts and missile launchers.
However, a new Russian air defence system could well occupy centre stage in next year’s parade, with delivery of the first Russian S-400 Triumf missile units slated for late-2020. India has defied strong pressure from Washington in going ahead with the purchase of five S-400 units from Russia for $5.43 billion.
In addition to the large number of weapons systems that debuted in this years parade – including the Chinook and Apache helicopters, the K-9 Vajra-T and the DRDO’s promising Astra missile (in the DRDO’s tableau) – the military scored two other significant firsts on Sunday.
For the first time, the prime minister paid homage to soldiers, sailors and airmen who had laid down their lives for the country at a new location – the National War Memorial that was inaugurated last February. Until now, prime ministers have paid homage at the Amar Jawan Jyothi (eternal flame) memorial at India Gate.
Also unprecedented was the presence of a tri-service chief – the newly created appointement of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), to which former army chief, General Bipin Rawat, was appointed on the new year. The prime minister and president were, for the first time, received by four general rank officers – the CDS and the three service chiefs.