INS Kadmatt, an anti-submarine corvette, being launched in Kolkata. The MoD Year-end Review is happy with the progress of warship building in India
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Dec 11
The defence ministry (MoD) indicates that a decision is imminent about whether the air force will buy the Typhoon or the Rafale; that army chief, General VK Singh, will not get another year in office; and that indigenous ballistic missiles are the success story of this year. These are the highlights of the MoD’s “Year-end Review”, an annual summary that was released today.
The review terms 2011 as “The Decisive Year for the MMRCA”, suggesting that the winner of the contest to sell India 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft could be announced this fortnight. In April, the MoD eliminated Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Mikoyan and Saab, leaving only Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Typhoon in the fray. On 4th November, the two commercial bids were opened. The IAF has submitted a comparative evaluation and the ball is now in the MoD’s court.
Once the winning bid is announced, the MoD will convene a “Contract Negotiation Committee” to negotiate a final price. MoD sources indicate that the price quoted by both vendors is significantly higher than the Rs 42,000 crore that the union cabinet has cleared for this purchase.
The MoD’s annual review also indicates that ballistic missile development has topped the Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) indigenous programmes. Nine successful missile tests were conducted and the launch of the all-new 3,500 km range Agni-4 Ballistic Missile on 15th Nov is termed “the highlight of the year”.
Other missiles tested include the Prithvi-2; the Dhanush (both with a range of 350 km); the new Prahaar tactical battlefield missile (200 km); the Pakistan-specific Agni-1 (700 km); and Agni-2 (2000 km); and the innovative, hybrid Shourya missile (700 km) that can be fired from land or submarine.
The review is silent on the Agni-5 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which was to have been fired this month. However, the DRDO postponed this high-profile test till Feb-Mar 2012, reducing developmental risk by testing and validating several of the Agni-5’s new technologies on the Agni-4.
Another success story is the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The air force granted the Tejas its first stage of operational clearance in Jan 11; final operational clearance is expected next year. The review also mentions the naval Tejas, which will fly off the navy’s aircraft carriers. Having completed its engine ground run in Sep 11, it will shortly take to the skies.
The MoD review falsely eulogizes the long-delayed Kaveri engine, which DRDO is developing for the Tejas. While the Kaveri did indeed complete “Flying Test Bed” trials in Russia this year, powering a modified IL-76 transport aircraft, it remains well short of the power needed for the Tejas fighter. The DRDO is now partnering French engine-maker, Snecma, in an attempt to resurrect the Kaveri.
Another success story in the “Year-end Review” is the warship building programme. Two major warships were commissioned this year: the 6,200-tonne frigate, INS Satpura in August; and the 27,500 tonne, “made-in-Italy” fleet tanker, INS Deepak, in Jan. Another major warship, the 3000-tonne indigenous anti-submarine corvette, INS Kadmatt, was launched in October. Four smaller Coast Guard and navy vessels were also launched. To nurture design capability, Defence Minister Antony laid the foundation stone for the National Institute for Research and Development (NIRDESH) in Defence Shipbuilding in January.
2012 could see a further boost. Likely to be commissioned are two Kolkata-class destroyers, each 6,800 tonnes; the Satpura’s successor frigate, INS Sahyadri; and the anti-submarine corvette, INS Kamorta, along with several other smaller craft.
Tantalizingly, the review suggests that the MoD could ignore army chief General VK Singh’s petition, asking for his date of birth to be corrected, which would give him an additional year in office till May 2013. The review states, “MoD’s decision setting at rest the controversy of the age of Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh was prominently carried by the media in July.”
The “Year-end Review” illustrates the growing role of military diplomacy, listing 27 international exchanges at the service chief or MoD level. The military also carried out 7 exercises with friendly foreign countries, including the US, France, Turkey, Oman and Singapore. However, diplomatic niceties find no place in the review. It categorizes Pakistan’s prompt return of an Indian helicopter --- which strayed across the Line of Control near Kargil and landed at a Pakistani helipad in October --- as "The Non-Event of the Year".