India Arming To The Teeth


India’s quest to modernise its armed forces into a lean, mean fighting machine continued in 2011, with a few critical deals materialising and several others facing time overruns.

During the past 12 months, India finalised the purchase of some important military equipment, such as 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavylift cargo planes from the US and the upgrade of 51 Mirage-2000 combat planes initially by the French manufacturer and later in India.

These apart, India got the delivery of six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules medium-lift cargo planes from the US and entered into an agreement with Russia for licensed production of 42 more Sukhoi SU-30 MKI combat jets at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facility in India.

What’s more, India is on the verge of finalising the winner of the “mother of all deals” for 126 combat planes for the Indian Air Force (IAF) that is expected to cost over $20 billion if an additional 63 aircraft are bought. A decision is expected in January 2012.

India also added teeth to its underwater warfare capabilities by obtaining a nuclear powered submarine on lease from Russia from this month.

The C-17s that India signed up for in June will cost $4.1 billion and would be delivered from 2013 to 2015. The importance of this plane for the IAF can be gauged from the fact that it can carry a payload of 75 tonnes and can land on airstrips of just over 1,000 metres.

A tactical and strategic airlifter, the C-17 can land combat-ready troops in remote locations or airdrop them directly where needed. The C-17’s ability to back up allows it to operate from narrow taxiways and congested ramps.

The Mirage-2000 upgrade deal, entered into with French firms Thales and Dassault in July, is worth $2.4 billion, and will help in enhancing the technical-operational capabilities of the 51 planes the IAF has in its fleet.

The upgraded Mirages, inducted in the 1980s, will also get new weapon systems including the French MBDA’s MICA aerial combat and interception missiles. It will improve not only the avionics of the combat planes but also their fighting capabilities and increase their life by another 20 years at least.

The C-130J planes will help India to carry out special forces operations to take on enemy targets inside their territory with precision and in quick time.

The four-engined turboprop has a minimum crew of three comprising two pilots and a loadmaster and can carry 64 fully-geared troops or 20 tonnes of cargo. It can touch speeds of 700 kmph and can take off from landing strips of about 1,000 metres.

During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow earlier in December, India signed a fresh deal with Russia for producing 42 more Sukhois at HAL that will take the IAF’s fleet strength of the planes, now licensed manufactured in India, to 272. At present, India is operated over 120 of the Sukhois.

The potent air dominance fighter will provide a lethal edge to the IAF, as it has the capability to carry nuke-tipped missiles too.

In April, India also down-selected European consortium EADS Cassidian and French Dassault as the two remaining contenders in the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender and sent the other four vendors packing.

With that and the opening of the EADS and Dassault commercial bids in November, the tender has entered the final stage and the winner of the deal is expected to be announced in January 2012. The 126 planes will be the replacement for the Soviet-origin MiG-21s that India had begun inducting in the 1960s, as these ageing planes are to be phased out of the IAF by 2015.

The MMRCA deal was expected by the end of this year, but it will take another month or so before coming through, all because of an investigation at the beginning of the year into a file relating to the commercial bids of the vendors going missing and later found at a Delhi roadside.

Among the defence deals that were expected but did not fructify was that for the M777 ultra-light howitzers from the BAE Systems stable, 145 of which India wanted to buy from the US under the foreign military sales route. But after a portion of the guns’ field trials were leaked, the order faced a time overrun in view of an investigation ordered by the defence ministry into the leak.

Some of the other deals, expected this year but which did not materialise included the finalisation of the tender for 22 attack helicopters which was reportedly won by Boeing’s Apache Longbow; the completion of the tendering process for 15 heavy-lift helicopters that is also in its final stages, and the 197 light utility helicopters for the army and the air force, the fate of which is not known yet and could take a long while for a decision.

India also failed to sign a deal for IAF’s basic trainer requirement of 75 aircraft. The Swiss Pilatus PC-7 was finalised as the winner of the tender, but a final deal is yet to be sealed, which may come about only in early 2012.

Among the capacity-builders the Indian armed forces obtained this year were the indigenous stealth frigate of the Shivalik class, INS Satpura, that was inducted in August; commissioning of the fleet tanker, INS Deepak, in January that can carry supplies to Indian warships sailing far away from the mainland so they are in operation mode for months; and induction of over 100 upgraded AN-32 medium-lift Soviet-era transport planes.

India also placed an order with a Sri Lankan shipyard in October for 80 fast interceptor craft for its newly-raised Sagar Prahari Bal that is tasked to protect coastal strategic assets of the country.

It also signed a contract with a South Korean shipyard for building eight minesweepers that protect the harbour fronts from being mined by enemy submarines.

This year also saw the Defence Research and Development Organisation testing the 3,500-km range Agni-IV in November, apart from a score of missiles such as 2,000-km range Agni-II and Shourya short-range ballistic missiles that provide India a significant second strike nuclear weapons capability.

All these missile tests were in preparation for putting India in the over 5,000-km range inter-continental ballistic missile league and DRDO plans and prepares to test the Agni-V, which has this capability, in early 2012.

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