The "slow pace" of acquisition of weapon systems is a matter of concern and the new government will work towards "expediting" the procurement process to meet the requirements of the armed forces, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said here today.
After attending the Naval Commanders' Conference, he hinted that demand of the armed forces for more funds in the budget was likely to be accepted as the "entire resource of the country, notwithstanding various pressures, has to make available a significant amount for those in defence of the country". "The key subject matter of concern appears to be the slow pace of acquisition of whatever equipment and assets are required. The Navy has highlighted that....Hope of the forces is that their requirements should be fulfilled and the process should also be expedited. The effort of the government would be to work in that direction," Jaitley said.
Talking to reporters after a detailed interaction with the top brass of the Navy at the commanders' conference, the Minister said, "There are several decisions in the pipeline and I think there is a good case for these processes to be expedited." The Navy has several acquisition projects stuck for many years due to slow procurement process, including the Rs 6,000 crore 16 multirole helicopter project and the acquisition of torpedoes for the Scorpene submarines.
Its tender for acquiring six new submarines under Project-75 India, estimated to cost over Rs one lakh crore, is also stuck as the government has to alter a 1999 decision to build all future submarines only indigenously. The Navy is also waiting for final clearance to acquire 16 mine countermeasure vessels from a South Korean firm which has been stuck after complaints were filed against the fairness of the process under the previous government.
On whether the new Government will do a full review of the defence acquisition process to expedite procurements, Jaitley said, "I would not use the word full review but even under the present procedures also, expediting processes is still possible. Every file need not move up and down indefinite number of times."
To a query on several procurement cases which were in the final stages but not inked by the UPA government, like the acquisition of attack choppers for the IAF, the Minister said, "I am not treating this as adversarial between previous and this government. This is an issue of national priority and I would be emphasising on that."
On what can the armed forces hope from him in the budget as he was both the Defence Minister and the Finance Minister, he said, "You have to wait till July 10 (when the General Budget will be tabled in Parliament)."
Asked if the allocation for defence forces would be 2.5 to 3 per cent of the GDP, Jaitley said, "Let us not get into percentages and look at the absolute quantum. As the base of the economy expands, even a lesser percentage may increase the amount. Whatever amounts are necessary, our endevaour in due course is to make them available."
Rs 2.24 lakh crore was allocated for the defence forces in the interim budget presented by the previous government in February this year. The armed forces have been demanding a hike of over 20 per cent for their modernisation in the General Budget.
Asked about a letter by written by Gen V K Singh as the Army chief in 2012 to the UPA government over shortage of weapons, Jaitley said, "For security of the country, the armed forces are fully ready and their requirements will be fulfilled by the public exchequer."
To a query on a controversy relating to Gen V K Singh and Army Chief-Designate Gen Dalbir Suhag, Jaitley said the government has already made its stand clear on the issue in Parliament. Gen Singh, who is now the Minister of State for North Eastern Region, had tweeted against Suhag after his decision in 2012 to impose a promotion ban on Suhag was termed as illegal by the Defence Ministry in an affidavit in the Supreme Court case by the new government.
Jaitley had clarified that the government stood by the appointment of Suhag as the next Army Chief, a decision taken by the previous UPA regime.
Asked if the commanders' conference discussed the issue of mishaps involving naval assets, Jaitley said the issue was not discussed in today's meeting. "The Navy has given detailed information to me on this and they have said that they do internal investigations in these matters and after that, they take whatever action is required to be taken," he said.
The Navy suffered 14 mishaps since August last year, including two involving submarines in which 20 personnel were killed. The issue of spate of mishaps had led to the resignation of Admiral D K Joshi as Chief of Naval Staff owning the moral responsibility for the accidents.
The Minister refused to comment when asked about the possibility of deploying armed forces for evacuating Indian citizens from strife-torn Iraq and the status of the project to procure 126 multirole Rafale combat aircraft for the IAF from French firm Dassault Aviation.