Faced with criticism over the bureaucratic and lumbering process in acquiring weaponry for the armed forces, the government today cleared projects worth Rs 46,000 crore. Contracts, however, have not been signed in several of these cases.
One of the items for which a contract will be signed soon is for 24 Lockheed Martin-manufactured MH-60R helicopters for the Indian Navy. The contract will be a direct government-to-government deal with the United States worth approximately $1.8 billion. The announcement of the deal comes just days ahead of the visit of the US Secretary of Defence James Mattis to New Delhi.
MH-60R helicopters are anti-submarine helicopters and are expected to replace British-built Sea King helicopters, many of which are more than three-decades-old. For years, the Navy has argued that its warships lack any modern anti-submarine helicopters with the Sea King fleet now obsolete. With less than 10 Sea King helicopters operational, the Indian Navy has been forced to sail its warships without this helicopter support. Frontline destroyers of the Indian Navy have hangars which can house two helicopters of this class but frequently put to sea without any integral helicopter support.
In a big boost for the army’s artillery formations, the government has cleared the acquisition of 150 indigenously developed and designed 155mm Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) at a cost of Rs 3,364 crore. The ATAGS guns are considered a breakthrough in indigenous weapons development. The guns, which have been designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are being extensively tested in high-altitude areas and also desert regions where they will operate. The 155mm/52 calibre guns, which will be manufactured by the Kalyani Group and Tata Power SED, can hit targets more than 40 kilometres away and will now form a primary component of the Indian Army’s artillery formations.
The government has also kicked off the process of acquiring 111 Naval utility helicopters through the strategic partnership model. The project has been valued at Rs 21,000 crore and will be a part of the government’s flagship ‘Make In India’ programme. This will take several years to roll out.
Finally, the navy has begun the process to acquire 14 vertically-launched short-range missile systems, 10 of which will be made in India.
These are anti-missile systems and will be fitted on warships such as the navy’s made-in-India Project 28 Class corvettes which lack this missile system that is considered essential in defending a warship against attacks from anti-ship missiles fired by enemy aircraft, warships and submarines. The missile systems will be inducted after after trials, evaluation and tendering – a process that will likely take years before acquisition.