Challenge from within
India, however, faces a much bigger challenge from within. Over the past few decades, the country has steadily seen that most of the technologies that could alter the balance of military power have been disrupted either due to political mudslinging or alleged scams. The Bofors gun that won the Kargil war for the country was a subject of a huge debate. As a result, no new induction took place for close to two decades. Similarly, there were allegations of corruption and political stonewalling in the case of HDW and Scorpene Class submarine deal with the result that the South African company Denel was blacklisted at a time when it was supposed to supply 700 state-of-the-art anti-material rifles for the Army. Commenting on the state of affairs, Vivek Raghuvanshi wrote in Defence News that since 2012, overseas defence companies such as Singapore Technologies Kinetics, Israel Military Industries, Rheinmetall Air Defence of Zurich, Switzerland, Corporation Defense of Russia and domestic private companies like TS Kisan & Company and RK Machine Tools have been banned from carrying out business deals in India until 2024. This is a major cause for concern.
The problem in the country is that as soon as a deal for cutting edge technology is finalised, alleged leaks of scams, corruption and kickbacks surface. Due to the political fallout, successive governments have then either cancelled the deals for acquisition of new technology or their procurement is delayed. The Rafale fighter aircraft acquisition is a case study in itself. India desperately needs to acquire a multi-role fighter aircraft, and the Rafale would certainly give the Air Force a quantum technological jump to enhance their depleting capabilities. However, the deal has been marred by a political controversy that could well have been avoided for the larger national interest.
Are disruptions genuine?
The fact that these disruptions occur so often makes one question if they are truly genuine or triggered by rival intelligence agencies to keep the armed forces at a low threshold of capabilities. It is no secret that Pakistan, China and other nations which have failed to get contracts would be keen to sabotage the acquisition process. Thus, one cannot rule out the fact that some of these scams and leaks may be the creation of rival intelligence agencies. On the other hand, it is also a possibility that some of our own political parties may be falling into a well-choreographed trap to use such scams for votebank politics. After all, the Bofors gun deal had proved that finding loopholes in defence deals and alleging corruption in such deals can ensure rich dividends during elections. This is something that parties across the board would certainly have taken note of.
End use of obsolete weapons
Potential tensions in the region
Such a scenario is all the more important when one considers recent events. Had the “surgical strikes” not been successful, it could have triggered a local war along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, the Doklam standoff had all the potential of a local skirmish. Thus, India’s political leaders need the political maturity to understand that while playing politics, they do not fall into a trap laid by adversaries or competing arms companies to disrupt military capability development. This is especially important when one considers that China is rapidly increasing its military capabilities that could threaten India’s vital interests and territorial integrity.
The need of the hour is to streamline the procurement process and make it more transparent. This can be done by incorporating the Parliamentary Committee on Defence to be part of every deliberation instead of the current closed door discussion between ruling party and MoD officials. Such an endeavour would remove the possibility and allegations of kickbacks and disruption in acquisition. However, while such an idea is good in theory it remains to be seen if India’s politicians have the will and ability to put it into practice. One hopes that this is the case as the nation’s security depends upon it.
The author is senior fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies. Views are personal