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India tightens controls on arms buys

July 28, 2009 at 12:07 PM   |   Comments

NEW DELHI, July 28 (UPI) -- When the deputy chief of the Indian army recently promised the Indian public and private sectors a "level playing field" in purchases of military hardware he wasn't talking about electric golf carts to take elderly golfers around hilly golf courses.

The carts, which cost about $243,000, were allegedly bought with money designated for electric wheelchairs in military hospitals and on track alignment reconnaissance vehicles.

Meanwhile, the India government announced major reforms to the country's military procurement program designed to speed up and tighten quality controls over the purchase of defense equipment. Decisions on modern combat and related materiel for the Indian armed forces are being delegated to a new committee under the Master General of Ordnance.

Defense Minister A K Antony told the Indian parliament: "There is no question of delays now. After considering security aspect, the committee can take decisions and can give money also. Now the committee under MGO can give all clearances."

Responding to critical questions about delays and the issue of sub-standard equipment, the minister said the government will speed up the process of Indianisation in military purchasing to bring more transparency and give "more space" for both Indian industry in both the private and public sectors. The Indian military procures some 70 percent of its purchases from outside the country, a figure that Antony described as "shameful and dangerous."

The "military" golf carts are just the tip of an iceberg of recent criticisms of India's military procurement program highlighted in reports by India's Comptroller and Audit General. Purchases from Russia have come in for particular criticism.

The CAG said 2,000 laser-guided 155mm Krasnopol-M rounds, which the army acquired from Russia in 2002, had proved unsuccessful. Bought for some $77 million, the comptroller's report said they had been acquired "without necessary evaluation." The critique was embarrassing because an earlier $31 million purchase of 1,000 similar rounds made in 1999 was also found to have been flawed.

India's purchase of a second-hand Russian-built aircraft carrier has also come under attack. The Admiral Gorshkov is due for delivery by 2012, though the CAG believes it could well be delayed, at a total cost of $1.8 billion. The final bill doubled, say Indian media reports, when the Russian shipyard escalated the price of its refitting in 2007.

The Admiral Gorshkov will turn out to be 60 percent dearer than a new warship, says CAG, adding, "The objective of inducting an aircraft carrier in time to fill the gap in Indian navy has not been achieved."

India is building its own 858-foot carrier to be armed with surface-to-air missiles, latest radar and an array of other combat systems from Israel, France and Russia.

'With this project, India joins the select club of 40,000-ton aircraft carrier designers and builders," the navy said in a statement.

The CAG report has also criticized the induction into the Army Aviation Corps of 40 advanced light helicopters -- designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited -- at a cost of $360 million. It says they are underpowered, limiting their range to 5,000 instead of the required 6,500 miles, which will delay the phasing out of the AAC's obsolete Chetak (SA 316B Alouette III) and Cheetah (SA 315B Lama) helicopters, reducing the army's operational efficiency in the mountainous Kashmir region.

Meanwhile, the Indian ministry of defense has ingeniously defended its golf carts. It says they "facilitate noiseless reconnaissance in close proximity to the enemy."

Jane's Defense Weekly, however, notes that more than half of India's 180 golf course are owned or managed the military -- most of them by the army.

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