Military & Aerospace

Armed Forces – under ‘compensation’ attack
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 10 May , 2017

Releasing the ‘Strategic Yearbook 2017’ at the United Services Institution of India recently, in presence of the media, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat spoke of the relation  between economic development and security; implying that economic development cannot be guaranteed without adequate defence preparedness.

The hike required in fiscal 2017-2018 was much more. Unfortunately, policy makers in India find it difficult to acknowledge that economy and development hinges on security and defence preparedness.

Being in uniform, he can hardly be expected to say anything more than this. But the fact remains that defence allocations have been poor despite growing anti-India China-Pak nexus, PLA’s rapid modernization and infrastructure development across the Line of Control. Incidentally, bridges on the CPEC bridges are constructed to facilitate move of tanks and vehicle-based mobile launchers.

However, despite growing threats to our national security, defence allocations remain dismal.

Both in FY 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, defence allocations  stood at Rs 2,46,727 crore (about US$ 40 billion). However, taking into account rupee depreciation and inflation rates in defence procurement, defence allocation for FY 2016-2017 was far less. So, Defence Budget 2016-2017 was in essence a ‘negative budget’. But so has been the case for Defence Budget 2017-2018; ‘negative’, even as media hyped this allocation as 6% hike, without considering the rupee depreciation and yearly inflation rates in defence procurement. The hike required in fiscal 2017-2018 was much more. Unfortunately, policy makers in India find it difficult to acknowledge that economy and development hinges on security and defence preparedness.

The irony is compounded by not acknowledging military has been combating hybrid since past decades. Post the terror attack on IAF base, Pathankot, MoD ordered a study to ascertain security requirements of military installations. The comprehensive study warranted immediate additional budget allocation in view of the increasing terror attacks, but there appears to be little indication that the government intends doing so.

Not only do critical deficiencies in combat systems, equipment and even ammunition continue, successive reports by the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence have lambasted the lackadaisical functioning of the government, apathy towards the Armed Forces and the deficient defence. But then this Committee is only advisory in capacity, although its report does get tabled in Parliament and finds some mention in media, unlike the detailed briefings to the hierarchy during events like the periodic Combined Commander’s Conference and Army Commanders and equivalent level conferences, aside from the regular reports that Armed Forces submit to MoD at monthly, quarterly, six-monthly and annual bases.

The MiG-21 were dubbed “flying coffins’ decades back but governments remained lackadaisical…

The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has time and again drawn the attention of the government towards the dangerously low level holdings of the IAF as well as obsolete state of the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters hld by the Armed Forces.

But as if ‘negative’ budgets were not enough, the Delhi High Court recently ruled in the  case of a former IAF pilot who had suffered severe, debilitating, injuries in a MiG-21 air crash, that compensation of Rs 55 lakh be paid to him by HAL and the IAF, the Court observing that members of Armed Forces cannot be put to “more risk than they had bargained for”. It is unclear whether the Court specified what share of compensation is to be paid by HAL and IAF. Perhaps government will appeal against the ruling, prolonging litigation further albeit it is unlikely the decision would be reversed. But IAF necessarily will have to foot its share from its defence allocation. Wonder if the learned judges thought for a moment who is the real culprit behind such crashes. The MiG-21 were dubbed “flying coffins’ decades back but governments remained lackadaisical while IAF Chiefs with no alternative donned flying overalls and flew these ‘flying coffins,’ coaxing pilots to continue flying these obsolete machines.

It is not the MiGs alone but the obsolete Cheetah / Chetak helicopters are the same story. In 2015, a group of serving officers wives handed over a petition with 23,000 signatures to Manohar Parrikar, then Defence Minister, to stop use of “outdated and ageing” helicopters. Significantly, by March 2015 the armed forces had already lost 28 aircraft and 14 helicopters in crashes, killing 42 people, just since 2011-12. Of the 28 aircraft crashes, 14 were ageing MiG fighter variants that should have been retired long ago.

Similar is the case of the Cheetah/Chetak fleets. Despite such serious crashes and loss of precious lives, procurement of 197 new light helicopters was scrapped thrice over last decade due to technical deviations and allegations of corruption. HAL, too, is still nowhere near delivering the 187 similar light helicopters it was supposed to make “within 60 months” when government sanctioned the project in February 2009.

The armed forces urgently need 484 light choppers to replace their obsolete single-engine Cheetah/Chetak fleets, which have been dogged by a high crash rate and serviceability problems.

Now the Kamov-226T light-utility helicopter is coming under Make in India but the project is not getting off tomorrow, as may be perceived by some. Following the media reports of Russia having given the nod for the joint venture, albeit the delay was because of red-tape at our end,  MoD will  now ask the private company /companies (HAL being the lead integrator for the project) to submit its technical and commercial proposal within six months, meaning some cost negotiation will be carried out in the future as well. Nomination of this company too may see some turbulence because the chapter on ‘strategic partnership’ in the DPP 2016 is still to be scripted.

The armed forces urgently need 484 light choppers to replace their obsolete single-engine Cheetah/Chetak fleets, which have been dogged by a high crash rate and serviceability problems. Overall some 800 helicopters over the next decade are required by Indian security forces which is beyond the capability of HAL

Getting back to the Delhi High Court ruling, it is but natural that all those killed / disabled flying obsolete aircraft would like to file file cases for compensation, citing the instant case. Where does it leave the Armed Forces already facing massive critical deficiencies because of successive negative defence budgets? Does the Court realize it is successive governments that forced armed forces to fly these obsolete machines? And what about tragedies aboard the obsolete ‘Kilo’ class submarines INS Sindhuratna and INS Sindhuralshak that resulted in loss of precious lives?

…why restrict to aircraft and helicopters; what about the soldiers who are getting killed or disabled because government cannot provide them bullet proof jacket, requisite assault rifle, surveillance devices and the like?

Sure the Navy has been forced to keep upgrading and refitting these submarines, however, there is a limit to all this especially when even decisions of refifinent and upgrades are log-jammed by the bureaucracy at every stage. Time is hardly linked to criticality of equipment and therefore important decisions are left in limbo.

INS Sindhuratna’s batteries had finished their fife cycle in December 2012, but the submarine was forced to go for minor refit and continue on sea because of the depleted numbers of the Nary. It was still running on l5-month-old batteries. The worst part was that it could not get new batteries (available within India) because procurement was delayed for months by MoD.

What and who will pay compensation for the personnel lying in the submarine on the bed of the Indian Ocean. And why restrict to aircraft and helicopters; what about the soldiers who are getting killed or disabled because government cannot provide them bullet proof jacket, requisite assault rifle, surveillance devices and the like?

So, instead of ordering compensation to be paid by HAL and IAF, shouldn’t Delhi High Court have ruled that Rs 55 lakhs be paid by the Government, but not from the Defence Budget?

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Armed Forces – under ‘compensation’ attack, 5.0 out of 5 based on 7 ratings
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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One thought on “Armed Forces – under ‘compensation’ attack

  1. Sir why are service chiefs accepting this? If they resign will that not be a loud message to the government and create enormous media and public pressure on the government to put defence on top priority?

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