Russia’s offer to sell India MiG-29 aircraft shows how ineffective our defence acquisition has become
The Mikoyan Gurevich 29 fighter jet was an example of brilliant 1970’s technology; it was a fighter that was capable of extreme aerobatics and was highly effective as a weapon in its time. Actually, even when India began to induct the planes in the late1980s, it was still a modern fighter. But as the wrangling over the acquisition of 36 Dassault Rafale jets continues, India finds itself in a position where it does not have enough fighters to protect its airspace or the capacity to develop and build its own warplanes. And on this front, successive governments should take the blame than passing the buck.
Russia’s offer of 21 MiG-29 aircraft built anew on unused old airframes is a way for the Putin government to dispose of old assets. And given the critical situation of India’s air force fighter capacity, this ought to be taken up. But it should not be forgotten that India’s main requirement is for new fifth-generation fighter aircraft and these have to be acquired quickly. The crashes of a Mirage-2000 and MiG-27 aircraft in just a couple of weeks highlight how critical the situation is for this country that has two well-armed enemies on either side. Besides, we cannot afford to lose any more pilots during something as routine as test runs.
India remains one of the largest military forces in the world without adequate home-grown technology or manufacturing capacity and while new defence acquisition processes try to redress that problem, it will take years if not decades to change. In the meantime, the row over defence deals, which may or may not be manufactured due to political expediency, is continuing and unless a bipartisan approach to acquire new hardware is taken, this will not change. On this front, adapting Indian parliamentary committees to be more similar to those in the United States will be a good move. Public committee hearings on big defence deals will help allay fears of corruption. In the Rafale case, for example, some accuse Congress president Rahul Gandhi of manufacturing a scam while others accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government of being arrogant. And in the last two years, this slanging match seems to have brought India’s acquisition process to a standstill while soldiers, aviators and sailors continue to deal with old, often dilapidated equipment that often lead to needless accidents.
As this newspaper has noted, even some of the most advanced military forces in the world use old equipment, the United States being a case in point. Often for economic reasons and also the fact that old weapons systems are the best suited for modern post-Cold War warfare. But they are modified extensively to keep up with modern technology. So even if we accept the Russian offer to boost our fighting force, we should ensure that what we get is not a throwback to the past but as modern as it can be. At the same time, come May, the future government of this country has to ensure that new defence acquisition deals are concluded fast and India’s home-grown abilities are bolstered.
Thursday, 14 February 2019 | Pioneer
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