Close on the heels of the Aero-India show organized by the country's defence establishment in Bengaluru, where over 70 countries participated and displayed their products, the Government of India had to face another controversy following the report in Italy that the Rs.3546 crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal was tainted by bribes paid by the manufacturer to Indian middlemen related to a former chief of the Indian Air Force.
The Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, promptly reacted to the news report and asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to undertake an inquiry, and if the firm was found guilty of bribing someone in India, take action against it, or even cancel the deal if deemed necessary.
Scandals involving defence purchases is not new to the country. We had the 1948 Jeep Scandal which marred the career of then Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon soon after the country achieved independence. From jeeps, we graduated to guns, the major controversy being the purchase of the Bofors guns from Sweden in the eighties. The gun deal was finalised prior to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's visit to that country.
Though the quality of the gun was universally acclaimed, a report in Sweden that the Bofors establishment had paid bribes amounting to Rs.64 crores became a major controversy and affected the credibility of the Government headed by Rajiv Gandhi.
Following the Bofors controversy, many proposals for purchase equipment were put on hold and, it was only towards the end of the National Democratic Alliance rule almost a decade ago, that the Ministry of Defence decided to revamp the arms purchase establishment.
What are the options for India? Our ordnance factories, most of which were set up by the British colonial government, were equipped to manufacture equipment needed for the British Indian Army deployed in various theaters during the Second World War. For modern defence equipment like artillery, aircraft and naval equipment, India depended on traditional suppliers in the United Kingdom.
India received a rude shock in 1962 when it was unable to counter the Chinese aggression in north east and in Ladakh in the west. After some prevarication, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided that the country should remain non-aligned and took steps to build the defence strength.
India diversified its defence purchases and the Soviet Union became one of its major arms suppliers. As defence spokesman in the early eighties, I remember that major world armament manufacturers were reluctant to sell modern aircraft and guns to India. It was at this stage that Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union and that country's Defence Minister, Sergey Georgiyevich Gorshkov, visited India.
I recall that in the first meeting in South Block, the then Defence Minister R. Venkataraman, mentioned that India was disappointed with the response of the Soviet Union when the country looked for equipment. The answer that we got was that the Soviet Union had to meet its own needs, the needs of countries of Eastern Europe, fellow Communist countries like Cuba and Vietnam, and then respond to the requirements of India.
The Soviet Defence Minister, however, invited R. Venkataraman to visit Moscow, attend a show organized by it, and choose whatever equipment it wanted, and that it would have the first priority, and that too on Rupee payment, stretching for a number of years.
I remember visiting the Soviet Union along with R. Venkataraman and the defence delegation. True to its word, the Soviet Union offered modern MIG aircraft, armoured tanks, ships and a wide range of defence equipment, besides agreeing to transfer of technology, so that India could manufacture them in India. .
While India continued to buy equipment from its traditional supplier, the United Kingdom, it also diversified its purchases by acquiring weaponry from France. The United States was reluctant to respond to our needs.
Our efforts at building up our own defence industry has gathered pace. The Defence Research and Development Organisation has succeeded in various areas like developing our own armoured vehicles, guns and missiles, and ships and aircraft. India today has been able to develop its own missiles, both short and long range, the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile, in the development of which India has collaborated with Russia, is the world leader in the cruise missile family. With nuclear warheads, it can reach far and be a counter to our adversaries.
What next? If India has to develop and be a strategic power, it needs to develop and manufacture military equipment within the country. It should also be able to sell some of this equipment to countries. Then only will defence industries in India, which have sought collaboration from the private sector, become economical.
It is also necessary for us to understand that kickbacks are not unusual in defence purchases. We tried to ban 'middlemen' in the field of defence purchases. The exercise resulted in the delay in purchases. The acquisition set up in the defence ministry was revamped a decade ago with the induction of armed forces personnel, but that has only yielded limited results.
Defence industries in advanced countries of the world have had a major influence on their international relations. The Vietnam conflict, the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf conflict and the toppling of Saddam Hussain, it is generally accepted, kept the U.S. defence industry occupied.
In our neighbourhood, the operations in Afghanistan has spilled the tensions to our doorstep.
Much as we desire that we should live in peace with our neighbours, we have to accept the fact that we are living in an unsettled neighbourhood. The proxy war that we have faced during the last three decades has taught us many lessons.
The young generation in India should be given an opportunity to keep the country abreast of global challenges. For this, it is necessary that we should be aware of the structure of the armed forces of different countries, the challenges that they face and the strength of their armed forces.
Many emerging nations are today are looking forward to buying their equipment from sources which do not tie them to defence pacts. India enjoys a great amount of goodwill, and the last decade has seen the country collaborating in defence exercises with nations across the world.
In this effort, the book 'Brahmand World Defence Review 2013' meets a long-felt need.
Compiled by the Brahmos team, it covers 113 countries, along with an in depth analysis of 30 major countries. It gives an overview of the economy, geopolitical situation, statistical data and the structure of the air, land and naval forces, besides defence equipment in service and in order.
The strength of defence production, research and development and procurement programmes of these countries also finds a mention.
I have no hesitation in endorsing the claim made in the preface that the book is of great value to our defence planners, and also to those who would be looking for potential markets for business opportunities and acquisition of military hardware, .
Book Review: (Brahmand World Defence Update 2013; Pentagon Publishers pp 417. price: Rs 4,500)
I. Ramamohan Rao, was a former Spokesman of the Government of India. E.mail: email@example.com