It is hard to quantify the damage that Shri AK Antony aka ‘Saint’ has inflicted on the Indian Armed forces, because it was not just the countless deals that defense minister chose to stall (S-70B, MMRCA, AH-64E, CH-47F, M777 artillery, Avro replacement etc.) that have greatly affected India’s national security and have cost the lives of some the very best Indians alive (service personnel) but the general disruptive and “better to be slothful than do something” culture AK Antony created within the MoD (Ministry of defense ). This man was the longest serving DM in India’s history- think about that for a moment, he had more time to fix the system than anyone else. Parrikar hit the nail on the head when asked, in his first media appearance a few days after becoming DM, what the general state of affairs was within the MoD “we are in a mess, I can’t spell it out. ”
The extent to which AK Antony has harmed India’s defense preparedness and everything that was wrong with UPA’s MoD , can be measured by many illustrations, though due to constrain of space the author would like to highlight 3, which have impacted India’s national security the most.
Number 1, of course being the AW-101 fiasco. The “Saint” unilaterally cancelled an ongoing deal based on little more than unsubstantiated media reports so as to protect HIMSELF and his oh-so-important image. So the consequences of this? More than 3 decades old pieces of junk (Soviet Mi-8s) are STILL flying the highest rank of the Indian leadership (PM, President, service chiefs) to this day. In other words the commander of India’s Nuclear Command Authority which India cannot afford to lose in something as avoidable as a helicopter loss. Let’s be clear here, it is not my opinion that these Mi-8s are “ancient junk” but an unavoidable fact- they should have been retired from service almost a decade ago and the majority of the fleet reached the end of the service lives last year, the few still serviceable have very less life left in them.
And if you thought this was outrageous, as you read this article 3 completely brand new AW-101s (of 12 ordered) are sitting idle at Palam airbase whilst the ancient Mi-8s are being cannibalized just to keep them flying. I wonder what the pilots of these ‘ancient relics’ must be thinking. Not to forget the hundreds of millions of dollars, that the IAF spent on the 12 AW-101s, training, spares, infrastructure etc. have all been lost and will never be recovered.
Number 2, remember the shiny new French Scorpene class SSK(a diesel-electric submarine specialized for anti-submarine duties) the Indian Navy is inducting in 2016, well surprise, they don’t have any heavy weight torpedoes for its sea trials. A torpedo is to a submarine, what a bullet is to a gun, without it Submarines are just sitting ducks for enemies.
The company that supplies this torpedo- Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel (WASS) of Italy, was blacklisted by AK Antony led Defense Ministry. Although the MoD had formally banned only AgustaWestland, all Finmeccanica companies effectively came under a shadow and so the program to arm the spanking new submarines with cutting edge torpedoes was delayed. Eventually, Defence Minister AK Antony referred the matter to the Central Vigilance Commission, which found no indication of wrongdoing. Even so, the MoD under ‘Saint’ AK Antony continued to sleep over the critical deal, for the rest of their term.
Last but not the least, Indian navy’s spanking new billion dollar Destroyers are going to sea without dedicated Anti-Submarine choppers. Instead they are carrying ‘chetak’ class helicopters, which by now should have been retired & put in a museum. From protecting own ships to tracking and attacking enemy ships and submarines, the use of a helicopter for a war-fighting force can be overlooked only at the cost of compromising national security.
The situation is so dire that many warships, which have two hangars onboard are steaming past without even a single helicopter on board. For instance, between the six Talwar class frigates, only three carry a helicopter. Some other frigates don’t have even one helicopter between them. Coming to larger ships like the destroyers, one Russian Kamov helicopter is being shared between five Rajput class ships.
It should be noted that the NDA led Defense ministry has since repealed the illogical and self-harming “blacklisting” policy that AK Antony had completely overused during his tenure as DM, this lead to a repeated cycle of issue tender, cancel tender, issue tender gain for the Indian military. For example- company X, Yand Z compete for a tender, all of their products meet the technical requirements outlined by the service involved, company X’s product is judged to be cheapest (L1) and exclusive talks begin with company X for their product. Company Yand Z engage in an entirely coordinated defamation campaign against company Y and its product- alleging corruption, during this time the Defense ministry are sent “anonymous letters” alleging foul play. The entire procurement process comes to a halt as the defense minister ‘Saint’ does not want to have his image tarnished. Then what happens? The tender is either restarted, this time with Company B exclude because it is now blacklisted (still no credible evidence of wrongdoing has been found) or stalled indefinitely. If the tender is restarted company Y and Z will engage in a defamation campaign against each other until no one other than them is left in the race. As a result a single vendor situation occurs and the ‘Saint’ being saint will not progress on any such tenders. All of this leads to one inevitable outcome, procurement paralysis.
In the Armed forces an officer can be court-martialed or even imprisoned, for this level of criminal negligence, but the civilian in charge of this highly disciplined organization can literally send service members to their graves and or threaten the lives of India’s senior most leadership and he is allowed to go about his life like nothing has happened and even be projected as a potential future PM of India?