Signing of long-pending deals including one for Rafale fighters, a logistics agreement with the US, new blacklisting and defence procurement policies besides induction of indigenous nuclear submarine were some of the achievements of the defence ministry in 2016, which was a mixed year for the armed forces.
The high point for the military was the daring surgical strike carried out by the special forces on terror launch pads across the LoC it lost a number of soldiers during the year. Jammu and Kashmir alone saw over 80 security personnel being killed while countering Pakistan’s proxy war. The army managed to eliminate about 160 militants in the state including the poster boy of militancy Burhan Wani.
Many security personnel were also killed fighting armed insurgency. Deadly attacks on the Pathankot air base, and army camps in Uri and Nagrota were a setback that led to the loss of several lives.
The armed forces also had a mixed year when it came to administration and compensation issues. While the government drastically increased the ex-gratia for the armed forces, the 7th Pay Commission recommendations and a controversial letter on parity with their civilian counterparts for administrative duties left a bad taste.
The decision of the government to bypass the long-followed principle of seniority when it came to selecting an army also led to lot of heartburns in the military especially the Armoured Corps. But one thing that the armed forces seemed to be most happy with was Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s push for modernisation. Even as the government brought in a new defence procurement policy emphasising on ‘Make in India’ and a blacklisting policy offering a mixture of heavy fines and graded punishment rather than blanket blacklisting, the Ministry moved fast on procurements.
A lot many deals pending for years were cleared by the Defence Ministry besides giving nod to many other proposals. The biggest deal to be struck during 2016 was the one for 36 Rafale fighter jets for 7.8 billion Euros.
The file for a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) was first moved in 2000. The Narendra Modi-led government had in 2015 agreed to go in for 36 Rafales in a direct deal with France while terminating the original tender for 126 MMRCA. The aircraft, equipped with latest weapons including the 150 KM range beyond visual range missile ‘Meteor’, can even carry nuclear bombs, will add to the strategic assets of the country. Another big move was the induction of the indigenously developed nuclear submarine Arihant. The government has still not officially announced the induction.
The understanding between India and Russia to lease a second nuclear submarine was another important strategic move. The terms and conditions are still being worked out. The Inter-Governmental Agreement on the purchase of S400 Triumf air defence system is also a big development even though the nitty gritty are yet to be worked out. The decision to finally induct the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas was also a big move. India and Russia restarted talks on the fifth generation fighter aircraft programme after a hiatus of about a year.
The contract for the purchase of M777 light weight howitzers was also welcomed by the army which will deploy most of them along the borders with China. The M777 was the first artillery deal cleared by the Indian government since the Bofors scandal of late 1980s. To ensure better deployment of these guns, the ministry also struck a deal for 15 heavy lift Chinook helicopters.
Giving the IAF yet another fillip to its strength, 2016 saw signing of a deal with the US for 22 Apache attack helicopters. The signing of the much-debated logistics agreement with the US was also an important development. The UPA government had refused to sign it but Parrikar went along after the US rewrote the agreement as per India’s conditions. Even though the Defence Ministry was not directly involved, investigating agencies carried out raids against a number of defence middlemen while cases were registered against some staying abroad in connection with alleged corruption.
Another big development that came towards the end of 2016 was the successful fourth test of the indigenously developed inter-continental nuclear capable missile Agni V that has a range to cover entire China. The missile is now ready for user trials and eventual induction into the Strategic Forces Command.