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Big gun deal win-win move for India

Published : Jun 27, 2016, 7:18 am IST
Updated : Jun 27, 2016, 7:18 am IST

India’s purchase of 145 ultra-light howitzers for Rs 5,000 crore from the United States is a win-win move for India.

India’s purchase of 145 ultra-light howitzers for Rs 5,000 crore from the United States is a win-win move for India. The deal is strategically significant because it adds a new dimension to India’s military preparedness in an important sector like the China border, for which a special mountain corps was created three years ago but which needed to be properly armed for it to be effective. The decisiveness with which India has moved on in defence procurement for the military, specifically in heavy artillery, may have cured once and for all the Bofors hangover of some 27 years. The bribery and middleman contours to procurement have been dealt with after decades of procrastination in which the politics around graft in defence deals trumped the need for strategic preparedness and deterrence capabilities. Things got to such a point a couple of years ago that a defence minister, known for his honesty in politics, made such a virtue of his integrity that it seemed to not matter if the armed forces suffered from not taking decisions.

The strategic rationale for beefing up the China border carries an important message. The geopolitics of India, China and Pakistan has changed considerably since China’s filibustering of the Seoul meeting of the 48-member NSG last week. Its reasoning — that India’s nuclear capability will destablise Pakistan while its own capability will enhance global stability — is specious. Although the howitzer deal has been in the air for close to 10 years, inking the deal now suggests India is ready to move along a path that would best suit its defence and strategic requirements. The US plays a very vital role in this and India is prepared to put China in its place when it comes to taking decisions to suit its priorities.

In military logistics terms, too, the deal is significant. Since 1989, the Indian Army has not inducted any type of artillery gun. To move from there to the sophisticated technology of BAE Systems’ modern howitzer, which is light enough to ferried by a helicopter , is a decisive leap that will do a lot for military morale. After the first 25 guns are delivered in flyaway condition, the “Make in India” factor will kick in with an Indian company involved in assembling the guns on delivery in the country. A strong push for bulk production of 18 indigenously-made Dhanush artillery guns, besides various other schemes for the Air Force and the Navy, totalling $4.1 billion, being cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council should do wonders for the psyche of the armed forces. With modern missile systems, upgraded Mirage jets, the Navy’s latest naval establishment in INS Sardar Patel and the likelihood of the IAF flying Rafale jets soon, a positive thrust has been lent to equip and modernise the armed forces, displaying a resolute push sorely needed in these matters.