Defence Minister Antony meets service chiefs, wants acquisitions streamlined

Defence Minister Antony meets service chiefs, wants acquisitions streamlined
New Delhi: After two important meetings, both attended by Army chief General VK Singh, Defence Minister AK Antony has asked the Army to streamline its acquisition process and has favoured more financial powers to the three services if it can lead to speedier acquisition of equipment. He met the chiefs of all three services today and took some more major decisions.

Mr Antony's instructions come soon after Gen Singh wrote to the Prime Minister on what he called the lack of the Army's war preparedness. Gen Singh raised concern over big gaps in the Army's procurement of crucial equipment in his letter, saying the Army was stuck with obsolete machines. That confidential letter, dated March 12, was leaked into the public domain.

Under pressure after being targeted by political opponents in Parliament all of last week, Mr Antony has now asked officials of his ministry to examine the possibility of compressing the time for technical evaluation and trials for procurement of equipment. He said in a press release that he was all for "delegating more financial power to service headquarters if it can lead to speedier acquisition of equipment, platforms & systems for the services." He directed the Army to "streamline its acquisition process in a manner such that accountability can be fixed in case of any slippages."

A long-term integration purchase plan (LTIPP) and 12 defence plans were also cleared at the Defence Acquisition Council meeting that Mr Antony chaired and the three chiefs attended. The LTIPP lists long term requirements of the Armed Forces over 15 years and envisages private sector participation. Some changes to the "offset policy" were also discussed - the "offset policy" mandates that foreign manufactures have to source at least 30 per cent of their products and services through Indian or joint venture companies registered and manufacturing in India, for any contract of over Rs 300 crore.

The minister will meet the Army chief and other senior officials next month to review progress on decisions taken today.

In the morning, Mr Antony chaired a meeting attended by Gen Singh and other senior defence officials to discuss acquisition and procurement. Then in the afternoon, he chaired the defence acquisition council meeting with all three chiefs - General Singh, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne and Admiral Nirmal Verma - and the heads of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Coast Guard, the Defence Secretary and Defence Production Secretary present.

This is for the first time after last week's controversy involving the Army Chief, that the Defence Minister chaired meetings with General Singh present.

Last week, the Army Chief made the startling revelation that he was offered a bribe in 2010, only six months after he took office, to okay what he called "sub-standard trucks" for the Army. After the General made a complaint, the CBI is investigating the sale of 7000 trucks to the Army by a UK-based company named Vectra, which holds a majority stake in a Czech company Tatra that makes truck parts that are assembled by the public sector unit BEML (Bharat Earth Movers Limited) for the Army.

Then, the letter written by the Army Chief to the Prime Minister became public, causing a storm. In the letter, Gen VK Singh spoke about what he called the lack of the country's war preparedness. Among the things he brought to the PM's notice was that the "entire tank fleet (was) devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks." Gen Singh warned that India's air defence was 97% obsolete, which "doesn't give the deemed confidence." The Infantry, he said, was "crippled with deficiencies of crew-served weapon and lacked night-fighting capabilities" and 'elite Special Forces are woefully short of essential weapons." The Army chief also warned of "large-scale voids in critical surveillance."  

General Singh, however, issued a three-para statement on Friday emphasising that these developments should not be read as a battle between the government and the Army. He said that "rogue elements are trying to create a schism between the Defence Minister and the chief." His comments came after the Defence Minister said that "all three service chiefs enjoy the confidence of the government"- a declaration that sought to rescue his relationship with the chief from an unprecedented low.

General Singh and Mr Antony met at a function last evening and were seen engaged in a one-on-one conversation.
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