su30-mki– V.N. Balakrishna | March 18, 2014

Ahmedabad| Even Pakistan mocks us for being a “military giant with feet of clay.” After neglect of Indian Navy the chickens are now coming home to roost for the Indian Air Force.

A national TV channel recently came out with leaked documents showing how 19 Sukhoi 30 MKIs frontline fighters worth Rs 38,000 crore have been rendered useless for want of spares and repairs. It further showed how HAL was begging the Sukhoi manufacturer for past one year to send expert team to handle the crisis. Yet it is business as usual for the Defence Minister AK Antony and Ministry of Defence even as Russians play truant.

Sukhois are mainstay of IAF with its multiple role capability and yet four Su-30 MKIs have already crashed and the latest being on February 19, 2013 at Pokhran Range. There is disaster in the making as the 19 Su-30 MKIs represent almost squadron strength and pilots’ lives too are at stake. What it means India is fast losing its edge in long range counter air strikes. After MiGs, Sukhois could be the new flying coffins.

What ails Sukhois? Well, apart from the Russian indifference it is the equipment itself. It is mostly to do with front panels comprising HUDs (or heads-up display which present data to pilots without having to look away) and MFDs (multifunctional displays which show altitude and fuel pressure) going blank. Even the critical LCD display which acts as “tactical situation indicator” giving pilots their great ability to focus on task at hand has ceased to function in the affected aircrafts crippling mission control computers.

As the former Naval Chief Arun Prakash pointed out, for every imported piece of military hardware India is at the mercy of the seller nation for 30-40 years thereafter. With most of the arms and equipment from Russia turning into millstone around India’s neck the new agreement signed during President Putin’s visit in December 2012 for 42 Super Sukhoi fighter aircraft worth $3.5-billion is also cause for worry as more Russian indifference is to come in the future.

Sadly with 19 Sukhois crippled the gap between frontline fighter jet availability to that of China and Pakistan has greatly increased. Indian arms-dealing with Russia is in mess. Russians demand and get good deals but backtrack on critical spare parts supply in times of crisis.

Earlier spares could be had from countries separated from Russia. Now Russians hold the monopoly over Sukhois. It is not clear why Indian government allows Russians to ignore contractual obligations. Is it too difficult to break the Russian bear stranglehold or is there a massive scam behind all this that benefits both sides? With India putting almost all its eggs in the Russian arms basket can we afford IAF going the naval way endangering national security?

Today air power superiority is the most critical element in the entire gamut of military power. Yet our political masters obfuscate the crises saying agreements take long to fructify and LRIPs (Low Rate Initial Production of weapons system) are on track. There are no long term business agreements to help us in times of crisis which gives way to shady behavior like blackmailing and arm-twisting.

Defence spending always gets the raw end of the deal. Instead of Rs 79,600 crore provided in the estimated budget for 2012-13, the MoD spent (revised budget 2012-13) only Rs 69,600 crore. The army bore a major shortfall of Rs 10,000 crore. And foreign suppliers got away with Rs 18,000 crore.

Clearly nation’s security is not a top priority to our rulers. Lok Sabha too ignored the warped defence budget. Are we heading towards a situation when million man-plus armed forces of ours are unfit to fight a war? This is what former army chief VK Singh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “The army’s tanks have run out of ammunition, the air defense is as good as obsolete and the infantry is short of critical weapons.”

With Chinese Army surging ahead in terms of infrastructure, force levels and technology the gap has worsened. How long a wait before we extricate from the choking Russian bear hug?


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