What is the Defense Minister defending?
Defense Minister AK Antony presented the following in response to a question in the Rajya Sabha about abandoned IAF airfields:
There are 29 abandoned airfields of the Indian Air Force (IAF) spread across eleven states in the country. Review of abandoned airfields for revival is a continuous, ongoing process and is based on the operational assessment / requirement of the IAF.
No funds have been allocated nor utilized during 2008-09 and 2009-10 for maintenance and revival of abandoned airfields. [PIB]
Twenty-nine abandoned airfields is a telling statistic and is a reflection of the deeper malaise affecting the armed forces. But what more could be expected when the IAF is operating 8.5 squadrons below its sanctioned strength of 39 squadrons? And what good are aircraft anyway, when there is a shortage of about 400 pilots in the IAF. Such staggering levels of non-performance would have led to summary dismissals in the corporate world; but not in government. Because, after all, AK Antony is an honorable man.
Two weeks before 26/11, MoD announced ambitious plans to modernize 39 IAF airfields across the country. Two years on, that project has been stalled by MoD’s Vigilance Department. On grounds of “unfair practices” in the bidding process. After all, the raksha mantri is an honorable man.
To address the need to replace aging aircraft and plug shortages, IAF projected a requirement for 126 multi-role combat aircraft in 2001 — which eventually led to the Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender — worth $10 billion, attracting tenders from six international aerospace corporations. Nine years on, and a year and a half into conducting trials of the combat aircraft, MoD failed to arrive at a decision by the deadline that it stipulated and has since asked manufacturers to resubmit offers for an additional year. Because the Defense Minister is trying to assure a “squeaky clean” image in the decision making process.
This begs the question: what is the Defense Minister defending? India’s territorial integrity or his image in the history books? UPA 2.0 has bred a noxious culture that punishes errors of commission but not errors of omission. Indeed, not doing anything at all if there is the slightest possibility of questions being raised is keenly encouraged.
Meanwhile, IAF still operates 400 MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft that were obsolete two decades ago, a significant number of its airfields lie in rot, it is several squadron short of the minimum number of front-line combat aircraft required to secure the country, and in any case, hasn’t recruited or trained enough pilots, even if those 126 combat aircraft were hypothetically ready to be inducted tomorrow. Is there a Defense Minister who would do his country’s bidding?
UPA 2.0 is replete with honorable men. So are they all; all honorable men.