Who’s in charge of holding the Defense Minister accountable?
Addressing members of the Rajya Sabha, AK Antony claimed that the process to phase out India’s MiGs would begin in 2014 and would be complete by 2017:
“We have got a clear-cut plan to replace them. By 2017, the entire MiG series will be replaced in a phased manner, that is from 2014 onwards,” said defence minister A K Antony in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
In the years ahead, India’s frontline combat fighters will have 270 Russian Sukhoi-30MKIs already being inducted for around $12 billion, the 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft to be acquired in the $10.4 billion MMRCA project and the 250 to 300 fifth-generation fighter aircraft to be built with Russia in the gigantic $35 billion project.
Antony, on his part, assured Parliament that large-scale induction of Sukhoi-30MKIs, LCA and MMRCA would take place within the next few years, while acknowledging such an exercise could not take place in the past due to “historical reasons”. [The Times of India]
The perceptive among us no doubt realize that 2014 is three years — or 36 months — away. Mr. Antony is claiming that within the next 36 months, he will begin phasing-out IAF’s aging MiG’s with 126 combat aircraft from an as-yet-undetermined vendor. Even if we are to believe that the MMRCA deal will be concluded this year, there is no reason to suggest that the process from agreement-to-induction can be accomplished within the span of 3 years.
Mr. Antony also expects the IAF to begin replacing MiG-21s with Tejas LCAs (conceptualized 30 years ago) by the end of 2013. The fact that the indigenously developed Kaveri engine expected to power Tejas has been a disaster, and is, by his own admission, still “under development” (after 20 years) hasn’t damned his spirits apparently.
Even if we are to go by Mr. Antony’s word, the most optimistic assessments put an FGFA induction to the latter-half of 2017. It is far from clear what HAL’s role will be in the development of the Indian version of the FGFA (and indeed, whether or not this will actually be the joint-development project with Sukhoi that India seems to portraying it to be), suffice to say that discussions are at a very early stage and inordinate delays are only to be expected, given our history of defense acquisitions from Russia. (Indeed, delivery and cost overruns of our previous big-ticket deal with Sukhoi were the subject of comment in a CAG audit report issued in 2000).
Given these facts, the answers provided by the Defense Minister did not strike anyone — not our MPs, and certainly not Mr. Antony himself — as odd and unrealistic. Not one question on the answers provided by Mr. Antony was raised. After all, in accordance with tradition in India, we do not interrogate our leaders.
So much for accountability.