Anguished over delays in procurement and supply of military equipment, Defence Minister A K Antony on Thursday asked foreign vendors, including those from Russia and Israel, to stick to deadlines. Stepping up pressure on foreign countries, Antony said, "I convey my anguish to foreign vendors, including Russia and Israel, on the delays in delivery of defence equipment. They have to try and deliver the defence equipment on time."
Russia and Israel are the two largest military suppliers to India. New Delhi had recently signed contracts with Tel Aviv for supply of Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missiles worth Rs 7,500 crore and with Russia for design and development of fifth general fighter aircraft and medium transport aircraft.
Formally inducting the Israeli-built Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems into the Indian Air Force at Palam airbase in New Delhi, Antony, who deviated from his written speech, said: "Thorough the Ambassadors of the two countries, who are present here, I request the foreign countries for cooperation in meeting delivery schedules of AWACS and other equipment so that the Indian armed forces get the latest, modern weapons systems in time."
Indian defence procurement is expected to touch about US $ 100 billion in the next 10 years, and several foreign companies including those from the Americas, Europe and Asia are vying with each other for a big chunk of the deals for themselves.
Antony also conveyed his dismay over the delayed delivery of the AWACS that were originally scheduled to arrive in India about 18 months ago. He said India had signed the tripartite contract with Israel and Russia for the AWACS in 2004 and it took about five years for delivery of the first of these sophisticated 'eye in the sky' system.
However, he said the problem of delayed delivery was a cause for concern with not just the two major suppliers, but with other countries too, though he did not name the US, France, Britain and Italy, who handle the rest of the defence contracts in India.
The Minister said Defence Secretary Vijay Singh would be leaving for Russia this Sunday to hold talks over the inordinate delays in supply of defence equipment, in particular the Gorshkov aircraft carrier price renegotiation and to press for the timely supply of two more AWACS, which are part of the US $ 1.1 billion deal, for the IAF before the end of 2010.
Though Antony felt that cost escalation (in Gorshkov deal) was a problem, he said the issue was not specific to Russia and this deal alone, but cut across defence contracts with other countries too. "Real issue is to get delivery of the equipment on time. We are in touch with all countries supplying equipment not only at the official level, but also with the companies, and are seeing to it that all equipment are delivered on time. Entering into a contract is not enough, but delivery on time is a must," he added.
Highly critical of the prolonged procurement process for even critical defence weapon system, Antony cited the 20-year delay in acquiring the Hawks advanced jet trainers from Britain, which were delivered only last year after several rescheduling of deadlines.
"Five years (for delivery of AWACS) is too long a time in the emerging security situation in the region. But I was told that there were special needs of IAF that had to be met and hence the delay. If delivery schedule of the other two AWACS are met, I assure youth that the government can think of procuring more AWACS in the future considering the air, land and coastal security needs," he said.