Budget 2015: What finance minister Arun Jaitley should do for defence

While preparing to present the Budget for FY 2015-16 in the Lok Sabha on February 28, the finance minister would have doubtlessly had to wrestle with many competing demands, including worrying about increasing the defence budget to give an impetus to military modernisation after a decade of stagnation under the two UPA regimes.
The army has begun the raising of 17 Corps, designated as a mountain strike corps, which is expected to cost Rs 64,000 crore over seven years. Major acquisitions that have been pending include artillery modernisation, the purchase of 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft (MMRCA), 197 light helicopters, 15 Apache attack helicopters, 22 CH-47F Chinook medium lift helicopters, C-17 heavy-lift aircraft and frigates and submarines.
All of these are important capital intensive projects that merit budgetary support and it may not be possible for the finance minister to make provisions for all of them in this budget. If one project is to be singled out for immediate sanction and budgetary support, it would be artillery modernisation. This crucially significant capability has been neglected since the mid-1980s when 400 Bofors 155 mm howitzers were imported from Sweden. The artillery is now equipped with obsolescent weapons and equipment like the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG) that needs immediate replacement. The lack of artillery modernisation is beginning to cast a shadow on the army's battle-worthiness.
Firepower and manoeuvre are the two complementary sides of the tactics coin. During future conventional conflict on the Indian sub-continent, large-scale manoeuvre will not possible in the mountains due to the restrictions imposed by the difficult terrain and in the plains against Pakistan due to the need to avoid escalation to nuclear levels. Hence, India's firepower capabilities need to be enhanced by an order of magnitude, especially in terms of precision-guided munitions (PGMs). This will require substantial upgradation of the firepower capabilities of India's armed forces. Ground-based firepower resources comprising artillery guns, multi-barrel rocket launchers and missiles and aerially-delivered firepower consisting of fighter-bomber aircraft and attack helicopters, both must be qualitatively as well as quantitatively augmented. Similarly, sea-to-land attack capabilities must also be enhanced.
Under the army's Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) formulated in 1999, the Regiment of Artillery had decided to standardise the calibre of its guns at 155 mm so as to ensure commonality of ammunition. The artillery plans to acquire a total of 2,820 guns of all types to replace obsolescent guns and to equip the new regiments that will form part of 17 Corps, the Mountain Strike Corps now under raising. The modernisation plan had been stymied by the blacklisting of some firms in the fray.
One example is that of the project for the acquisition of 180 pieces of 155mm/52-caliber wheeled self-propelled (SP) guns. The tender was cancelled after the trials were completed. The contenders included Rheinmetal Defence of Germany and Konstrukta of the Slovak Republic. Fresh tenders were issued and the proposals received are being reviewed. The primary contenders now are the Teckwin "K-9 Thunder" of Samsung, South Korea and the Russian Rosoboronexport's tracked gun, which is an upgraded 155 mm version of the 152 mm MSTA-S SP Gun.
The single largest artillery acquisition will be of 1,580 pieces of towed 155 mm/52-calibre guns over a period of 12 to 15 years. Of these 400 guns are to be imported and the remaining 1,180 produced in India with transfer of technology (ToT). Over the last eight to 10 years, several RfPs that were floated for this project were cancelled due to the corrupt practices being followed by some companies. New tenders were floated for 155 mm/52-calibre long-range guns for the plains and trials have been underway since October 2013. Trials are also reported to be in progress for 100 pieces of self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. 180 pieces of 130 mm M-46 Russian guns have been upgraded to 155mm/45-caliber with kits supplied by Soltam of Israel. The maximum range of the gun has gone up from 27.5 to 39 km. Another 300 guns are proposed to be upgraded in due course.
The MoD is also considering the acquisition of 145 pieces of 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzers of the US-based MNC BAE Systems for the mountains through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US in a government-to-government deal. However, the deal is reportedly stuck for want of agreement on the offsets obligations and upward revision in the price intimated to Congress by the US government from USD 647 million to USD 885 million. Also, as India has taken too long to decide, some of the factories involved in the manufacture of the M777 have begun to close down. If this acquisition falls through, the process will have to begin afresh.
Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155 mm howitzers include that by the Ordnance Factories Board to produce a 45-calibre 155 mm howitzer based on the designs for which Transfer of Technology (ToT) was obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, but not utilised. The DAC approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 pieces of 155 mm/45-calibre howitzers with the option to acquire another 400 provided the prototypes successfully meet the army's GSQR in user trials. The prototype of the OFB gun is undergoing technical trials. Meanwhile, the DRDO has embarked on its own venture to design and develop a 155 mm howitzer in partnership with a private sector company.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Manohar Parrikar, had cleared the long-pending proposal to acquire 814 truck-mounted guns of 155 mm/ 52-calibre on November 22, 2014. This acquisition will be undertaken under the "buy and make in India" category with transfer of technology (ToT). While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining 714 will be produced in India. The total project cost is estimated to be Rs 15,750 crore. Several Indian companies are known to be interested in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery systems in conjunction with overseas partners. Bharat Forge (partner Elbit of Israel), Tata Power SED (Denel, South Africa) and L&T (Nexter, France) are likely to bid for this contract when the RfP is issued by the MoD.
The artillery also requires large quantities of precision guided munitions (PGMs) for the destruction of hard targets such as tanks and bunkers and a potent real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) capability. And, in view of their performance in Afghanistan and Iraq, the time has come to add UCAVs armed with PGMs to the artillery's arsenal. These will add substantive value to the capabilities of the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army. Only then will it be possible to achieve future military objectives, including the destruction of the adversary's war machinery.