The year 2021 was a mixed bag for the Indian defence establishment and clearly, quite challenging for the Indian Armed Forces, in terms of operational matters, even as there was a significant progress on key acquisitions and modernisation of defence forces.
If one has to touch upon a few of the key operational challenges the Indian defence forces faced this year, the continuing impasse at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China remains right at the top of the list.
Then, there was no headway in about a month-long anti-terror operation near the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch, after nine Indian soldiers were killed in firing exchanges with terrorists in October.
There were troubles in the northeast too. In November, the commanding officer of 46 Assam Rifles, his family and four other soldiers were killed by insurgents in an ambush in Manipur.
The botched operation by the Army’s special forces in Nagaland killed 14, including 13 civilians earlier this month. A Court of Inquiry and a special investigation team are looking into the incident even as locals protest across the state over the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
As the year was drawing to a close, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat was killed in a tragic helicopter crash on December 8 along with his wife, and 12 Army and Indian Air Force personnel, leaving the country in shock.
The Narendra Modi government has begun the process of narrowing down on the next CDS of the country who will take forward the agenda of creating theatre commands and bringing jointness within the defence services.
Modernisation of Armed Forces, however, saw some progress with a few major acquisitions carried out under the emergency powers and some deliveries of the defence platforms for which the contracts were signed in the previous years.
For instance, 33 French Rafale fighters of the 36 earlier bought have already been delivered to India and has been inducted into the IAF.
Similarly, Russia has also begun deliveries of the S-400 air defence system. The long-pending deal of jointly manufacturing AK 203 assault rifles in Amethi was also signed with Russia earlier this month when President Vladimir Putin visited India.
Last month, the Navy commissioned Visakhapatnam, the first of the P 15B destroyers. The service has also commissioned four of the six boats of the indigenous Scorpene class submarines—the third boat, Karanj, was commissioned in March, and the fourth boat, Vela, in November. The fifth boat, Vagir, has also been launched.
Moreover, in the backdrop of the military standoff with China, the services have procured significant quantities of ammunition and spares.
Under the emergency powers, the defence ministry has also initiated a few critical capital procurements—ranging from anti-drone systems to additional numbers of HAMMER air-to-ground precision-guided weapon systems for its Rafale fighter jets.
Armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) ammunition fired by the T-72 and T-90 main battle tanks, more number of Heron drones, Man Portable Air Defence System (MANPADS) as well as loitering munitions, Spice Bombs, were some of the other procurements.
Both 2020 and 2021 saw major progress in the border infrastructure front, particularly in the northeastern states and close to the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
In October, the defence ministry announced the launch of five major road projects in Ladakh to be carried out by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Earlier this year, defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated 10 roads in Arunachal Pradesh, and one each in the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. Eleven bridges were also inaugurated in Ladakh this year.
Among higher defence reforms, Gen Rawat had aggressively begun pursuing the exercise of integration in the armed forces by initiating multiple studies on forming the theatre commands and their structures.
Much of the work was also centered around improving defence procurements—both for faster purchases and providing a push to the government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ plans.
For instance, the revised Delegation of Financial Powers to Defence Services (DFPDS-2021) was unveiled by Rajnath Singh in September this year, which gave out details of financial powers allotted to the three defence services.
Similarly, the defence ministry came out with a second positive indigenisation list of 108 items to push for the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign. The first list of 101 items was notified in August 2020.
Modernisation of Indian Military in 2022
The defence establishment is looking forward to the appointment of the next CDS who will carry forward the agenda of modernising the Indian military and establishing theatre commands. The process of shortlisting the officer is also underway in the government.
Some of the major acquisitions of the Armed Forces, which will add to India’s defence capabilities, will be finally delivered in 2022. This includes a variety of drones—such as four Israeli Heron TPs—which were bought last year.
The deliveries of the remaining three Rafale jets, their armaments, such as the HAMMER weapon systems, are expected to be delivered by 2022.
A large number of spares for the weapon systems currently in use as well as ammunition, bought under emergency powers, are also likely to be delivered by 2022.
It remains to be seen if there would be any further progress on some of the major capital purchases from foreign countries which were on cards—such as the Kamov 226-T helicopters and the Igla-S Very Short Range Air Defence (VSHORAD) systems from Russia, as well as the naval utility helicopters planned to be bought under the strategic partnership route and the 30 predator drones that India is seeking to buy from the United States.
State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will manufacture four light utility helicopters (LUHs) under limited series production by 2022-23, with the defence ministry approving the procurement of 12 LUH from the PSU for around Rs 1,500 crore in November this year.
HAL has also started deliveries for the Light Combat Helicopters but it is yet to sign a contract with the defence ministry for production. There is also likely to be some decision on the procurement of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) being developed by DRDO.
News18.com has learnt that there will be an added push on ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in defence in 2022.
There is likely to be a third positive indigenisation list, and a higher share of capital procurement budget in 2022, up from the 64%, that was earmarked for the current financial year.
Additionally, a defence procurement manual is also likely to drafted that will lay down rules for all defence revenue procurements.