Meanwhile, the Indian MoD’s largest ever foreign procurement – the MMRCA deal to buy 126 Dassault Rafale fighters – has been kicked into the long grass by alleged disagreements over the responsibility for quality control on license-built aircraft and the ongoing depreciation of the rupee, which has pushed the price up just as India’s economy has slowed.
This chain of events may not elicit the most sympathetic response from the neutral observer. It’s hard to get too upset at the sight of a U.S. business lobby complaining at foreign defense regulations, while the consequences of India’s economic slowdown and currency issues are not just being felt by the defense industry.
But on a strategic level, India’s almost masochistic ability to snarl up foreign defense procurement – alongside the institutional hurdles to successful indigenous production – could have more serious side effects than just obvious reputational damage.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The Indian Army’s ambitious Field Artillery Rationalisation was established in 1999 and envisaged the $5-7 billion procurement of 3,000-3,200 assorted caliber howitzers by 2027. None of these acquisitions have been completed.
Major General Sheru Thapliyal (rtd), a former artillery officer, warned IHS Jane’s in June that the army could face a situation where it has no effective long-range howitzers – unlike its neighbors. And even where it does have guns in service, such as the 105 mm Indian Field Gun and its derivatives, their 17 km range is well below the contact envelope of China and Pakistan’s more modern guns.
“At several points along the Pakistani and Chinese frontiers the range achieved by these guns barely crosses India's borders, rendering them ineffectual,” a three-star artillery officer told IHS Jane's.
In this light the significance of the M777 deal is thrown into sharp focus. The M777, which can be slung beneath the CH-47 Chinooks that India is also buying from the U.S., is supposed to equip two mountain divisions that are being stood up to counter China’s strategic moves on the Line of Actual Control. With no artillery, these divisions are little more than paper units.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for India’s armed forces, and the army in particular. South African prime contractor Denel is set to be removed from a blacklist after an investigation into alleged bribery was closed without resolution, and a number of local private firms have established joint ventures with international companies to build some of the gun types that India desperately needs.
But given what’s happened in the past, the ongoing possibility of corruption – and the ongoing possibility of anti-corruption investigations – will probably stop arms sales from being finalized. India’s soldiers are still not getting the weapons they need. Without fundamental reform to the Indian MoD and how it buys arms, that is unlikely to change soon.
James Hardy is the Asia-Pacific Editor of IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of IHS.