The Indian Air Force’s inept handling of Aerostat radars has blunted its capabilities to detect hostile fighters and burdened the taxpayer with losses adding up to Rs 302 crore, the Comptroller and Auditor General has found.
The IAF’s failure to track weather patterns, inadequate supervision and shoddy maintenance led to an accident in May 2009, rendering one of the two radars bought from Israel for Rs 676 crore unserviceable, the CAG said in a report tabled in Parliament on Thursday.
The auditor said operational costs had spiralled as the fabric used in both systems had begun decaying causing leakage of helium required to stay aloft. The Aerostat radar --- an aerial early warning system --- can detect low-flying fighters up to 250 km away.
The radars were contracted in 2002 from Israeli defence firm Rafael to plug gaps in low-level surveillance coverage.
The report said an air force inquiry had indicted three officers for their failure to supervise maintenance activities and awarded them severe displeasure for six months. The auditor found the unit operating the radar had no meteorological officer and only two meteorological assistants, against the authorised four officers and nine assistants. Failure to monitor cloud development and changes in wind direction caused the accident.
The damaged radar, which was deployed along India’s western border, is unlikely to be serviceable anytime soon. Fixing the Aerostat would take 18 months after a contract is awarded, the CAG noted. No contract had been finalised until June 2011.
“By the time, the system will be operational in 2012, 80% of its prescribed life would be over. Operational preparedness would be impacted adversely,” the CAG said.
The world’s fourth-largest air force found it hard to continuously deploy the radars for the prescribed one month at the desired altitude of 15,000 feet due to excessive leakage of helium, the report said.
The CAG rapped the defence ministry for not entering into an agreement with TCOM, the US firm that supplied Aerostat balloons to Rafael. This, it said, had hindered repairs.
The auditor also slammed the government for buying 16 MiG-29K fighters worth Rs 3,405 crore to be embarked on aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, without finalising the weapons package in the original contract.
The fighter deal was inked with Russia in 2004, but weapons were contracted two years later. The report said no weapon had been delivered as of October 2010, adversely affecting the capabilities of the fighters.