It will take at least two months for the new government to take over at the Raisina Hill, but the defence ministry has already pulled down the shutter on major capital acquisitions, brushing aside suggestions by major defence contractors to commit on either the $20 billion Dassault Rafale fighter deal or the purchase of six more C-17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft from Boeing.
South Block sources said defence minister AK Antony had left it to the next government to take a call on hardware acquisitions and was unwilling to give any future commitment to any country or defence contractor. Last month, Antony publicly stated that his ministry had no money left to buy the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) from Dassault, as it had exhausted 92% of its capital outlay.
It is understood that after Antony’s statement the French aircraft major sent feelers to the highest levels in the Indian government that it was willing to sign a contract for sale of Rafale without any financial commitment.
Rafale was the lowest bidder for the MMRCA contract in 2012 but the deal remains at a negotiating stage.
Similarly, the US defence major Boeing, after announcing that it was closing down the production of C-17 in 2015, used diplomatic-military channels to convey that it could hold on to six heavy-lift aircraft out of the 14 available for sale to India if New Delhi signed a letter of intent even without financial commitment. India already has 10 C-17 strategic lift aircraft, with the option of buying six more of the hugely versatile machine, which is at the heart of New Delhi’s military deterrence vis-à-vis Beijing.
“When the offer was conveyed to defence ministry, the minister let it be known that he was opposed to giving any commitment and wanted the new government to take the call on future acquisitions,” said a senior official.
Antony, for his part, has decided against contesting the Lok Sabha polls and plans to move to Kerala this month.