A whole generation of Indians has grown up with the belief that all defence deals are crooked and those involved in working them out - both on the side of the government and industry - are complicit in this. On the other hand, the armed forces have had to contend with pusillanimous decision-makers, who fear being tarred with the scandal brush. In the process, the country has been the loser. Delayed decision-making has led to astronomical cost-escalations, which has had to be borne by the taxpayer. Worse, the forces' combat capacity was needlessly compromised.
The government's new arms procurement policy is not an answer to all these problems, but it is an invaluable first step in the right direction. By its 'cleaner and swifter' strategy, it will address some of the problems relating to needless cost escalation and short-changing of the armed forces. The policy, as enunciated, has taken an imaginative route to transparency that will see the use of the internet for purveying information as well as insisting on collegial decisions on procurement by the Defence Acquisition Council.
But a greater challenge of promoting indigenous weapons systems production remains. The offset policy will ensure that at least $ 10 billion of the $ 30 billion the country spends on weapons systems will flow back. But much more effort will be needed to get the Indian industry to make sophisticated defence equipment. The main reason for this is the government's refusal to get tough with defence public sector units and ordnance factories and allowing them to short-change the consumer - in this case, our own armed forces. Shoddy and obsolete equipment is produced and dumped on the armed forces, with the ultimate price paid by the country. Though many ambitious schemes have been trotted out to get the private sector to participate in defence production, bureaucratic attitudes and unrealistic acquisition procedures make it impossible for them to play the role they should.