The Indian Navy on Monday came out strongly in defence of the Israeli Barak missile defence system, whose purchase six years ago had led to charges of corruption against former defence minister George Fernandes, saying there was "nothing comparable" to it anywhere in the world.
The statement came on the day the Indian government confirmed the scrapping of a similar homegrown missile system, delays in the production of which had forced the navy to opt for the ship self-defence Barak.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Barak is a very good system. There is nothing comparable to it in any navy," Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash asserted.
He was speaking to reporters ahead of the opening of the biennial navy commanders' conference in New Delhi.
"It's the only low-flying missile of its class. It scored 12 direct hits in 14 tests," Prakash pointed out.
He also expressed "concern" over a former navy chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, being named in a police report filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Barak deal.
"This is definitely a matter of concern and needs to be looked into," Prakash said.
According to him, every naval chief took policy decisions based on inputs from his senior commanders.
"We take decisions that are in the best interests of the force. That is what Admiral Sushil Kumar did," Prakash asserted.
The CBI filed charges in a court in New Delhi on October 10 accusing Fernandes of accepting kickbacks of Rs 20 million to push through a Rs 10 billion deal for buying seven Barak systems and 500 missiles despite opposition from APJ Abdul Kalam, then the head of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and now the Indian president.
Soon after the CBI charges were filed, Fernandes said it was Kalam who had cleared the missile system. The CBI promptly denied this. Fernandes also said charges had been made at the instance of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to settle political scores.
The CBI report also names Jaya Jaitly, who then headed Fernandes' Samata Party, its treasurer RK Jain, and Admiral Sushil Kumar, who was the Indian Navy chief when the Barak deal was signed in 2000.
The CBI report also questions three other big-ticket deals signed during Fernandes' tenure.
These relate to the purchase of Krasnopol laser-guided artillery shells from Russia (Rs 1.51 billion), Denel anti-material rifles from South Africa (Rs 2.20 billion) and armoured recovery vehicles from the Czech Republic (Rs 3 billion).
Meanwhile, the Indian government confirmed on Monday that the programme to develop a Barak-equivalent Trishul missile would be shut down in December, due to cost overruns and the fact that the missile had repeatedly failed during tests.
"Yes, the Trishul programme is being shut down from December," a defence ministry official said.
The DRDO has now been asked to focus on co-production with Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd (IAIL) of the Barak-NG that has a 60 km range.
DRDO had launched the Trishul programme in 1984 as part of Kalam's integrated guided missile development programme. This also included the Prithvi, Agni, Akash and Nag missiles.
The Indian Army has already inducted the Prithvi (150 km range), Agni-I (700 km) and Agni-II (2,000 km) missiles. However, Agni-III (3,000 km), the surface-to-air Akash and Nag anti-tank missiles have suffered massive delays.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi had last week termed the delay in inducting the Akash system a "matter of concern".
The DRDO had suffered huge embarrassment in July when the first test flight of Agni-III ended in failure, with the missile lifting off but failing to go into its projected trajectory and crashing well short of the intended target.