Two days after he sparked a controversy with his remarks about women flying fighter aircraft, Air Force’s Vice Chief Air Marshal Pranab Kumar Barbora (59) on Thursday again raised eyebrows by saying political squabbling was hurting the military’s modernisation.
At a CII seminar, Barbora blamed successive Opposition parties for blocking critical military acquisitions for narrow political goals.
He said defence proposals cleared by one government were contested by the Opposition, while the same parties would change their position after coming to power.
“This impinges very badly on our defence requirements,” said the second-in-command of the world’s fourth largest air force, which has been hamstrung with shortage of fighter jets. It is managing with 33 fighter squadrons against a sanctioned 39 and a half.
Top officers rarely make public comments on the political establishment, but this 38 year Air Force veteran from Assam, who has flown every single fighter aircraft the Indian Air Force possesses has always been a little different. “Please pardon me for saying things which must be said,” Barbora said.
He blasted the culture of referring everything (defence deals) to the Central Vigilance Commission. “Rumours of kickbacks affect purchase process as everyone looks at each other with suspicion.”
He said India was satisfied assembling tools and kits, while China had streaked ahead in the defence sector. “Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is pleased to produce doors and undercarriage for Airbus whereas China is producing the whole damn thing.”
He said India should be bold enough to allow more foreign direct investment in the defence sector. At present, foreign firms are allowed to invest only 26 per cent in Indian companies.
Barbora asked private firms to emulate reverse engineering of technologies from China. “Forget about ethics. Has anyone ever had the courage to ask China why are you doing it? If you can’t do it yourself, you should know how to reverse engineer.”
On Tuesday, Barbora had said that considering the large investment the government made on fighter pilots, women wishing to pursue the vocation should devote themselves entirely to it for a certain number of years and avoid having children during that period to prevent any disruptions.