CAG picks holes in chopper upgrade, flags concerns about navy vessels

CAG said the choppers were flying with limited capability, attributing the situation to “poor planning and indecision”
Representational image of a Mi-17 chopper.(HT Photo)
Representational image of a Mi-17 chopper.(HT Photo)
Updated on Sep 24, 2020 11:17 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

The modernisation of the Indian Air Force’s Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters—proposed in 2002—has not been achieved, compromising the fleet’s operational readiness, India’s top auditor said in a report tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said the choppers were flying with limited capability, attributing the situation to “poor planning and indecision.”

“The defence ministry due to poor planning and indecision at various stages of procurement took 15 years to enter (January 2017) into the upgradation contract of 90 Mi-17 helicopters with an Israeli company. The contracted delivery of these upgraded helicopters was to start from July 2018 and be completed by 2024. Audit, however, noted that after upgradation, 56 of these helicopters would be left with less than two years of life and would be phased out by 2024,” the CAG said in a report on the Air Force—one of three reports tabled in Parliament.

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The report also highlighted irregularities in the purchase of aero engines for unmanned aerial vehicles, citing a case where a foreign vendor—Israel Aerospace Industries—supplied such engines at more than three times the market price.

In another report on the management of defence offsets, the CAG said that the French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation and weapons-supplier MBDA have not confirmed the transfer of technology (ToT) to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which was part of the 59,000-crore Rafale contract, as reported by Hindustan Times on Thursday.

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The auditor doubted if the ToT for a key engine would even take place, and pointed out that several offset contracts built into multiple defence deals have not yielded the desired results. India’s offset policy stipulates that in all capital purchases above 300 crore, the foreign vendor has to invest at least 30% of the value of the purchase in the country to boost indigenous capabilities. In the case of the Rafale deal this was 50%.

In a third report, the CAG flagged concerns about the Indian Navy’s auxiliary vessel strength not increasing proportionately with its combat fleet. “In fact, it was declining,” the CAG said, attributing it to inordinate delays in acquisition process and non-adherence to the prescribed timelines in conclusion of contracts.

The CAG found the navy’s existing capability of landing platform docks (LPDs) to be inadequate to meet requirements for amphibious/expeditionary operations. Such warships are used to transport troops, defence equipment and helicopters into the war zone by sea.

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“The Indian Navy, therefore, decided to acquire this vital warfare ship in October 2010 at a cost of 16,000 crore. However, even after a lapse of nine years, contract has not been concluded. This was due to failure to fix a specified time frame for obtaining corporate debt restructuring exit certificate by one of the participating firms,” the CAG said.

The auditor said that inadequate availability of fleet tankers with Indian Navy forced it to hire ships from trade.

Tankers provide water, ammunition and stores to warships at sea. “The approval for acquisition of fleet tankers at a cost of 9,045 crore was accorded in 2014. However, the contract was yet to be concluded till August 2019,” the report said.

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