With India on the verge of a shift in power, it’s worth reflecting on the accomplishments of the past and addressing future challenges.
The ruling Congress Party’s long-serving defense minister, A.K. Antony, deserves credit for breaking India’s military dependence on Russia and modernizing and internationalizing its gear.
New Delhi has bought major American systems, including C-17 and C-130 transport planes, P-8 maritime patrol planes and air defense systems. And it’s taken major strides to acquire Rafale fighter jets, AH-64 attack helicopters and ultralight howitzers, although those deals remain in negotiations.
Despite a reputation for personal honesty, Antony’s tenure was marred by a rift with the Army’s chief of staff and major bribery scandals that have cast a pall over numerous contracts, including a now-canceled deal to buy VVIP helicopters from Italian giant AgustaWestland.
India has also canceled multiple projects worth a total of $9 billion under Antony, and blacklisted half a dozen foreign firms based on corruption charges. The country’s anti-fraud agency has gotten more than 50 complaints over defense deals.
The next government must continue the reforms that Antony started and go further to bring transparency to major weapons decisions and make fighting corruption a priority.
Traditional blind support for poorly executed projects by inefficient state-owned industries must end, so that finite resources may be better spent elsewhere.
And regulations that limit foreign direct investment in India’s defense sector must be scrapped in order to attract the kind of technology infusion India’s military really needs.
The combination is vital, both to improve India’s military capability and to harness the untapped potential of its domestic industry.