Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Admiral Arun Prakash on the future of NAVAIR

And, our final installment from Admiral Arun Prakash. My final question to him was: As a Naval aviator, your tenure has finally seen a big push to NAVAIR assets with procurements initiated etc. What new elements do we need, considering our areas of responsibility, new profiles and how would a future chief seek to use them? Also, I'm sure you have an insightful perspective on the highly topical IAF MRCA contract, which currently has contenders from all the weight categories of fighters. We'd love to know what you think about the whole deal.

Admiral Prakash:
Let me start by saying that my being an aviator has had nothing whatsoever to do with the Navy’s acquisition plans one way or the other; we successfully pursued cases for ships, submarines and aircraft as dictated by our force level requirements. In fact we were able to obtain MoD approval for a 17-year Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan (MCPP) which can be used as an acquisition roadmap.

As far as naval aviation is concerned, we found that capability shortfalls had arisen in areas of maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine (MRASW), strike and fighter air defence, and heli-borne ASW due to obsolescence, attrition and bureaucratic stalling of cases.

An aviation perspective plan (an integral part of the MCPP) was drawn up, which seeks to redress these lacunae through a combination of mid-life upgrades (IL-38, Sea Harrier, Seaking), as well as acquisitions from India and abroad (MiG-29, LCA (Navy), long and medium range MRASW aircraft, multi-role helicopters). We have been extremely pleased with the performance of our UAV assets at sea, and new UAVs, including ship-borne versions will also be sought.

Selection and acquisition of aircraft is a time consuming process (for example the next generation MRASW aircraft is still on the drawing board), and it may take 10-15 years before we can reach our desired aviation force levels.

As far as the IAF MRCA contract is concerned, it would not be appropriate for me to speak about it. However, as a general comment I would like to point out a lacuna in our acquisition procedures. The DPP 06 does not make adequate provision for the fresh induction of hardware already held in the inventory, and requires the Service to start the process “ab initio” when replacements or additional inductions are due.

For example if a Service already has 100 aircraft of Type X, one can be sure that an investment of a few hundred crores has been made in training (of pilots and technicians), in special workshops, test equipment and inventory of spare parts (for the next 5-10 years). Having gained valuable experience in operating and maintaining the aircraft for a few years (and consequently suffering attrition), when the Service needs replacements (or even additionalities), logic would demand that it buys another batch of Type X aircraft. However, the procedures currently demand that a fresh QR be drawn up, RFPs issued and tenders floated.

Once tenders are floated the long drawn out evaluation process starts, and eventually (all else being equal), the lowest bidder will get the order. Should this not be Type X, the Service will have to invest all over again in training, workshops, test equipment and spares; perhaps for just 20-30 aircraft. Apart from everything else, the Service has not only suffered a long delay, but also aggravated its logistic problems by being adding YET one more type to its inventory.

Photo ©Copyright 2002 Hindustan Times sourced from Bharat Rakshak

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