Monday, October 19, 2009

Austerity battle reaches war games


New Delhi, Oct. 17: The Centre has asked the armed forces to slash foreign travel and limit visits overseas for war games to just one in a year, a senior officer has said.
But eager to continue with their international exchanges, the armed forces — particularly the air force — are tapping other avenues to subsidise costs.
Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, the vice-chief of air staff, said the Indian Air Force (IAF) was trying to work out arrangements with the armed services of friendly countries to reduce the costs of international exchanges.
“There is a general directive that we should not have more than one overseas exercise,” said Barbora, who was announcing the contingent that the IAF was sending for this year to Oman for the first time.
In September, when a general directive was issued by the government to its ministers and officials to cut unnecessary expenses, the armed forces were left out of the purview of the order. But the costs of international drills — which have mounted especially since Indo-US military-to-military relations began intensifying since 2002 — are now biting.
Last year, the Indian Air force sent a contingent of aircrew with fighter aircraft to the Red Flag exercises in the US — a first for the IAF — costing the government about Rs 100 crore. US officials pointed out that India might not have had to fork out the cash if a Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which the Pentagon proposed some four years ago, were signed.
But political sensitivities in India have seen the proposal stuck in the works for years now despite the vetting of it by the armed forces.
Indian and US military officials insist that the LSA would allow each side to host the other on a reciprocal basis and through barter. There is more hope now on the signing of the LSA after the conclusion of an End User Monitoring Arrangement.
This year the navy deployed its western fleet to the Mediterranean and up to the Baltic and its eastern fleet up to Japan for multilateral exercises.
Like the army and the air force, the navy, too, has institutionalised international war games — such as the Konkan series with the UK, the Varuna series with France and the Malabar series with the US — that gobble up its operational funds.
The IAF has now taken a leaf out of its experience with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to subsidise its international training costs. Singapore, a city state, does not have enough land and airspace to train its military. In 2005, India and Singapore began holding the Sindex series of exercises, and Singapore has offered to pay for the use of the Kalaikunda airbase in Bengal.
Air Marshal Barbora said a comparable arrangement may be worked out with Malaysia and Russia. Singapore has also signed an agreement to pay for the use of the Indian Army’s armoured corps and artillery ranges in Babina and Deolali. Singapore is also allowed to station a detachment from its military in these places for training its soldiers for eight weeks twice a year.
The Malaysian air force last year worked out that IAF instructors would train pilots, weapons systems operators and ground crew of its Sukhoi 30MKM fighter aircraft. The IAF and the Malaysian air force operate the Sukhoi 30. The two air forces have now initiated talks to not only train but also service the Malaysian Sukhoi 30s in India — a cheaper option than having them flown to Russia.
India is trying to sell the idea as a win-win situation for all three countries — including Russia and Malaysia. Russia has a transfer-of-technology arrangement backing up the sale of the Sukhoi 30 MKI aircraft to India. Air Marshal Barbora said the talks had been initiated but it could be some months before the arrangement was structured.

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