New Delhi: The national auditor on Thursday rapped the defence ministry over ageing assets, some over 40 years old, in the Army Aviation Corps and for failing to provide combat free-fall parachutes to the special forces for over a decade, among other things.
The audit body also criticised the ministry over the shortage of 47% in the holding of BMP infantry combat vehicles in the Indian army. In its report submitted to the parliament, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India said that although the Army Aviation Corps was created with the main objective of contributing to battlefield success by providing guidance to field commanders in applying decisive combat powers, it is plagued with 32% deficiency vis-a-vis its authorised fleet strength.
“The helicopters held are old and ageing, with 52% of the fleet more than 30 years old. The effective availability of helicopters for operations gets further reduced to 40% of the authorisation due to low level of serviceability of the existing fleet,” said the CAG report.
Of the 181 Cheetah/Chetak helicopters held by the Army, 51 were 40 years or older and 78 were between 30-40 years old. The CAG observed that ever since these were approved for de-induction (2002), 23 helicopters had met with accidents.
Despite these shortcomings, Army Aviation Corps could not replace its fleet of reconnaissance and observation helicopters (Cheetah/Chetak), which are due for de-induction since 10th Plan period (2002-2007) onwards, the CAG report added.
Against the 18 schemes related to acquisition of equipment, including helicopters, for the Army Aviation Corps, approved in the 11th and 12th Service Capital Acquisition Plan, only four schemes could be concluded in the nine-year period so far.
“Failure in meeting the targets and objectives of the acquisition plans and tardiness in procurement action were the main reasons denying the Corps to acquire suitable replacement for the old and ageing fleet (sic),” the report added.
A group of army officers’ wives had in March this year urged defence minister Manohar Parrikar to stop the use of “outdated” Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, which have claimed a number of lives. The government had last August scrapped a Rs.6,000 crore tender for procuring 197 light utility helicopters from foreign vendors for the armed forces and decided to allow domestic players to manufacture these helicopters.
This was the third time that this tender was scrapped. The existing fleet of Army Aviation Corps comprises Chetak, Cheetah and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). Chetak and Cheetah helicopters were originally manufactured by Aerospatiale, France, and were inducted into service in India in 1969 and 1971, respectively. The helicopters were later indigenously manufactured and delivered by HAL under licensed production since 1977.
The CAG observed that while the desired level of serviceability of assets in Army Aviation Corps was 80%, the overall level of serviceability in respect of R&O (Cheetah/Chetak) Helicopters was only 65% on an average.
“The position of serviceability in respect of Advanced Light Helicopter was more critical at an average of 44% only.”
“The poor serviceability of ALH was despite the fact that the fleet, which was inducted only from 2002 onwards, was relatively new and was designed, developed and manufactured indigenously by HAL,” the CAG said.
It also rapped the defence ministry over shortage of 47%in holding of BMP vehicles. The main reason for the shortfall was the delay in supply of 389 BMPs by the Ordnance Factory Board , which not only adversely affected the operational preparedness of Mechanised Forces/Engineers but also entailed a minimum extra liability of Rs.270.97 crore due to cost escalation, it said.
It also noted that Image Intensifier Sights valued at Rs.22.12 crore for the commanders of T-55 tanks were procured between February, 2011, and June, 2013, after the tank was declared obsolescent in December, 2011.
Also, noting that Combat freefall (CFF) parachutes are required during highly-specialised operations and are vital for the success of the missions carried out by Parachutes Special Forces Battalions of Indian Army, CAG said the army was without these specialised parachutes for over a decade.
“The CFF parachutes developed by DRDO in 2006 could not be successfully productionised by the Ordnance Factory Board even after incurring an expenditure of Rs.10.75 crore,” it said.