The Indian military’s modernization projects have taken a backseat with foreign suppliers putting off deliveries to a much later date owing to the current COVID-19 situation.
Defense Ministry of India bought 36 Rafale jets (flyaway condition) for $8.7 billion from Dassault Aviation in September 2016.
First four of these French birds were to be flown to India by May. The deliveries are now expected to be pushed further by 3-6 months. Shipment of another consignment of the 14 promised fighter jets is unlikely to be carried out by the scheduled date, February 2021.
“India's receipt of French Rafale fighter jets, which was expected by July this year, will be further postponed,” defense sources were quoted as saying by Sputnik on Tuesday.
On April 8, Dassault resumed training of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots after the novel coronavirus hit training schedule for several days. The French government on Saturday announced plans to extend the current health emergency.
With social distancing norms and air travel restrictions in place, the IAF pilots will reportedly need two months of training once the rules are eased.
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases in India inches towards the 50,000-mark, shipment of other military equipment are also bound to be hit: AH-64E Apaches (five were to enter service this year), M-777 ultra-light howitzers and CH-47 F(I) Chinook helicopters.
“The defense ministry has approached foreign equipment manufacturers to understand which programmes are likely to see delayed deliveries and the way forward would be to defer payments for late deliveries, without invoking the penalty clause,” a source told India’s Economic Times.
This year’s initially allocated $62.4 billion defense budget may receive 20-30% cut. “The deferment of supplies will save money, to the extent payments were due this year, provided that money was available in the budget,” Amit Cowshish, former finance advisor to Indian defense ministry, told Sputnik.
The pandemic could be a nip in the bud for several other big projects in the pipeline such as procurement of 83 Light Combat Aircraft Tejas jets (INR 39,000 crore), two regiments of Akash air defense missiles (INR 6,000 crore), six regiments of Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (INR 4,500 crore), eight Fast Patrol Vessels (INR 800 crore) and six next-generation missile vessels (INR 12,000 crore).
Production of 50 K-9 South Korean 155mm self-propelled howitzers based on a tracked-armored chassis, will also be postponed because of the ongoing pandemic.