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September 9, 2013

Anti-missile shield for frontline Navy warships fast erodin

The anti-missile defensive shield protecting 14 frontline warships, including aircraft carrier INS Viraat, is fast eroding but the government is dragging its feet on taking a decision one way or the other due to an ongoing CBI probe into the original deal.

The Navy has been pressing panic buttons for quite some time about its fast depleting stock of missiles to arm the Israeli Barak-I anti-missile defence (AMD) system - which intercept hostile incoming sea-skimming missiles at a 9km range - fitted on INS Viraat as well as guided-missile destroyers and stealth frigates.

Sources said that Navy chief Admiral DK Joshi has even written to defence minister AK Antony for an early decision on the acquisition of an additional 262 Barak-I missiles, at a cost of over $150 million, since it was a "critical operational requirement".

But the defence ministry had expressed helplessness due to the pending CBI investigation into the infamous Barak kickbacks case registered in October 2006. The law ministry and the attorney general, however, have now left it on the MoD to decide on the fresh procurement case. "The ball is firmly in the MoD's court now," said a source.

The law ministry had earlier held the case should not be sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval till the CBI probe was completed. But the CBI has failed to make much headway "due to pending letters rogatory (letters of request)" in Israel and UK. "With Navy pressing for a fresh legal opinion, it was held the MoD get an external evaluation or audit done. Now, even that caveat has been removed," said the source.

But in the backdrop of the VVIP helicopter and other scams ahead of the 2014 general elections, the MoD seems reluctant to take a decision even though it "understands" the urgency for the Barak-I missiles.

It was after Pakistan acquired sea-skimming Exocet and Harpoon missiles, coupled with the failure of the indigenous Trishul AMD system, that the then NDA government had inked the initial Rs 1,160 crore deal for nine Barak-I AMD systems, along with 200 missiles worth Rs 350 crore, with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael in October 2000.

Subsequently, under the UPA-1 regime in October 2006, the CBI registered the FIR in the Barak kickbacks case to name former defence minister George Fernandes, his party associates Jaya Jaitly and R K Jain, alleged arms dealer Suresh Nanda and former Navy chief Admiral Sushil Kumar among the accused.

The irony is that the UPA government has refrained from blacklisting IAI and Rafael, despite banning other firms like Israeli Military Industries, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, Rheinmetall Air Defence (Zurich) and Corporation Defence of Russia in other corruption cases, on the ground that it would be counter-productive.

IAI and DRDO, for instance, are collaborating in two major but delayed projects to develop a long-range surface-to-air missile (LR-SAM) system for Rs 2,606 crore to arm Indian warships and a medium-range SAM system for IAF at a cost of Rs 10,076 crore.
Times of india

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