India's indigenous warship-construction can give the Tejas light combat aircraft and the Arjun main-battle tank a run for their money in terms of colossal delays and cost overruns, which ultimately impacts the operational readiness of armed forces.
It's a no-brainer that India needs a robust defence-industrial base (DIB) with private sector participation, instead of being strategically-vulnerable as it is due to an overwhelming dependence on imported weapon systems, if it ever wants to fulfill its aspirations of becoming a superpower. But the way crucial defence projects are run in the country needs a complete overhaul, with concrete long-term planning to systematically build military capabilities indigenously.
Tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, the latest CAG report is a stinging indictment of the way the defence ministry, Navy and defence shipyards plan and execute construction of destroyers, frigates and corvettes.
The audit watchdog has slammed the 240% jump in "approved costs" of Project-17 to build three 4,900-tonne Shivalik-class stealth frigates and Project-15A to construct three 6,500-tonne Kolkata-class destroyers, both of which are also running five years behind schedule at Mazagon Docks (MDL) after they were first approved in 1998 and 2001 respectively.
"The total cost of the two projects has gone up from Rs 5,830 crore to Rs 19,763 crore already from the original sanction. The actual costs will be even higher since the projects are still in progress," said deputy CAG Rekha Gupta. Incidentally, over the last couple of years, TOI has reported the huge delays and cost overruns in these two projects.
That's not all. Project-28 to construct four 2,400-tonne anti-submarine warfare corvettes at the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd (GRSE) at Kolkata is facing similar problems. "Till date, only one frigate (INS Shivalik) has been commissioned as against the expected nine warships by August 2010...The costs projected to the Cabinet Committee on Security were simplistic, ad-hoc and based upon incorrectly estimated build periods," said CAG.
All this was primarily due to delays in finalization of structural drawings and timely availability of steel as well as the grossly inadequate infrastructure of the defence PSUs or shipyards. CAG also pulled up MDL for including "inadmissible items" like mobile phones, cordless phones, DVD players and air and train fare towards construction costs.
It was way back in 1964 that the government authorized a force-level of at least 138 warships for Navy.