Rajnath Singh takes charge as Defence Minister

Taking forward the Make in India pitch in defence manufacturing is Mr. Singh’s long-term challenge.

Published - June 01, 2019 05:08 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Rajnath Singh arrives to take charge as Minister of Defence at South Block in New Delhi on June 1, 2019.

Rajnath Singh arrives to take charge as Minister of Defence at South Block in New Delhi on June 1, 2019.

Former Home Minister and senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh took charge as the Defence Minister at South Block on June 1 afternoon. His immediate challenge would be to get additional funds and the long-term challenge is to give momentum to the ambitious Make in India pitch in defence manufacturing, which has made little progress in the last five years while also ensuring that defence modernisation makes progress.

“Rajnath Singh was given a brief presentation on the functioning of the MoD and all the four departments of the MoD namely department of defence, department of defence production, department of ex-serviceman welfare and department of research and development organization,” Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Mr. Singh instructed the officers to prepare detailed presentations on all divisions and set time bound targets to achieve the desired outcome, the statement added.

Before taking charge Mr. Singh paid tributes at the National War Memorial. “These fallen heroes represent the character of India who has a long history of courage, sacrifice and patriotism. I salute them for keeping India safe,” he tweeted. Mr. Singh is the fifth Defence Minister since the NDA government came into power in 2014.

On May 31 evening, Shripad Yesso Naik took charge as Minister of State for Defence. Apart from Ministry of Defence, Mr. Naik will also serve as Minister of State (independent charge) in the Ministry of AYUSH.

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the highest decision making body of the Ministry on procurements, was tentatively scheduled to meet in June with several big ticket deals lined up for approval. However, with the change of guard at South Block and Mr. Singh getting oriented to the functioning and developments in the Ministry over the next few weeks, it has to be seen when the first DAC meeting would be scheduled.

Defence budget

The immediate concern for Mr. Singh to take forward military modernisation is to secure additional allocation for defence in the full budget to be presented in July.

In the interim budget in April, the allocations to the three services fell short to cover even the revenue and committed liabilities meaning the ministry may default on some payments for earlier deals unless the situation is addressed.

Incidentally, former Defence Minister and current Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had taken up the issue with the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley few months back and had expressed confidence that it would be addressed in the full budget.

Military modernisation

In the last five years, the government had signed several multi-billion dollar deals with many countries with Russia leading the pack with deals of over $12 billion. There are several other deals now in the pipeline, many with the U.S. which include 24 MH-60R multi-role helicopters for the Navy, a quick reaction air defence system for Delhi, armed drones, Raytheon surveillance aircraft, one C-17 transport aircraft and tenders under way for 57 carrier based aircraft for Navy and 114 fighter aircraft for the IAF.

Beyond these, few deals are lined up through the Strategic Partnership (SP) route which intends to develop the domestic private industry but has so far failed to take off. A deal for 111 Naval utility helicopters is among the first to be initiated under this and a deal for six advanced conventional submarines is lined up after that. The SP model is considered critical to build domestic defence industry and would need attention to take forward the Make in India initiative.

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