The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has pulled up the defence ministry for failure to provide timely replacement to the Indian Army's aging assets and neglecting the force's war preparedness.
In its report submitted to Parliament, the national auditor cited that the Army Aviation Corps special forces had to go without combat free-fall (CFF) parachutes for over a decade while some of the Army's assets are more than 40 years old.
''The CFF parachutes developed by DRDO in 2006 could not be successfully brought under production by the Ordnance Factory Board even after incurring an expenditure of Rs10.75 crore,'' it said.
Not the least, it also criticised the Indian Army for not having specialised parachutes for over a decade.
"The 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. However, the Army was without these specialised parachutes for over a decade," the report said.
The Army Aviation Corps, which was created with the intention of providing guidance to field commanders in applying decisive combat powers, had to do with 32 per cent deficiency in its authorised fleet strength.
Also, CAG has pointed out that 52 per cent of Army Aviation (AA) helicopters are more than 30 years old.
"The helicopters held are old and ageing, with 52 per cent of the fleet more than 30 years old. The effective availability of helicopters for operations gets further reduced to 40 per cent of the authorisation due to low level of serviceability of the existing fleet."
Out of the 181 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters flown by the AA pilots, 51 are 40 years old or older and 78 between 30 and 40 years old.
Ever since these were approved for de-induction in 2002, 23 helicopters had met with accidents, the CAG observed. Yet, the Army Aviation Corps could not replace its fleet of reconnaissance and observation helicopters (Cheetah / Chetak), it added.
"It was noticed that despite these shortcomings, AA could not replace its fleet of Cheetah or Chetak helicopters being used for reconnaissance and observation. We observed that against 18 schemes approved in 11th and 12th Service Capital Acquisition Plan, contracts in respect of only four schemes could be concluded in nine years period, so far," The CAG report reads.
Among other things, the CAG pointed to an acute 47 per cent shortage in BMP infantry combat vehicles with the Indian Army.
''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,'' the report said.
In fact, 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.
Despite these, the government last August scrapped a Rs6,000-crore tender for procuring 197 light utility helicopters from foreign vendors for the armed forces and instead decided to allow domestic players to manufacture these helicopters.
After scrapping the tender for a third time, 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 per cent, the overall level of serviceability in respect of R&O (Cheetah / Chetak) Helicopters was only 65 per cent on an average.
''The position of serviceability in respect of Advanced Light Helicopter was more critical at an average of 44 per cent 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.