New Delhi: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has made yet another big 'revelation' related to defence acquisitions in a report tabled in the parliament, which says that the INS Jalashwa (ex-USS Trenton) was acquired by the Indian Navy without proper 'proper physical assessment.'
The INS Jalashwa is a 37-year old heavy sealift ship (Landing Platform,Dock), which provides the Indian Navy with a strategic capability to ferry a large number of troops and material over long distances. It is also the first-ever American warship to be inducted by the navy, bought for $50.63 million in 2006-2007.
According to the latest CAG report, tabled in the Parliament on Friday, the UPA government has bought an 'ageing ship' in a 'hasty manner' without 'proper physical assessment' and technical evaluation of its sea-worthiness.
Last month an officer and five sailors were killed on board INS Jalashwa due to leakage of toxic hydrogen sulphide from sewage pipes. It may be of interest to note that the US Navy had suffered an accident, under similar circumstances, and lost almost the same number of men a number of years back. The US Navy maintains and operates other ships of the USS Trenton (INS Jalashwa) class.
The Indian Navy picked up the ship rather cheap, at 10% the original cost, after the US Navy decided to phase it out of service. As it happens with such acquisition programmes, the navy has paid $36.94 million for the refit programme and an additional $39 million for the six helicopters that operate from the ship.
At 16,900-tonne INS Jalashwa is the second largest warship in the fleet after the 28,000-tonne aircraft carrier INS Viraat, and slightly larger than the famed INS Vikrant, which displaced 16,000 tonnes.
The CAG report says that the ship has already outlived a major part of its service life, envisaged to be 40 years, and so the decision for its acquisition 'does not appear to be prudent'. CAG notes that the US navy was to decommission the 173-metre-long USS Trenton, which entered service in 1971, in 2006.
According to CAG, the ship's 'poor condition' necessitated significant changes in the refit programme, and that the navy failed to take prior approval for cost increases from the 'competent financial authority.'
It says that the navy has 'no basis' for its claim that the ship would run for another 12 to 15 years. It also points out that costs are expected to go up further as the ship undergoes upgrades and modifications.
Here, it may be pointed out that the CAG has begun to irritate the armed forces and ministry of defence with sermons and editorialising comments that tend to muddy waters unnecessarily. Its shallow observations, unfortunately, tend to sensationalise matters that deserve a more respectful analysis.