Agusta scam dents Navy readiness

NEW DELHI:The bribery scandal involving banned Anglo-Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland is taking a silent toll on the Navy’s readiness.

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 16

The bribery scandal involving banned Anglo-Italian helicopter maker AgustaWestland is taking a silent toll on the Navy’s readiness. Ship deck guns, radars, short-range missiles and torpedoes — all needed by under-construction warships and submarines — are held up.

Finmeccanica, the mother company of AgustaWestland, has been barred from supplying the same.

More than a dozen under-construction warships, including the upcoming sea-borne aircraft carrier and the Scorpene Submarines, were built according to specifications of certain types of weaponry or radars. Most of the European systems have some link to Finmeccanica. The matter is in the notice of the Ministry of Defence.

Speaking in Lok Sabha on May 6, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was categorical that he was not going to blacklist Finmeccanica. The Army, Navy and IAF have several equipment that have parts produced by Finmeccanica and all contracts already signed have been put on hold. However, the company cannot bid for future contracts, Parrikar had said.

As of now, the under-construction aircraft carrier, Vikrant, needs high-powered radar that was to be provided by Selex, a Finmeccanica company.

The first of the six Scorpene submarines, the Kalvari, is out on sea trial but it still does not have its most potent weapon — a heavyweight torpedo. The ‘Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel’ (WASS), a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, was to supply the same to DCNS — the French Submarine maker — for mating it with the Scorpene.

Four of the Kamorta-class corvettes need short-range surface-to-air missiles (SRSAM) as close in protection. The supplier MBDA also has a link to Finmeccanica. Two such ships are still under construction.

Four of the Visakhapatnam-class guided missiles destroyers need 127 mm ship-deck guns and so do the next seven ships of the Shivalik class stealth frigates. The guns are made by ‘Otomelara’ naval guns, another Finmeccanica company.

The proverbial last straw on the camel’s back is the fact that the Navy’s network centric warfare backbone also depends on equipment supplied by Finmeccanica.

The MoD has asked the Navy to look at other alternatives but again this could take years to fructify.

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