Indian Navy Harrier Upgrade "Imprudent", Partiality Shown To Israeli Firms: Indian Audit Watchdog

India's national audit watchdog agency, the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) has severely criticised the Indian Navy's upgrade of 14 Sea Harriers. The Navy embarked on the upgrade -- called the Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH) programme -- in March 2005.

The new CAG union audit report on the Indian Navy, tabled in Parliament yesterday, observes, "The contract for limited upgradation was concluded but only in March 2005. The delay was mainly on account of finalising technical requirements, issuing the Request for Proposal, conducting Technical Evaluation for the missile and associated radar. Not only did this delay defeat the very purpose of execution of the project on fast track basis but the Navy would also be able to exploit the upgraded Sea Harrier aircraft for a very limited period only, i.e about three years or less. Even subsequently, there were delays in the execution of the programme by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the first milestone of handing over two prototypes to Navy by February 2007 could not be achieved. Consequently, delivery of the remaining aircraft, scheduled for February 2008 was postponed to December 2009."

Further, the report says, "The Sea Harrier has had, over the past few years, a very high attrition rate. In fact, subsequent to the time of mooting the proposal, in October 2001, Navy lost two aircraft in August 2003 and December 2004. Despite being aware of these facts, Navy initially committed all its aircraft for the upgradation though they ultimately reduced one aircraft from the final contract. Further they did not include any provision in the contract for payment on prorata basis depending on the number of aircraft upgraded by the vendor. As a result, after conclusion of contract, when more aircraft were lost in accidents, Navy had no option but to make payment of Rs 204.30 crore to HAL towards upgradation of these nonexistent aircraft lost in the interim period. Navy would, however, be able to setoff only Rs 16.16 crore payable to HAL for their services."

Damningly, the CAG report also notes that the Navy was "predisposed" towards selecting the Rafael-made Derby BVR missile "even though the missile did not fulfil the needs of the Indian Navy". The report notes, "The RFP issued in August 2003 stipulated that the IN’s requirement was for the Derby missile. As no corrigendum to the RFP was issued, clearly, competition in procurement was ruled out. As a result, although the RFP was issued to seven firms and an extension was granted till October 2003, only the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of the Derby missile responded. The trial directives were issued in March 2008 after scaling down the NSQRs at the instance of vendor. Consequently, the acceptable maximum range of the missile was reduced from ‘A’ Km to ‘B’ Km, which was 54 per cent of the original accepted range. Actual live firing of missile was conducted, in March 2008, on an upgraded prototype Sea Harrier aircraft at a range of ‘B’ Km for missile in mid envelope scenario (33 67 per cent). The vendor was unwilling to guarantee performance of the missile beyond the scaled downrange of ‘B’ Km. One of the basic aims of the acquisition of BVR Air to Air missile was to destroy targets at beyond visual ranges of up to ‘C’ Km. However, the missiles acquired failed to achieve the desired ranges in the live firing. The capability of the seeker, at the range prescribed in NSQR (‘A’ Km) was also not demonstrated in live firing. Moreover, the missile launcher design is being used for the first time for airborne operations."

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