Every year, October 8 is celebrated as the Air Force Day. Amidst parades and fly pasts, the nation salutes the valor and patriotism of these bravehearts on the front lines, but are medals of honour and pension schemes enough when the state asks for absolutely selfless service?
Promises of respect and power have been used to incentivise recruits into armed forces since times immemorial. Expectations of patriotism and bravery justify that state’s underpayment and provision of substandard living conditions for military personnel. Media coverage of public controversies like that of the Rafale Deal, deeming the loss of a fighter jet akin to burning the cash equivalent of its monetary value, completely ignoring the loss of lives, paints a picture of the utilitarian dystopia our society is doomed to evolved into.
India loses approximately 1600 military personnel (on duty) every year, without going to war. A majority of these calamities can be credited to ‘technical failures’ of fighter jets and naval vessels. For the large quantum of Indian Air Force (IAF) planes dropping out of the sky, shoddy maintenance and lack of pilot trainees are major driving factors. Although the IAF is known for its high standards, those standards are largely for its pilots; maintenance crews may not share that quality. There is a dire need for trainees, the absence of whom led to rookie pilots moving straight ahead to frontline warplanes such as the MiG-21. The upshot – young pilots died at an alarming rate. India is the largest importer of arms, Russia being a major source for these imports up until the recent past. Russian made vessels and jets have not only been unreliable, but the Russians have also been accused of being tardy with supplies of spare parts.
In 2014, the death toll jumped to 6400. The same year, Admiral DK Joshi of the Indian Navy made headlines last year after resigning following a series of submarine accidents that left 18 sailors dead. Not surprisingly, the vessels in questions were Russian made and supplied.
Amid growing concerns, India decided to turn to the west for production and procurement of Military Grade Weaponry. Domestication wasn’t possible owing to the gross incompetence, lack of funding and dwindling employee strength of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Indian counterpart of the Boeing Company (leading defence contract behemoth).
2 years later, Narendra Modi took office, amid promises of military modernisation. The Rafael Deal is an initiative in that very direction, but it’s been scandalized with controversies about corruption at large. The Rafale Deal is a similar contract, where the Government of India will procure 36 ready-to-fly Fighter Jets from Dassault, a French Weapons Manufacturer. Congress has alleged the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of corruption and raised questions as to why there isn’t ‘technological transfer’, and why HAL isn’t manufacturing these airplanes.
According to The Hindu, the deal was initially estimated to be worth $10.2 billion (Rs.54,000 crore). The plan included acquiring 126 aircraft, 18 of them in fly-away condition and the rest to be made in India at the Hindustan Aeronautics facility under transfer of technology. The deal was initially estimated to be worth $10.2 billion (Rs.54,000 crore). The plan included acquiring 126 aircraft, 18 of them in fly-away condition and the rest to be made in India at the Hindustan Aeronautics facility under transfer of technology.
Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Defence Minister, has time and again emphasised the incapability of HAL to guarantee the safety of these planes, if domestically built. Critics of the government continue to question this contract, calling it huge wastage of money. But amidst this political storm, there lies an inherent trivialisation of the lives of those operating these aircrafts.
The citizens of India need to understand and own up to their responsibility to the members of the Armed Forces, which is much more than celebratory tweets about valour, courage and bravery on every National Holiday or AirForce/Army/Navy Day.
Feature Image Credits – Daily Hunt