Age row, court martials stung defence ministry

New Delhi: The age controversy involving Army Chief Gen V K Singh, court martial of three Lt Gen-rank officers in different scams, eviction of US companies from air force`s combat aircraft deal and face-off between Indian and Pakistan navies in high seas marked the year 2011 for the Defence Ministry.

The successful launch of Agni-4 missile, dismissal of a senior navy officer in a honey-trap case and Islamabad`s prompt return of an army chopper also made headlines.

The issuing of Initial Operational Clearance to the indigenous LCA Tejas in January turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the year and the IAF chief later said this was not the final clearance and the aircraft would have to undergo more tests to reach the milestone.

The raging controversy over Gen Singh`s age started when the army on basis of an RTI application changed his date of birth from May 10, 1950 to May 10, 1951, which would have given him an extra 10 months in office.

Later, the Defence Ministry stepped in and on basis of two opinions from the Attorney General, on July 21 decided that May 10, 1950 will only be considered as Gen Singh`s date of birth as he had agreed on it in written undertakings.

Soon after the ministry order, Gen Singh filed a statutory complaint with Defence Minister A K Antony against the government decision to treat May 10, 1950 as his date of birth, thus becoming the first chief of the 1.2 million-strong army to do so.
A few weeks later, Antony said Singh`s date of birth is May 10, 1950 and he will have to retire on May 31 next year.

The Sukna land scam continued to remain in limelight as former Military Secretary Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash and former 33 Corps Commander Lt Gen P K Rath, indicted by a court of inquiry (CoI), were punished by respective court martials.

While Prakash was recommended to be dismissed by the army court, Rath was given a sentence for loss of 15 years of service along with loss of two years of seniority. The case had come to light in late 2009 after a CoI was ordered to look into the issuing of a no-objection certificate (NOC) to private builders for constructing an educational institution.

Lt Gen S K Sahni was also ordered to be cashiered from service by a court martial in Jalandhar for his role in the ration scam.

Tensions rose high when an army chopper with four crew strayed into Pakistan in November along the Ladakh region but their prompt return by Islamabad in less than eight hours turned into a CBM between the two countries.

On modernisation front, the Army despite its Chief`s commitment failed to induct any artillery gun as all proposals in this regard remained stuck due to one reason or the other.

The IAF got a new head in Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne in August. The year began on a good note for the service with the induction of its first C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the US but the last quarter saw a number of vintage MiG 21s along with other frontline aircraft crashing.

The biggest worry for the IAF came in form of crash of a Su-30MKI over Pune on December 13 after which the fleet of 130 such aircraft was temporarily-grounded.

Resuming its operations, ACM Browne undertook a one-hour sortie in the aircraft in Pune to assure the nation and the IAF about the immense capabilities of the Russian-origin air superiority aircraft.

The eviction of two US aircraft firms-Boeing and Lockheed Martin-from last lap of air force`s multi-billion dollar combat aircraft deal also hogged headlines. The Defence Ministry excluded them along with Russian MiG and Swedish Saab from the multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA) deal in April and shortlisted European EADS Cassidian and French Dassault Aviation for procuring the warplanes.

The IAF also signed a deal worth USD 2.1 billion to upgrade its fleet of 51 Mirage 2000 aircraft with French companies. First two aircraft have already reached France for the purpose.

DRDO tasted success in its efforts to develop long-range weapon systems for the Armed Forces after with the successful test-firing of nuclear-capable Agni-4 early this month.

The premier defence research agency is now working to launch the country into elite club of nations with Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) and is expected to test fire the over 5,000 km-range Agni-5 early next year.

The DRDO also for the first time launched the tactical 150 km-range Prahaar missile. Several successful test-firings of the Prithvi, Agni-2 and Shourya missiles were also carried out during the year by the Service.

The navy continued to do well in the field of anti-piracy operations through out the year and foiled several piracy attempts in both Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

In February, the Defence Minister issued orders for the dismissal of Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, who was found guilty of having relations with a Russian woman during his posting in Moscow to look after Admiral Gorshkov programme.

On the India-Pakistan front, a face-off between warships of the two navies in high seas raised tensions followed by series of complaints by the two sides. The videos of the face-off showing the PNS Babur brushing the Indian Naval Ship Godavari and damaging it during an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden were a hit on the Internet.

Defence ties with China saw a slight improvement with both sides exchanging high-level military delegations and the resumption of Annual Defence Dialogue this year.

The Armed Forces were busy strengthening their positions along the Chinese boundary with the deployment of aircraft such as the Su-30MKI and the reactivation of airfields in that region.