Even jihadis infiltrating across the Line of Control into J&K have been found to have better night vision devices than the lavishly funded Indian Army
Ajai Shukla / Jan 08, 2013
Thanks to the defence ministry’s (MoD’s) outdated belief that it must fill the order book of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), India’s military remains handicapped in night-fighting against all its likely adversaries. Even jihadis infiltrating across the Line of Control into J&K have been found to have better night vision devices (NVDs) than the lavishly funded Indian Army that is tasked to intercept them. Worryingly, this disadvantage could continue. The reason: the MoD is set to tailor its future requirements of NVDs to what BEL can supply, rather than to what the army badly needs.
In a proposed MoD tender for 45,000 NVDs, an initial buy that would expand into contracts worth thousands of crores of rupees, BEL is asking MoD officials to water down the specifications of the “third-generation” NVDs that the army badly wants. While the army wants NVDs with a “Figure of Merit” (or FOM) rating of 1700 plus, BEL wants the specifications set at FOM 1400 plus. That is because BEL does not have the ability to deliver FOM 1700 plus NVDs in the quantities that the army wants.Peering through an NVD with FOM 1400 plus, a soldier can see clearly at dusk or dawn, and enjoy acceptable vision with a quarter moon or brighter. FOM 1600 plus permits clear vision even in starlight, that is, on a clear night with no moon. But the army wants FOM 1700 plus, which would allow soldiers to see clearly in pitch darkness, like on heavily clouded, moonless nights, or at night in a thick jungle. These, the army rightly points out, are the conditions that it often operates in.
In response to this demand, two Indian companies – BEL and Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division ( Tata Power SED) – confirmed to the MoD’s Services Capital Acquisition Plan Categorisation Committee ( SCAPCC) that they could supply the army with NVDs with a rating of FOM 1700 plus. On BEL’s part that was apparently a bluff — because now, with procurement being finalised, MoD officials are getting quiet requests from BEL to dilute the specifications so that it can remain in the race.
BEL’s apparent inability to supply NVDs with FOM 1700 plus comes despite the MoD having twice splashed taxpayer money on foreign night vision technology for the Bangalore-headquartered defence public sector undertaking (DPSU). In the 1990s, Dutch company Delft provided “second-generation” technology, setting up a joint venture with BEL before walking out of it. As recently as 2010-11, the MoD handed more than Rs 100 crore to French company Photonis to give BEL “supergen” technology rated at FOM 1250 plus. Once again BEL failed to absorb this technology; it did not enhance its own technological capabilities in night vision; and it did not evolve the received technology into more advanced versions.