New Delhi: 2012 was an unprecedented year for the Defence Ministry as it had a prolonged stand-off with former Army Chief Gen VK Singh over his age issue and a truck-deal case and was dragged to the Supreme Court. The selection of France's Dassault Rafale for the 126 combat aircraft deal, India's entry into the elite club of nations with intercontinental ballistic missiles with the launch of Agni V, induction of nuclear submarine INS Chakra into the Navy and stand-offs between officers and jawans in several units also made headlines.
The year began with Gen Singh becoming the first serving chief of the Army to approach the apex court over his age issue on January 16 - only a few hours after the Army Day celebrations got over. He was seeking a change in his date of birth from May 10, 1950 to May 10, 1951, which if accepted would have given him 10 more months in office.
Though the battle over the age issue ended in February after the apex court rejected his plea, Gen Singh continued to trouble the establishment after he claimed that a retired Lt Gen had offered him a bribe for clearing a file for procuring Tatra trucks for the army. Defence Ministry AK Antony immediately ordered a CBI inquiry into the charges.
The next bombshell came in the form of a leaked secret letter by Gen Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in which he had raised serious questions about the military preparedness of the country. The matter rocked the Parliament proceedings and there were several demands in both the Houses for sacking Gen Singh.
In his last few days in office, Gen Singh was also accused of apparently attempting to upset the future line of succession in the Army when he put Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, who is expected to head the force at the end of 2014, under a promotion ban for a failed intelligence operation. It was ensured that these actions were corrected soon after the taking over of Gen Bikram Singh as the new Army Chief on May 31. Assuming office, Gen Bikram Singh made it clear that he would not let controversies of the past come in his way when he said, "a car is driven by seeing ahead through the windscreen, not through the rear-view mirror... whatever has happened should be left behind."
In the last seven months, he has been busy ensuring that the Army is out of the headlines and working towards addressing modernisation issues facing the force and is credited for restoring high-level of trust between the Defence Ministry and the 1.3 million-strong force.
The other main issue facing the Army was about the stand-offs between officers and jawans at several places including Nyoma in Ladakh, Samba in Jammu and Kashmir and Gurdaspur in Punjab. The Defence Ministry and the Army have both taken several steps to restore the officer-soldier relationship along with ordering inquiries and probes to check the indiscipline.
For boosting the strategic prowess of the country, DRDO successfully carried out the first test firing of the 5,000-km range Agni V ballistic missile in April. The successful launch helped the country to join the elite club of nations including the US, Russia, China, France and the UK with the capability to launch such long-range missiles.
For the Indian Air Force, the big moment came when the government chose the French-made Dassault Rafale combat aircraft as the winner in the multi-billion dollar 126 multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA) tender. Though the Dassault Rafale deal is yet to be finalised as the government is still holding commercial negotiations with the French firm, the announcement saw a more than six year-race between six global firms for the contract come to a virtual end.
The year also saw the IAF losing its control of attack choppers when the Defence Ministry decided in favour of the Army saying all future combat helicopters would be for the ground force. However, it has managed to retain the medium-lift choppers, which were also demanded by the Army. The medium-lift chopper fleet received a major boost with the induction of new Russian-origin Mi-17V5 choppers in the force at several locations.
For the Navy, the biggest moment in the year came when it inducted the leased Akula-II CLass nuclear submarine now rechristened INS Chakra in its inventory in April as a significant progress was being made in the indigenous programme in this regard. The INS Chakra has been leased to India by Russia for 10 years and will help India to train its crew for operating on indigenous Arihant-class submarines.
Its operational preparedness suffered a set back when Russia informed that due to a mishap in the boiler section of the Admiral Gorshkov - undergoing retrofitting there, the aircraft carrier would be delivered only by the end of next year against the scheduled date of December 4. However, induction of indigenous and foreign-built guided missile destroyers an frigates helped the Navy to maintain its readiness.
The Navy also saw Admiral DK Joshi taking over as its chief in August. His comments on possibility of India sending troops to South China Sea to protect Indian interests drew global attention recently. In the field of sports also, defence forces won laurels for the country when Subedar Major Vijay won a silver medal at the London Olympics in the 25 m pistol shooting event. Though the minister gave him a cash reward of Rs 30 lakh, his demand for being given a commissioned officer's rank in the Army is still pending.
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