New Delhi (Sputnik) — India’s newly appointed defense minister, who is also the country’s first full-time woman defense minister, Nirmala Sitharaman took charge of office today. The 58-year-old will have a maximum of twenty months in the position as the current government’s tenure ends in early 2019. Sitharaman has assumed office at the most dynamic phase of Modi government's armed forces modernization plan as many crucial decisions pertaining to big-ticket purchases are to be made in the days to come.
From day one, Nirmala Sitharaman has set out her priorities and said she would focus on military preparedness, ‘Make in India’ and the welfare of soldiers.
“My priority will definitely be the armed forces’ preparedness. It is important that the Indian armed forces receive the attention in terms of giving them every endowment and equipment necessary for them to perform their duty with the best of equipment available,” Defense Minister Sitaraman said in a message after assuming charge.
Sources say that Sitharaman’s tenure would be very challenging, considering the fact that India’s defense sector has just opened up to the domestic private enterprises, having no or very less experience.
“Her tenure is very crucial and she will have to remain extra careful as most of the upcoming defense deals are going to be executed under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model where domestic private defense firms having less experience need to partner with foreign firms to manufacture and supply arms and equipment to the armed forces.
Some of the major defense projects that are to be finalized during Sitharaman’s tenure include the selection of close to 120 single-engine fighter jet worth $18 billion and dual-engine fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.
Purchase of naval fighter jets for aircraft carriers has also been set into motion as four foreign companies of Russia, France, America and Sweden have already responded to request for information issued by Indian Navy.
Sitharaman will have to use her acumen to choose fighter jets worth $12 billion and mine counter measure vessels worth $5 billion for the Indian Navy. During her short tenure, she will have to give the final stamp of approval for six air-independent propulsion enabled submarines under Project P75I. RFI for the deal worth more than $12 billion was sought from six foreign shipyards, including Rubin Design Bureau of Russia, Naval Group of France, Navantia of Spain, Saab of Sweden, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan and ThyssenKrupp of Germany in July this year.