NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's frontrunner for prime minister Narendra Modi has pledged to speed up corruption-hit defence procurement if he comes to power to ensure the country's military is better prepared for battle.
As the nation's general election enters its final stretch, Modi said timely, cost-effective and corruption-free purchase of defence weapons and other equipment was critical for the military.
"The last 10 years has seen our defence preparedness becoming weak on account of several procurement procedures mired by long delays leading to shortage of arms and equipment," Mr Modi told the Times of India in an interview published on Tuesday.
"In the past, we have had a paradoxical situation where there was hardly any procurement happening in time and still serious questions of transparency have been raised."
"The ideal situation is an efficient procurement system leading to timely and cost-effective procurement of quality defence equipment, done in a transparent manner," he said.
Mr Modi, a Hindu nationalist hardliner, and his opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are expected to vault to power over the ruling Congress party after a decade in power when results are announced on May 16.
India has faced a long list of failed defence deals over the years as a result of corruption allegation scandals that have left the military short of crucial equipment.
In January, India cancelled a deal with the Italian-owned AgustaWestland to buy 12 luxury helicopters amid allegations the company paid bribes to win the 556-million-euro (S$965 million) contract.
The scuppered deals come at the same time as India's military needs are growing, with tensions on its border with Pakistan, an increasingly assertive China and growing ambitions for India's role in world affairs.
In the longer term, Modi said India must reduce its reliance on other defence suppliers - traditionally Russia but now also including the United States, Israel and France.
"We should involve Indian corporates in PPPs (public-private partnerships) for defence manufacturing. We have the scientific and technical know-how but the arms lobby has prevented indigenisation of military hardware."
"This must change, making India more self-reliant and also saving foreign exchange," he said.
In the interview, Mr Modi also said ties with arch rival Pakistan could not improve unless the country worked hard to stop militants from carrying out attacks on Indian soil.
"The first step in building any meaningful relationship with Pakistan has to be Pakistan taking effective and demonstrable action against the terror networks that operate from its soil."
"Once that happens, there will an increased trust between the two neighbours which will enable us to pursue a policy of dialogue to solve all the issues."