India vows to change weapons import procedures

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India said on Monday it plans to draft new arms procurement procedures in the wake of a corruption scandal involving Italian helicopters - just two years after the rules were last overhauled.

The redrafting could mean fresh delays to India's ambitious programme of arming its million-plus military with latest hardware, experts say.

"Within a few months, we are going to change the defence procurement procedures again," Defence Minister A.K. Antony told parliament.

The procurement policy was last revised in 2011.

India, which is currently negotiating a US$120 billion (S$150 billion) deal for 126 French Rafale fighter jets, already faces complaints from overseas arms vendors of long delays in handing out military contracts.

India last month began an inquiry into the purchase of 12 AgustaWestland helicopters for VIPs in 2010. Italian authorities have arrested the chief executive of AgustaWestland's parent company, Finmeccanica.

India has put payments to Finmeccanica on hold and asked it to say whether any terms of the contract and of an "integrity pact" were violated in securing the deal to supply the 12 helicopters.

Finmeccanica and its chief executive Giuseppe Orsi have denied that any bribes were paid to clinch the US$748 million contract for the British-built helicopters.

Antony told parliament that India was compelled to import hardware for its technology-starved military "because of the operational necessity of the services".

India imports more than 70 per cent of its armaments mainly from Britain, France, Russia, Israel and the United States.

India's arms acquisition policies, first put in place in 2001, were aimed at "expediting decision-making" and simplifying contracts, according to the defence ministry.