A BUCKET-LIST FOR DEFENCE PRODUCTION

Historically, India has been invaded and plundered by marauding armies and we acquiesced to surrender and occupation. When the British finally left in 1947 we heaved a sigh of relief, only to be rudely awakened out of our nonchalant attitude by a bunch of Razakars (actually elements of the Pakistan Army) who wanted to wrest Kashmir for themselves. It took all the resources of the newly established Indian Army and the Indian Air Force to quell the attack, push back the intruders and ensure that Kashmir remains with India. Needless to say, the resources available to the military were legacy equipment. The Ordnance Factories created by the British were battle inoculated, having met the huge requirements of arms and ammunition till just three years before, in the Second World War. It seemed like a piece of cake, to keep the factories in peak performance for the needs of the Indian armed forces. Seventy years down the line, the Ordnance Factories have neither acquitted themselves to the need of the hour nor have they established any decent reputation for themselves.

The Indian Navy was wise to set up the Department of Naval Design, an organisation that has progressed and flourished within the limits of budgetary constraints imposed by the government. The rather special or intricate requirements to build an aeroplane did not find suitable takers till HAL came about. Their beginnings were good and their reputation soared with the production of the HF-24 Marut, with the public little realising that Dr Kurt Tank, the renowned German aeronautical design engineer and his team of 17 German engineers were the creators of the HF-24. Further development of the aircraft came to naught and even if the technology was imbibed, there was no direction to continue the program with zeal and enthusiasm. The development of the LCA had a timely initiation. The (possible) overconfidence and associated procrastination was not anticipated. Thus India, over the years, has resorted to importing arms and has, quite dubiously, inherited the sobriquet “The largest arms importer in the world”. It is not something to be proud of.

Pursuing a false sense of security to protect our defence development from getting into the wrong hands, we created the behemoths known as DRDO and the DPSUs. Controlled by bureaucrats and/or the scientists, enabled with funds for development and growth, these institutions were not held accountable for their products and their standards. Decades of public castigation has fallen on deaf ears. It is only now, with the Modi government questioning their output as also making them a competitor in the acquisition process, rather than a ‘given,’ that these organisations have pulled up their socks. But it will take time for the festering rot to be cured and cleaned.

Asymmetry in warfare has always been the formula for success, be it in numbers (manpower / machinery) or in technology. While India has the manpower, it is technology she craves for. Home grown emphasis on agriculture rather than industry in the formative years has put us ten steps behind. Sheer will power, determination and talent have put us on an even keel on the economic map but we still struggle with technology. Military weaponry and armament require a very high degree of precision and finesse during the manufacturing process. Quality control of such equipment manufacture necessitates extremely stringent and rigorous tests and clearances. Typically, because of these reasons, development periods are long and in procurement, gestation periods in military acquisition stretch interminably. Procedural delays add to the woe of the buyer. With technology moving in rapid strides, there are instances when a recently acquired weapon system could already be facing a ‘legacy’ tag.

Are the planners at fault? Is there adequate lead time given for an acquisition so that we are not caught in a depleted state? Of course, a structured and well established plan exists. Service HQ put out a Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap –TPCR (which couldn’t be more definite) which clearly indicates the foresight and vision of the military. Based on this a Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (covering a 15 yr period), a FiveYear Plan and an Annual Acquisition Plan are proposed. It is up to the government to make the threat assessment and decide on a defence budget that will address the needs of the military. Military modernisation is a dynamic process which is ongoing and continuous. It requires hands-on commitment and control and cannot accept procrastination. Defence of the homeland is paramount and cannot be sacrificed because of a benign attitude. We have been shamed on the world stage by China in 1962. If military modernisation takes a back seat, will history not repeat itself?

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction. He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

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