Defence industrialisation is an important missing link in India’s defence story. Helicopters and even tanks, produced by the Indian defence industry under the watchful eyes of the DRDO, have rarely met the expectation of India’s armed forces, leading our military brass to shop abroad for state-of-the-art weapon platforms. The armed forces say that the local products are often outdated by the time they are ready for induction. The Arjun tank is a case in point. But the DRDO says that as the minimum timeline for producing a new state-of-the-art product takes about 15 years — provided there aren’t changes to the QR guidelines they were given, which is often the case and so leads to greater delays — they’ve done well and could do better.
As per Moore’s law, a computer chip is required to double its speed every two years and therefore, a new weapon system being designed needs to be 8-10 times more advance than what is probably available today! No wonder, therefore, our services keep changing their qualitative requirements (QRs) every few years and the DRDO is never quite able to match their expectation.
Defence industrialisation: Need of the hour
As independent India’s leaders have repeatedly emphasised the need for an indigenous defence capability, the DRDO is here to stay, especially as their impressive headquarters adjoining South Block shows us. So what can be the way forward? Can the DRDO ever satisfy the armed forces, their ever-demanding customers? But there is apparently a way out if an article in a recent issue of The Economist (July 28, 2012) is anything to go by. A US admiral, Jonathan Greenert, has recently challenged conventional wisdom, with an article in Proceedings, a US Naval publication.
What the admiral has argued is for the need to build multi-purpose platforms — more like a truck, than a luxury car — that can have multiple uses in modern conflicts, and not weapons that can only address a limited need, as modern conflicts are about anti-piracy, mine-clearing and counter-insurgency operations, and are unlikely to be like wars of the past. In fact, as the essay says, America’s 50 years old aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise, his proved to be useful and offers greater space and power generating capacity than the newer specialised variants. The same applies to the 60-years-old B-52 bomber, now expected to stay in service till 2045.
Furthermore, the admiral apparently finds stealth technologies as overrated, and therefore, America’s biggest weapon project ever, the F-35 joint strike fighter programme, of limited use. This has expectedly raised a storm, but Admiral Greenert has a point. He wants America’s military-industrial complex not just to focus on building military systems, to meet specific threats only. Instead, he suggests a more sensible way forward, by building an adaptable platform that could be used for multiple weapons and technology (that can be added or removed) depending on the task or mission at hand.
In short, Admiral Greenert’s sobering message is that one must go for modern trucks and not limousines. Critics may say that this jack of all model, wouldn’t give the armed forces the edge in future wars. But then the sooner we realise that future wars will require less technology and more grit and staying power, the better it will be for us. Just take one look at Afghanistan, America’s longest war in recent memory. And how much of the equipment that was researched for and inducted into the US armed forces, has had anything to do with conflicts like Afghanistan? Little if any. The era of large conventional conflicts is passé.
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