In the coming century, technology would continue to play a greater role in the way militaries operate and India’s case is no different in this matter. Thus, India’s armed forces desperately need a comprehensive and capital intensive modernisation plan, over the next two decades, to do their job effectively.The wish list of our armed forces is often repeated, and so is the fact that India is amongst the world’s largest importers of weapons and defence technology, with a projected outlay for purchases over the coming decade in the range of about $250 billion. Many observers rightly feel that if we had a more efficient military-industrial complex, this money could have stayed at home.

Butthis isn’t likely soon. But even though Prime Minister Modi has from the beginning advocated a strong and powerful armed forces for India, the “make in India” programme will take several years before India can shed off its huge dependence on foreign military suppliers. The first steps would be to have a new set of guidelines and time bound delivery deadlines, to allow the entry of the competitive private sector bodies to take the place of the government patronised defence public sector undertakings, and to find a way to decrease the stranglehold of our generalist bureaucracy in the business of defence. And the next step would be to draw a realistic integrated perspective plan, so that our defence manufacturing and purchases compliment this plan and each service doesn’t plan to fight a war only on its own!

General VP Malik, the former COAS, has articulated a set of bench marks for fulfilling our defence requirement recently in the BusinessWorld magazine, to say that India’s, “strategy should include (a) facilitating OEMs and domestic defence industrial houses to expand their hi-tech base soonest; (b) creation of skilled worker base by the government and industry; (c) assured purchase orders when a product meets user’s qualitative requirements; (d) simultaneous off-the-shelf purchase of urgently required items from the approved OEMs (this will also be an incentive);(e) an unambiguous export policy on defence equipment, and most importantly, (f) sufficient defence budget for capital purchases.”

However this could take anything from 25 to 30 years. Following a decade of resistance by the ‘babus’ in South Block, the government has finally overruled them to allow 100 percent FDI in the defence sector, since only $5 billion dollars had come into our defence industry against the anticipated nearly $300 billion of investments. Even the much touted offset process had only a few takers, to provide the boost to India’s defence industry. India is in fact far from an attractive destination for the big international defence companies, being ranked as it is, around 135 in the ‘ease of doing business’.

In the short term therefore, we must still continue with our policy of critical purchases to handle the range of military commitments from battling insurgencies, defence of our long land and maritime frontlines under threat from the increasing China-Pak nuclear and missile threats, and provide the only credible responses to natural disasters. And the first step in this direction would be to provide all the technology that India’s armed forces have been desperately seeking, to protect India and project its influence, abroad.

For Indians, their first experience with modern military technology began in the 19thcentury with European military campaigns in India. By the early 19th century, machine guns, mobility – by wheeled automated vehicles and more importantly railways- and communication through telegraph lines, changed the face of warfare completely. And now in the 21stcentury, there is the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that has brought home the importance of lasers and fibreoptics that are used in so many hi-tech weapon systems. But we cannot wait forever to make all that we need, in India.

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