(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 15, 2012
Wanted a White Paper on Defence Production
there has been little concerted thinking about, or planning
self-reliant design-development and manufacturing capability
within India so
that the proportion of imports reduces over time and the
obvious risks of
dependence on foreign suppliers for military equipment
decreases. And under the
present dispensation, with each passing day, and each
successive import order
even with offsets, which are mostly in the nature of
sub-contracts that might
earn money but do not translate into autonomous indigenous
prospects of self-reliance recede further. It is time for
urgent steps to undo
this trend, which spells serious danger for
brief look at the present and projected near-term military
the broad picture. For the purposes of this article, one may
keep aside the
issue of whether or not
columns have extensively covered the many military aircraft
The double-decade delay in development of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) against the background of the obsolescence of the redoubtable MiG-21s, compelled the acquisition of Russian Sukhoi-30s and the French Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (some of which may also have taken place anyway because these systems fill different slots in the Air Force fleet compared to the LCA), and the upgradation of the ageing Mirage 2000s and MiG-21 Bisons. Acquisition of the British Aerospace Hawk advance was compelled by the lack of an indigenous aircraft to take over from the 1960s vintage Kiran basic trainers, the obsolescence of which was known for over two decades. The planned Intermediate Jet Trainer is barely off the drawing boards, having been there for again well over a decade and a half. Since such intermediate trainers are necessary to help trainee pilot to move from basic or entry-level flying training to more sophisticated training on near-operational types like the Hawk, it is now almost certain that the Air Force will soon be pressing for overseas acquisition of intermediate trainers. Just last month, the Air Force ordered another 14 Dornier light transport aircraft from HAL which makes this aircraft under license, bringing IAFís Dornier fleet up to 55. It is indeed puzzling why HAL or any other PSU did not, over so many years, come up with an Indian-made equivalent for this simple dual-role aircraft which clearly has high demand from different sectors.
The most shocking foreign acquisition, and one the indigenous aircraft industry will never and should never be allowed to live down, is the recent orders placed for 75 Swiss-made Pilatus P-7 propeller-driven basic trainers for over Rs 3,000 crore. Hindustan Aeronautics Limitedís (HAL) basic trainer HPT-32 had long since become obsolete and the fleet was so downgraded that it was forced to be grounded, after even costly parachute systems to safely bring down crippled aircraft were seriously considered and eventually, and thankfully, abandoned! All this resulted not only in the acquisitions from abroad but in the deaths of countless trainee pilots who could not get proper basic training, nor intermediate training, and were forced to prematurely fly the demanding MiG-21s resulting in numerous fatal crashes, apart from the thirty-odd fatalities in the HPT-32 itself.
In all the roughly four decades since the development of the HPT-32, used not only by the Air Force but by flying clubs and other civilian establishments for training rookie pilots, could not the HAL and the Department of Defence Production, or any other aeronautical establishment, conceive and execute a plan to develop the next generation of basic trainers, one of the simplest of aircraft? If HAL or ADE or DRDO were not delivering the goods, what was the Department of Defence Production, with a separate minister of state, doing? And what was the defence minister doing, presiding over this vast empire? Or the scientific advisor to the defence minister? Or indeed the cabinet as a whole?
has been the loss caused to the exchequer by all these
failures, not counting just
the foreign acquisitions made in the recent past that could
have been avoided
if Indian-made alternatives had been available, but the future
acquisitions that are now inevitable because no future
planning has been done and
because capability to execute any such plans remains low? How
far behind does
same scenario prevails in the case of other military hardware
India did not procure any howitzers since the Bofors scandal in the early 1980s and only recently ordered 145 M-777 ultra-light 155mm howitzers from the US in a deal worth USD 647 million (Rs 3,500 crore). The latest procurement approvals include 30mm guns for Navy warships at a cost of USD 200 million for 116 guns. Another artillery acquisition in the pipeline is the over Rs 12,000-crore venture to buy 400 towed 155mm artillery guns, followed by indigenous manufacture of another 1,180 such guns after the obligatory transfer of technology. Other forthcoming foreign acquisitions for artillery include 814 mounted gun systems, 180 self-propelled wheeled guns and 100 tracked guns. Heavy guns, indeed almost any kind of gun including small arms till the INSAS rifle, have never been a strong point of the Indian armaments industry and no sustained effort has ever been made to develop indigenous capability in this area, forcing the user agencies to go in for sequential imports.
brouhaha over the Tatra trucks procurement has revolved around
the alleged scam
in over-pricing of the trucks and possible graft involving
high officials of
Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), the defence PSU
manufacturing the vehicles
under license from the
This story of repetitive licensed production with transfer of technology has gone on far too long. At what point will the technology transfers and manufacturing contracts lead to Indian defence PSUs acquiring the capability to develop and make their own systems? Should not concerted measures be taken to ensure that this transition takes place? After all, developing and making a small aircraft or a truck or artillery is not rocket science. But wait a minute! Indian entities have successfully developed rockets, placed satellites in orbit, landed instruments on the moon, and are making several types of missiles. Clearly, something is missing, not in terms of talent or basic ability to acquire and apply knowledge, but in institutional terms, in how defence PSUs and other concerned establishments are structured and run, and above all mandated and supervised by the political leadership. That this should be the state of affairs in any branch of industry would be tragic, that it should happen in defence PSUs is criminal.
there is no indication at all that any change is visible even
in the distance.
In fact, there is good evidence that
is being made of the offsets policy mandating at least 30
percent of the value
of foreign military acquisitions to be spent by the vendor
other stated goal is to build capabilities in the Indian
private sector so as
to broaden the industrial base and build competition to the
defence PSUs. But
it is absolutely clear that, except in a few rare instances,
engineering companies in
The gap in defence capability, underlined by the previous Army chiefís letter to the prime minister, has provided an additional fillip to the mostly foreign acquisitions spree and has spurred on a campaign to undermine defence PSUs. Recent public remarks by the defence minister that no further direct orders would be given to defence PSUs as was done in the Tatra case, that defence PSUs should not expect preferential treatment, and that competitive private sector capability would be promoted, suggest that the trend is to abandon, rather than reform, the state-sector defence industry which will only hand over the industrial base to the fledgling private sector defence entities and, through them, to the US and European military industrial complex. In fact, the answer to the problem lies in the opposite direction, in taking concrete steps to strengthen and rebuild the state-sector defence manufacturing and R&D capability. It is already very late in the day to stem the rot that has set in, and further delay may only pave the way for a self-fulfilling prophecy and demise of this vital capability.
It is essential that the government issue a White Paper on the current status and self-reliant capability of the defence PSUs and other defence research and manufacturing entities, focusing not on the financial health of these entities but on analysing in depth the capabilities for autonomous development. This should be followed in quick time by concerted measures to strengthen these capabilities, notably through a set of missions to develop and manufacture specific need-based defence hardware projected as required in the short to medium term, the aim being not only to deliver these hardware but to promote and ensure self-reliant capability. All offsets projects need to be examined and oriented with this aim in mind rather than being viewed merely in money terms. All these measures should be time-bound, goal-oriented and strictly monitored with accountability at the very top. There is no reason why self-reliant capability cannot be built in the defence industry with economy-wide benefits, as it has in space or atomic energy. The time to act is now.