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Service Chiefs’ Concern:DEPLETION IN WAR-WAGING POTENTIAL, by B.K. Mathur,11 December 2006 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 11 December 2006

Service Chiefs’ Concern


By B.K. Mathur

The Service Chiefs have made two significant observations at the combined commanders conference in New Delhi the other day. Very crucial for the armed forces, they stressed in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that corruption scandals in defence deals should not be allowed to derail modernization plans and that the Defence Research and development Organisation (DRDO) must get its act together, instead of delivering too little, to late.  The PM was told that the long delays in the procurement of desperately needed military hardware and software was causing a steady depletion in the war-waging potential of the armed forces. 

The Chiefs’ comment that the tardy progress in the projects of the DRDO with unrealistic time-frame is at once unfair to the Organisation, which is doing a good job for over three decades. There is no denying the fact that several important projects have been delayed for long. But it needs to be understood by the Service headquarters, and the Prime Minister too, that the delays have not been caused by the DRDO, or its laboratories or the Ordnance factories.  The culprit is the system for procurement of military hardware and software and faulty defence production industry.  A high-level committee, headed by former bureaucrat Vijay Kelkar and comprising some leading industrialist diagnosed the disease from which the industry has been suffering for decades.

India’s young defence scientists, technicians and producers are today the envy of the world. They are capable of designing, developing and producing best of the military machines, weapons and weapon systems, including the ones with unclear warheads. Their capabilities have been proved time and again during the last few years. They have designed, developed and produced latest types of missiles considered to be the main weapon in the present day war strategy. We owe this to the President of India APJ Abdul Kalam, formerly DRDO Chief, known as the “missile man”. Why missiles only. The DRDO has designed and developed latest state-of-the-art battle tanks, combat aircraft and even aircraft careers for Navy. 

Unfortunately, however, such designed and developed machines could not be produced all these years for various reasons.   First among them is the fact that purchases from abroad have their own attraction, commissions et all, at the cost of national interest.  Secondly, the defence industry is quite different from the civil industry. A modern and sophisticated military equipment has a large number of components, running into thousands and that too of different heads like electronics, ammunition, fire-power and all that.  In other words, no one set of scientists and technicians can possibly undertake production of all components. Importantly no defence production unit in the world, even in the highly advanced countries, can produce all the components under one roof--- and one unit. Inter-dependence is a necessity in defence industry.

Some years ago, I distinctly remember to have been told in Bangalore that a U.S. defence production company was importing from India certain small components for production of a highly-sophisticated gas-turbine engine. The explanation of this import was simple.  It was economical for the American company to import that particular component from India or anywhere else, because it was pointless to set-up a special production facility at high costs. But this must have been one of the rare smaller components. The private sector industry there does not mind setting up production units even for smaller components, because the entire U.S. defence industry is export-oriented and is a major component of the national economy.

Things are quite different in India’s defence industry.  Here a produce is sold for a limited purpose, and the setting up of a special facility for its production is not economically viable. And, therefore, no private sector would like to spend his capital for producing such components for defence armament which have limited market and no profitability, yet require high capital investment. Thus, it becomes necessary to go abroad for direct import of the components required for even wholly indigenously designed and produced machinery. Also, and quite significantly, a tendency has fast grown over the years for Defence PSUs personnel rushing abroad to “see the world” and take all the advantages of purchasing abroad.

The Defence Ministry, the DRDO and the defence public sector undertakings have been making efforts to reduce import contents in defence equipment for decades. It has been realized all these years that the country cannot afford to depend entirely on imports for its defence requirements, and that self-reliance cannot be achieved without proper participation and commitment in national effort of the civil sector. It is a fact that the Defence PSUs which alone produce at present military equipment have to depend on others for a large number of components. In their case the dependence is on imports--- and not on the civil or the private sector, like in most other countries.

This situation which the country’s defence industry faces today raises several issues. Two among them are more significant, requiring examination in depth.  The percentage of indigenous component is a misnomer, an entirely misused terminology. Two, it is not economically viable in the present-day context to involve the private sector in the production of components for defence machinery, being designed and produced indigenously.  The industrialists in the private sector are actually “traders” in India, whose only motive of activity is profit and money-making.  They cannot really take on a production which has a limited and fast-changing market like the defence equipment market at home and abroad.  If they change their attitude and become partners in national effort for security, then only can their partnership initiative succeed.

In sum, if the scientists of the DRDO and its laboratories are given the required inputs, sans the politics of the file-pushers and policy-makers in the Government, India’s defence industry is capable of producing the latest military machines wholly indigenously with, of course, the cooperation of the private sector industry.  As pointed out earlier, no military machine in the world can be produced under one roof.  The practice for always running for imports should be stopped and the country’s self-reliance efforts stepped up. Why spend in foreign exchange when the required equipment can be produced at house.  Do not play the blame game, instead set the defence production industry right. ---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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