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Technology first for India’s defenses

Technology first for India’s defenses
The Modi-led government has laid focus on the ‘Made in India’ mantra to spur its indigenous manufacturing base. This is a welcome departure from the earlier norm wherein the nation relied more on the import of defence equipment, for reasons known best to the political class. It will, however, be easier said than done for the government to deliver on its ‘Make in India’ mantra. The import content of defence equipment in India is staggeringly high. The country practically imports everything as far as weapons and explosives are concerned. Since 1947 there has been a systematic methodology in the defence ministry to import equipment.

The Defence Research Development Organisation, under the defence ministry, has around 50 defence labs, 5 defence public sector units, four ship yards, and 39 ordnance factories. Except for ship building, every other major piece of equipment for the army and air force is imported. Except for the odd project, the DRDO has neither delivered nor has the government allowed private sector players to participate in the manufacture of defence equipments. Hence, the government’s decision to build helicopters, transport aircraft and a whole array of other equipment, with stringent quality control, is a timely decision.

However, those in the arms business will first have to identify and absorb technology, ensure quality control and deliver. These business entities cannot indulge in experiments at the expense of our troops that man these equipments.

The first step in the design and development of indigenous defence equipment, aside from the requisite political, will be the ability to identify technology that the nation requires. In lieu of India’s diverse physical terrain, allied with multiple sources of threat, a varied infusion of weapon platforms are required. This will require a multitude of  technologies.

After identifying the same, various industrial complexes need to absorb technology because the international arms industry is not going to wait for a laggard to catch up in the cut throat business of weapons sale. Absorbing technology will require a cultural change for the defence industry set up in India. The private sector worldwide has been providing great results.

The track record of government run labs/ PSU/ ordnance factories at absorbing such technology has been dismal, except in the development of missiles. Government run organisations have not been very adept at absorbing technology for want of a poor ethos and work culture. Such organisations lack motivation. The private sector does absorb such technology, but at a price.  India is not short of technological manpower but lacks the requisite culture to inculcate systematic change.

The current time line to introduce a new weapon system is very time consuming. The Light Combat Aircraft is a case in point, considering that it was under production for nearly two decades. The procurement process is time consuming. Our artillery has been without a gun since the mid-eighties. 

If all goes well, the procurement process may take five to six years. The process is so faulty that the air force is running out of squadrons, in the absence of multi role fighter. This situation exists despite the fact that the deal to introduce the requisite technology was accepted in principle two years ago.
Our forces are fighting with the vintage T90 tank, which was introduced in 1990.

Today the T90 is 25 years old. Has the Indian establishment thought about our next generation tanks, which will be fielded in ten years’ time? Therefore, the ‘Make in India’ plank also needs to address the time lag between concept, design, and introduction of defence equipment into service. The nation cannot be a global power if it cannot design and produce its own weapon systems.

Another area that needs to be addressed is the ability to exploit the available technology once it has been identified and absorbed. Exploiting technology is easier said than done, as it requires time and excellent state of the art training. Let’s just take the case of the mobile phone or computer.

The average person buys a swanky mobile and a state of the art computer. The average person talks on the mobile or types a word document on the computer. If all the features that are present on the mobile or computer are not fully exploited for want of being technology savvy, the individual will be at a significant loss.

However, if defence technology is not properly exploited by the soldier, it becomes a question of life and death. The soldier needs cutting edge mastery to take advantage of the superior technology that has been built into the weapons system. The ability to train our crew with the latest technology again demands its use. Thus training standards too will have to be upgraded.

‘Make in India’ will fully function if the appropriate technology is identified, absorbed and then exploited.  Defence forces too need to identify many areas, where technology can be harnessed for purpose of training, thereby cutting down expenditure and preserving the life of costly equipment.

The author is a retired brigadier
C S Thapa

C S Thapa

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