by Dr. Sudershan Kumar

Our honourable prime minister has repeatedly envisaged the vision of India being a global super power and it is already a superpower in making. However becoming a global/original power always stands upon the pillars of military and economic strength built up. A continuous endeavor is imperative for the growth of military clout and achieving self -reliance in the development and manufacturing of the advance defence systems, not only to cater to the needs of armed forces, but also to lay its foot prints for export to other countries. Despite various policies being promulgated by the Govt. of India to achieve substantive self-reliance in defence sector, the armed forces are still grappling with the deficiency of critical components even after seventy years of independence. 

Furthermore the menace from China and Pakistan has accentuated manifold being further endorsed by our army chief emphasizing that the threat from China is real whereas confrontation with Pakistan along the International border and LoC already ongoing. It is pertinent to mention here that India shares nearly 4057 Kms long land border with China. Emanating from Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir state, the border passes through Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Along this expanded outstretched border, at certain locations there are perceptional differences between the two sides. The repercussions being the transgressions from Chinese side claiming Indian territory as a part of Tibet. Despite various mechanisms to sustain peace along the Line of Actual Control(LAC) yet sometimes the situation does get flared up.

The recent Dokalam standoff can be seen as a reflection of the nefarious designs of the dragon to alter unilaterally the status quo agreed between the three nations- India, Bhutan and China. This standoff continued for 72 days and ultimately got resolved through intensive diplomatic efforts but still transgression and incursions by Chinese army are occurring at times. Their frequency has increased manifold. Even in 2017 there have been more than 425 such intrusions at different locations along LAC. Although the dragon does talk of maintaining peaceful relations with India but ironically its efforts to build its influence in the Indian ocean by the”String of Pearls” seems discernable having security implications thus further giving impetus to the need of a militarily strong India.

Furthermore Pakistan’s deep rooted hostility towards India right from its inception in 1947 has already sown the seeds of terrorism and turmoil promulgation in Jammu and Kashmir state. Its army and Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) is continuously involved in waging a proxy war against India. The frequent threats from Pak leaders, National Security Adviser and others to use Nuclear weapons against India have added new dimensions to the threat perceptions in South Asia.

Therefore, keeping in view the above security threats, it is of utmost importance for India to prepare its forces for a two front war. India cannot afford to let down its guards. Indian armed forces have to be fully prepared to counter collusive threat from rogue nation Pakistan and unpredictable China. But it is an irony of fate that even after seven decades of independence and efforts by various earlier Governments, the self reliance to the tune of around 25 to 30 percent only has been achieved whereas majority of the major defence systems are still imported from Global market on Government to Government (G-G) basis. Therefore, one needs to introspect the various inherent limitations.

Is it the failure of political system in the country in understanding the gravity of threats or is it the apathy of the bureaucracy in understanding the ground realities? Moreover this comes in the backdrop of a large established infrastructure in India encompassing around 39 ordnance factories, 10 defence public sector undertakings for manufacturing, and for carrying out defence R&D, 52 DRDO laboratories, 14 IITs, 20 NITs and very large number of academic institutions and universities. On the contrary, the big giant China, who got independence just one year after India’s independence, is able to establish itself as a global player in not only catering to the needs of people republic army (PLA) but also being able to export to third world countries and Pakistan. There seems to be some disconnect in India’s approach towards self-reliance and modernization. In India the major stake holders are the armed forces. They further look up to DRDO, defence private sector undertakings, ordinance factories and other private industries. DRDO is mandated to indigenously develop major systems, ordinance factories are involved in manufacturing of quality equipment whereas private industries’s role as on date is very minimal in defence manufacturing. Although efforts have been made by successive Governments at centre to enhance the self-reliance through indigenously developed technologies, in house manufacturing based on Transfer of Technology (ToT) but substantive and collaborative approach is the need of the hour.

Besides our country’s major thrust in the direction of self-reliance has been on defence procurement but somehow success has evaded us. Moreover enormous time consumption between initiation of LOI/RIF to the manufacture of major defence systems results in technologies becoming obsolete. Results of previous Governments’ policies and recommendations remain constrained. The present government at centre has put considerable thrust to enhance self-reliance by introducing Make in India in defence sector. Ironically the country’s manufacturing infrastructure cannot cope up to the production in large numbers. Consequently, the armed forces get deprived from the state of art modern equipment further worsened by meagre defence budget.

Hence the need of the hour is to reconsider all aspects right from threat perception vis a vis requirements and development of in house technologies/systems. Also allocation of the roles of various stake holders i.e. MOD, Services, DRDO, Ordinance factories, Defence private sector units , Academia and private sector needs to be revised. Indigenization is not by choice but a compulsion as heavy reliance on imports from other countries is strategically incorrect and a hurdle to attain supremacy on others. Therefore India has no choice except to expand the base of defence R&D by including academia and private sector. Till date defence R&D is being pursued by 52 DRDO laboratories, who pioneered in indigenization of development of the state by art equipment in different fields varying from Missiles to Air crafts, ammunition to tanks and other strategic areas. But manufacturing is being done by ordnance factories and defence public sector undertakings,whereas private player till date has very minimal role in manufacturing of major systems.

Therefore, the time is apt where we need to augment and pull up Defence Public sector undertakings, ordinance factories, IITs and private industries making them able to absorb the technology and generate capability to upgrade the systems without external support and also to work in complete synergy with each other.

Low budget allocation is another major constraint, where India spends only 0.9% of its growth on defence R&D, other countries like China and USA spend nearly 2.8 to 2.9 percent of their GDP on Defence R&D.

Since India aspires to become a global leader, self-reliance in defence to the tune of around 75 to 80% is indispensable and to achieve this vision of self-reliance no peace-meal approach will work. Therefore, the only way to revamp the complete system is through innovative and bold approach.

For this, first and foremost a task force with four star general as its chairman and leading experts from DRDO, academia and armed forces as it members needs to be framed. The task force should be entrusted to assess types of future threats and requirement of technologies to counter those threats. Also to bring out documents which can be shared with different stake holders.

Based on the document, a consortium approach has to be adopted by bringing all the stake holders viz the services, DRDO, MOD officials, Defence Public sector undertaking, ordinance factories and big houses of private sector under one table.

Secondly, with this consortium approach major programmes for development of future technologies required for production of major systems to counter twenty first century threats with participation of each stake holder with defined roles has to be initiated. Of course the ownership has to be with services. All these stake holders must be involved from the conception stage to the production in large numbers with rotational leaderships with a sense of accountability and responsibility.
Thirdly, the most important aspect is to re look existing infrastructure for production of accepted systems including tanks, air crafts and other major systems. As production facilities available in the country are not sufficient to produce in large number in a reasonable time frame therefore they need total upgradation and the work load has to be shared with private sector. Responsibility must be fixed on manufacturing agency for providing life cycle support.

Finally, the India should also look for exporting the defence equipments to other countries by adopting excessive marketing strategy.

The author is of the view that unless these measures are taken in totality, the enhancement of self-reliance will remain a distant dream for the nation and its stake holders would continue with mudslinging on each other. A collaborative and substantive effort is thus imperative otherwise India will remain a lucrative market rather than self-sufficient giant in the defence sector.

The author is former Director General DRDO & Special Secretary MOD GoI