by Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd)

In his latest salvo on Rafael deal, Rahul Gandhi says Modi Government has weakened defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics limited (HAL ), to benefit Reliance Defence. To reinforce his claim, he has said that in recent reports emanating from HAL, for the first time it has to borrow almost 1000 corers to pay salaries to its employees. So, all that our Netaji could think of to ameliorate the economic position of HAL is that for the Government to give it more orders to produce lack lustre military weapons and aircraft, with no quality control. Let Air Force pilots die but HAL must be churning out defective aircraft. Just check how many Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, MiG-21 fighter jets, Kiran trainer aircraft, all produced by HAL under licence have crashed. Even five Sukhoi 30MKI, latest soviet origin fighter jets produced under licence in HAL and more than four of its latest Dhruv helicopters have crashed. Time India gives due thought to functioning of these eight large Defence PSUs and 39 ordinance factories, if it wants this tag of largest arms purchaser in the world removed from its name.

Agreed that Mr Rahul Gandhi has raised several valid questions regarding Rafael Deal, concluded by the Modi government. For example, why the original requirement of IAF of 126 Rafael fighter aircraft were changed to just 36 at drop of a hat and without maybe consulting IAF? Then why Reliance Defence, a recently incorporated company with no prior success in defence manufacturing, was made major offset beneficiary? Even agreeing that selection of an off-set partner is purely the job of French Dassault company, which makes the aircraft, nevertheless we should have advised Dassault who was not happy with work culture and quality control of HAL, that this Reliance Company has no experience in Defence production of fighter jets. Anyway, let us forget for time being this Rafael Deal and come back to the subject of functioning of 8 large Indian PSUs in Defence and 39 ordinance factories.

Even on a cursory visit to any of these PSUs and Ordinance factories premises, first impression that you get is that where one man should be working on a job, you will find four men working there, thanks to political interference. Then you will find more workers loitering outside having tea and snacks in canteens then working inside. You dare not tick off any body, lest unions go on strike. Then their bureaucratic way of functioning is notorious. So, what wonder the track record of these PSUs and Ordinance factories are so poor? Take the case of Tejas Fighter jet which Aeronautical Development Agency and HAL decided to develop in India with a budget of 500 corers and time plan of five years, just 30 years back. This year on 4 January 2019, after 30 years of making and an expenditure of 25000 corer Tejas has been now finally granted final operational clearance. This is pathetic. 

How many heads have rolled? How many have been punished for this delay? Who all made accountable? answer is NONE, SAB CHALTA HAI YEH INDIA HAI BHAI. In Contrast see Chinese Defence PSUs. China which got independence two years after us, whose economy till 1970 was less then us, has developed an indigenous J-20 Fifth Generation Fighter at its PSU, Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. Indian defence PSUs can not even think of this feat. Chinese PSUs are highly efficient, they are churning out 5 billion dollars’ worth of weapons and equipment which they are selling in Third World Countries while we continue to be largest arms importer of the world. We forget that no country can become any power by importing arms from abroad. Also, this puts heavy strain on Indian Defence budget and comes in the way of our defence preparedness. So, what is the remedy?

First and foremost, we must remove political and bureaucratic control over these defence PSUs and ordinance factories. They must be made accountable and cost effective as also market savvy. They must enjoy autonomy and concept of hire and fire rule. Accountability must be fixed. NO CHALTA HAI BUSINESS. More private companies must be brought in defence production field. They must be given level playing field and promise on orders once their product is approved. Make in India should be encouraged with more grant on R&D and development of new technologies. We must have a web of technical universities, domain experts, private defence production companies who can quickly ascertain Indian strategic needs and translate into modern weapon platforms. This is exactly what the US does. We must develop a private defence complex which delivers and capable of competing with these PSUs and ordinance factories. This Private Defence Complex must be booming within 10 years’ time frame. The flab in PSUs and Ordinance factories must be removed. They must not be considered as job generating organisations. This nonsense that since they are civilians so they can go on strikes must end officially. Strikes in these PSUs and ordinance factories must be banned. Anybody indulging in strikes must be thrown out .Unless and until we go for these reforms and more our future defence needs we will not be able to be met by buying weapons in world market. Times are changing fast. Indigenous production is the answer.

Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd) is a distinguished Defence and Strategic Analyst. Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IDN. IDN does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same