by Brig Arun Bajpai (Retd)

The First upgraded Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft by the HAL, the Indian Defence PSU and favourite of congress president Rahul Gandhi, took off from HAL premises at 10.30 AM on 1st February morning on its first customer satisfaction flight. Even before the aircraft could leave the ground it caught fire forcing pilots to eject and pointing to a systems failure. The plane hit the arrest barrier at the end of the runway on the ground and dragged it on, killing both pilots Squadron leader Siddhartha Negi and Squadron leader Samir Abrol .It is only possible in India that a country having 39 ordinance factories, 8 large Defence PSU like HAL, 41 state of art laboratories, a huge behemoth DRDO, all under Ministry of Defence Production is still worlds biggest arms purchaser abroad. Every Government who came to power in last 71 years of Indian independence, have been chest beating that they will make India self sufficient in Arms production, including the current Modi Government, but nothing happens as we can see now when Modi Government is finishing its tenure of 5 years.

In his salvo on Rafael deal, Rahul Gandhi had recently said in parliament that 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 was 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 Su-30MKI, latest soviet origin fighter jets produced under licence in HAL and more than four of its latest Dhruv helicopters have crashed. What is so galling is that IAF, wanting to upgrade its Mirage 2000 fleet numbering 49, considered to be most safe aircraft in the world, at the cost of 10947 corers, of which two have been done up by Dassault Aviation, the original aircraft maker who also makes Rafael, which are flying merrily, rest were to be done up by HAL with sufficient training given by Dassault. This Mirage which crashed killing both the pilots was the first such aircraft done by HAL. This is the quality control and workmanship of this junk organisation HAL which is totally politicised?

Even during a cursory visit to any of these PSUs like HAL 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 Teas 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 than us, has developed an indigenous J-20 Fifth Generation Fighter at its PSU, Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. Indian defence PSUs cannot 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 totally autonomous, accountable, cost effective and also market savvy. In a country like India where people have got independence after slavery of 1000 years one understands why there is no civic sense and in-built discipline in people, this will take some time to come but then we cannot carry on with this Chalta Hai attitude. So, answer is not just autonomy but also concept of hire and fire rule. Defence PSUs cannot be run on civilian rules and labour laws that our Netas have got imported from abroad to please their respective vote banks. 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. All Defence PSUs must have separate laws of work with Unions playing a limited role. 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