Trending pan-India is the chant to ‘Indianise’ our humongous arms procurement. Everyone desires indigenisation and hopes for a serendipitous accomplishment! If wishes were horses we would be riding them already but others are galloping away with our money!
The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) is an enabling document for capability building and indigenisation of our requirements. Though its latest amendments are welcome, the best of intent will fail if systemic attitudinal change is not effected.
The DPP is not the culprit — the reality is that we are unwilling to do an intellectually honest appraisal of our problem.
The Department of Defence Production, DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and ordnance factories are mandated to make India self-sufficient in defence equipment. While an official list of miscarried projects is unavailable, an Internet search would show the enormity of the numbers. Some simple questions beg unvarnished answers.
Barring a few success stories, how many lakh crores spent have translated into usable, in-time and truly Indian products is anybody’s guess. Has any audit verified the quality of research being done by countless R&D labs? Have the enormous time overshoots (sometimes a decade) and cost over-runs (some 20 to 30 times) any justification?
Does ‘indigenous’ equipment have imported critical innards (LCA, Arjun tank et al)? Has costly transfer of technology been developed further (Bofors gun, submarines …)? If not, have any careers of project in charges been short closed, like the projects they were meant to shepherd? Should fabrication of mere doors for Airbus and Boeing make us feel proud? The fact is that our polity has accepted mediocrity.
Power, like water, fills unattended gaps. The American withdrawal from the Gulf and Iraq (soon Afghanistan) has beckoned the Chinese — their taking over of Pakistan’s Gwadar port with bases in Seychelles and the Maldives makes the picture clearer. Was the incursion in Ladakh a mere aberration?
The next discord could well be on water, considering the nonchalant Chinese attempts to dam rivers flowing into India. What’s required? While diplomacy is the logical first step, any prudent nation would keep its powder dry; and the powder has to be indigenous to retain strategic autonomy.
In reality, India, which has bought the Bofors guns from tiny Sweden, is procuring, ab initio, trainer aircraft from even smaller Switzerland and will soon import the basic infantry weapon, the rifle. Why? Because we have barred our private players from the armament sector.
They are as patriotic as the DPSUs and have accountability, a virtue conspicuously absent in the DPSUs. National assets like R&D facilities, military ranges, test facilities et al must be opened to them. If the DRDO can be funded endlessly, why not handhold the private sector by anointing Rashtriya Udyog Ratnas, a prescient recommendation of the Kelkar Committee?
Amend the Explosives Act to empower them to make armaments, because if buying from a Raytheon is not taboo why not from a Tata? The skewed tax structure needs revamping and defence exports permitted as it is a sine quo non for the economic viability of the industry.
Mere DPP-tinkering is a sure recipe for import perpetuity; a holistic thrust by domain experts, with full government backing, is imperative.
Entrenched lobbies will rail, trade unions will try to obstruct it but the reality staring at us requires redress with cold logic and resolute will. Can we wish for bipartisan political support in this national imperative?
To get our military shield or dhaal a genuine ‘Made-in-India’ tag, maybe we need a Nelson Mandelasque ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to help see the truth.
Manmohan Bahadur, a retired Air Vice Marshal, was assistant chief of Integrated Defence Staff in-charge of tri-Service perspective planning and force structure.
The views expressed by the author are personal