Acquiring the capacity to develop critical advanced defence technologies, including research and development (R&D) capabilities, requires realising a long-term convergence between internationally competitive technology infrastructure, world-class R&D skills, and entrepreneurial finance.
In its first year in power, the National Democratic Alliance government has yet to take steps in these directions.
A decades-old belief in India assumes that simply by licensing the assembly of advanced technology products, capacities would emerge in India that would somehow create advanced technology R&D resources as well. Thus far, the new government has not challenged this belief.
Over the past year, India has signed contracts to acquire a number of advanced defence technology products. However, there is no evidence that the steps required to acquire R&D capacities in India have been taken.
For example, the government has yet to define an advanced technology development strategy or a long-term R&D action plan to build processes for the selection, prioritization, and validation of key advanced technologies or for the convergence of multisector R&D markets to achieve economies of scale.
Indian policymakers have not yet come to terms with the fact that competitive, advanced defense technology R&D capabilities can be pursued only if the government has a coherent long-term strategy that includes the following initiatives:
* Building advanced R&D infrastructure that adheres to international standards in selected critical technologies, a process that should enable access to wider commercial and military markets
* Developing world-class R&D skills and a user-developer interface for technology innovation to overcome the steep technology learning curve
* Establishing access to entrepreneurial finance and incubation capacities for high-cost, high-risk R&D ventures that can meet the challenges posed by the rapid rates of technology obsolescence in competitive global markets
* Developing processes for independent verification of the country’s advanced technology standards—a move that the Indian establishment in nearly every sector, from agriculture to space to defense, has fiercely resisted
Unless and until the government addresses these fundamental challenges, a transformation in acquiring defence technology R&D capabilities is unlikely.
Despite the availability of public knowledge on ways to overcome these barriers, India has not taken the policy steps necessary to address these limitations.
(Ravinder Pal Singh was a senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi and later led a twelve-country project on Arms Procurement Decision Making at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.)