India’s Military Modernisation – Change for the Better
The shadow art alongside represents the way we make sense out of the complicated, often erratic and confused placement of procedures and processes or objects in life so that they spell right. Crisis is the word that India’s current modernisation process spells, at least for now.
South Asian Idea had articulated our views on military modernisation here and here. The fact that in the wake of recent controversies there is a move to establish a military manufacturing commission under the PMO tells us that someone has been paying heed to the writings on the wall. That there is a greater political and bureaucratic urgency to address the issue is natural and relevant.
We had argued in January 2011 that:-
“Only a future-ready army can march into the coming decades with confidence, well prepared to tackle the new challenges looming over the horizon. As a first step, the Government of India must appoint a bipartisan National Military Commission to go into the whole gamut of restructuring and modernisation. The commission should comprise eminent political leaders, armed forces veterans, civilian administrators, diplomats and scholars who are capable of dispassionate reasoning and are familiar with the current military discourse. It should be given no more than six months to complete its work so that the restructuring exercise can begin early and be completed by 2020-25. Simultaneously, the higher defence organisaton of the nation needs to be urgently revamped.”
The commission(National Defence Manufacturing Commission or NDMC), as per a Hindustan Times report is chartered to focus on building a domestic industrial base to make the nation self-reliant in the sector. That is short-sighted. The “M” should stand for modernisation which would include both manufacturing and acquisition given the long gestation periods in producing defence equipment.
- To be effective the commission should manage the entire spectrum of modernisation activities that begin with spelling out qualitative requirements till acquisition. Else we shall have knee jerk response which only injects some life into the research and manufacturing process without addressing the critical lacunae of the problem – that of matching capabilities with resources in a time bound manner. Today’s system lacks accountability due to over decentralisation.
- The commission has to comprise experts and not generalists to evaluate the national security needs and evolve suitable manufacturing and acquisition philosophies to ensure these technologies are made available to the armed forces to fight today’s wars with today’s weapons. The urgent need to have a specialist cadre charged with military modernisation can not be wished away any more.
- Corrective changes in the Higher Defence Organisation too would have to be made urgently, as proposed by Late Mr K Subrahmanyam to streamline the system.
- Next, the initiative has to take into account the indigenisation realities in the defence sector in perspective. To create vibrant defence research and manufacturing sector the needs for privatisation over ride the current PSU based philosophies. 49% FDI, nomination of Rashtriya Udyog Ratnas (RUR), investing heavily into R&D and making the PSUs accountable are key issues which merit urgent attention. PSUs acting as fronts for private companies complicates the procedures and brings in subjectivity as in the case of recent fracas over trucks. The industries want access to critical technologies available with research agencies or obtained through technology transfers based on which they build their own capabilities to meet domestic military requirements. They must be given access to such technologies. Finally the aim should be to increase private partnership in the public – private equation. This would be both efficient and effective.
- The perspective plan time horizons, which dictate RFPs, should be stretched beyond a 15 year horizon as the gestation time to produce new technologies is much more. The 2012 – 2027 LTIPP has been approved now. Does it give adequate time to the defence industry to produce what the military wants – unless we again resort to imports.
- Then there is the unnecessary façade over the middlemen. All businesses have them and there is no need to go gung-ho about this apparent corrupt practice to blacklist the world. Transparency is welcome but it should not hold the battle-worthiness of the military to ransom.
- India’s capability in revitalising the defence sector is a time intensive activity. In the interim there is a need to make smart choices to ensure that adequate simple procedures are put in place to keep options for government to government purchases and foreign participation alive with adequate safeguards to ensure transfer of technology and not just licensed production. India has to take imaginative steps in the meanwhile to allow foreign participation with caps in licensing and restrictions on FDI to prevent killing competition in Indian, as summarised by Ajai Shukla. This can be debated but the military commission should deliberate into this crucial stop-gap measure till indigenous capability comes of age.
The debate between indigenisation and acquisition will always remain there as technologgies would continue to mature to the next level. The alternative should be a judicious mix of the two with reliance gradually shifting towards “made in India” rather than “made by India”. Nitin Pai and Ajai Shukla in their recent opinions over the issue have presented their ideas. They merit consideration. The debate is not about indigenisation but how much and how, especially, when the prevailing industrial infrastructure is incapable of developing cutting edge technologies.
Courtesy imaginative, albeit defunct programmes, such as Future Combat Systems(FCS) of US, military planners seem to be wanting to acquire star war capabilities without considering the technology absorption parameters of the military. The technological threshold of the men manning the system should be a critical component of acquisition process lest we end up under utilising the equipment capabilities while overpaying for them.
The crisis in military modernisation is not so much of finding solutions but of implementing them. Restructuring and modernising the military requires political courage, military astuteness, non parochial approach & singularity of purpose.
Because of technology gap with major arms manufacturers the process of indigenisation would be slow. In the interim a mix would have to be resorted to while pressing the pedal for modernising the Indian Defence Industry. Indeginisation in the meanwhile would remain a joint responsibility of the public and private sectors – something that would require both to change and adapt on the run. Foreign participation though not a panacea would have to be resorted to during this period. Finally the aim should be to make India export ready in this critical sector.
It is never too late to start the process by looking into the future rather than ruing the past. Time we got that right.