Tuesday, 13 February 2007

The healing nature of failure

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 13 Feb 2007

Aero India 2007, India's biggest ever air show, terminated in Bangalore on Sunday. Costing over Rs 100 crore, most visitors agreed it was a spectacle. But the displays, the bands, the line-up of top line fighters and transport aircraft, the flags of 33 countries fluttering in balmy Bangalore and the delegations of businessmen from the world's largest arms corporations --- none of these could mask the embarrassingly obvious fact that in sixty years since independence, India has achieved little in building up its indigenous defence industry.

Defence Minister AK Antony bravely paid lip service in his welcome address: "Aero India aims to provide a platform for Indian aerospace industry to showcase its capabilities to the global audience." The one thing clearly showcased was that large portions of "India's aerospace industry" are better at building plastic mock-ups than systems that fly. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), having rented probably the largest space in the entire exhibition, created an inadvertently symbolic display. Dominating the HAL stand was a hastily constructed scale model of the planned Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Other than that, the LCH actually exists only on a government document dated October 2006, sanctioning HAL vast sums of money for its development. Displayed next to the LCH was a smaller plastic model of the Medium Transport Aircraft that Russia signed up for two weeks ago to co-develop with India. Nearby was a model of the Hawk trainer; HAL's role will be to build it on machinery supplied by British Aerospace, to blueprints from the same company.

Outside the exhibition halls, HAL's products were responsible for the only accidents in an otherwise safe show. Just two days before the opening ceremony an accident involving a Dhruv helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) aerobatics team claimed the life of a young IAF pilot and critically injured another. And during the show, in an embarrassing accident in front of horrified spectators, a HAL-developed Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) veered off the runway and ploughed into the ground, triggering off a full-scale accident drill.

HAL-built Dhruv helicopters continues to grapple with tail rotor design problems, but they must be fielded because there is nothing else. The IJT continues to be an expensive hobby. And HAL's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), a black hole for funds, and an embarrassment in every other respect, rounds off HAL's resume as the cutting edge of "India's aerospace industry".

But instead of hard questions and accountability, there is indulgence. In a jaw-dropping press conference at the Aero India 2007, head of the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) and ex-officio Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, Mr M Natarajan, announced a new 15-year DRDO programme to build combat aircraft that is not just hugely expensive but unrealistically, indeed laughably, ambitious. Funding this programme would require stepped-up allocations from the defence budget, but the DRDO chief points to a Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence recommendation that the DRDO should get increased funding: from the current 6% of defence budget, it should be stepped up to 10%. Mr Natarajan says the government has reassured him he will get what he wants. With defence allocation heading for the Rs 100,000 crore mark, the DRDO would get Rs 10,000 crores a year.

Mr Natarajan envisages building 300-400 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the IAF and the navy, about 50-100 advanced trainer aircraft, 200-300 Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) and then 100 Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV) that will fly without pilots. The possibility of India buying 126 fighters soon has the world aerospace market slavering today. The DRDO chief has rolled out plans for making 650-900 aircraft. At current rates this amounts to an expenditure of US $54 billion, or Rs 243,000 crores, spread out over some years.

Besides the unrealistic financial projections, what makes such talk outrageous is the failure-plagued platform from which it comes. But the DRDO chief has a ready answer: India doesn't appreciate the healing nature of failure! "In this country, everyone assumes that R&D efforts must have a 100% success. Failure is an integral part of learning. In fact, I call failure as the initial step to success… we have to change the psyche of this country."

This celebration of failure is seldom understood by the armed forces which plump for foreign equipment, regardless of its higher cost. The rationale, they say, is that lives often depend on equipment reliability. But if the military prefers foreign equipment, Mr Natarajan clearly doesn't think highly of them.

The DRDO chief says, "Our own services or our own people, they may be getting very glamoured (sic) by visiting the foreign firms…. unfortunately when you buy a car, you only look at the paint. Very rarely you open the bonnet to see what is inside. The fact is technology is hidden. If you expect the services to appreciate all aspects of technology, we are asking for too much from the environment in which they have grown."

This is an already yawning gulf that is growing ever larger between a government-funded DRDO which produces, at best, passable equipment, and users who expect and demand more. The government, meanwhile, stands and watches.

15 comments:

Shiv Aroor said...

excellent piece, ajai.

SHAKTI said...

Its obvious to me that you have no idea what you're talking about. You obviously do not appreciate the benefits of having a robust and competitive military industrial infrastructure. Are you trying to imply that countries like the US (which is by far the leader in defence related tech) did not suffer failure? Before you start peddling your immature and uninformed analysis on these affairs, you should realize that you're out of your depth here. You have a lot of reading to do. I'm not against people like yourself writing articles about defence matters, but atleast do some research, TALK to people who are in the industry. Well, it was rather unfortunate that I stepped on your 'garbage' pile of opinions on the net. Here's hoping others will avoid coming this way!

Abhiman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abhiman said...

Hello. Mr. Ajai Shukla, I may disagree with your views. In my view (shared by many others also), Tejas is not a "failure", as is often termed by media. It is only delayed.

Tejas has highest percentage of composite material by surface-area (90%) and by weight (45%) of any 4th or 4.5 gen. fighter plane. It surpasses even Eurofighter in above respect whose corresponding figures are 70% and 40% only.

Thus, benefit of high composite material in its frame is high strength and low weight simultaneously. It is due to this feature that despite being smallest and lightest plane in world (smaller than even T-50 Golden Eagle), its range and combat loading is similar to a "'full-fledged" 4th gen. fighter like Gripen.

It may be known by you, that the software for layout of manufacturing of composite structures, named Autolay, was sold to Airbus Industrie by ADA. It was same as that used in composite structure of Tejas.

Again, aerodynamic design of Tejas is unstable, in which computer Flight Control Laws are required for stability of the same. These laws were developed by mathematicians from CLAW team from NAL and were tested/validated at ground simulators (F-16 Vista) in USA between 1996-1998.

Upon cessation of facilities (in breach of contract, which inturn was an opportunity to develop indigenously, and thus a "'blessing" rather than sanction), the CLAW team under guidance of Dr. Kalam completed development of the software, its validation, testing and integration into the first prototype of of Tejas i.e. TD-1.

In my view, it may be extremely unfortunate that these technological "'feats" are ignored by media, which anyway has little technical knowledge to even "'fathom" such an achievement.

Tejas has quadruplex FBW system which is second to none in current fighters advanced i.e. F-16, F-18, Rafale & Gripen.

In comparison, with respect to points discussed uptil now, JF-17 is a all-mettalic airframe and is known to have computer-controlled FBW in yaw-axis only. In the scheme or chronology of fighter-plane development, it may find a place as either a 3.5 gen. or a very advanced 3rd gen. fighter only.

Thus, Tejas has been delayed by over 3 years due to sanctions from USA. Again, contrary to popular opinion, only the Multi-Function Displays--and not all avionics---are currently sourced from France, which may be indigenized also. All 29 computers, including Mission Computer, softwares for Display Processors, Radar processor, Signal Processors, softwares running avionic equipment, MRPUs etc. are completely indigenous.

As per statement of Mr. CV M L Narasimham, head of CSIO's Applied Optics division, compared to Israel's HUD, the CSIO equipment is noiseless, silent, and offers a better field of view. As per statement of Dr. Sudharshan Kumar Salwan, director of ARDE, I quote, "While in the conventional system, the entire canopy flies off and can result in an injury to the pilot, in the newly indigenously developed system, only a certain portion of the canopy which is line-charged, gets severed. This absolutely minimises injury to the pilot.", end quote. As per same staement, no aircraft in the world had this kind of live system.

Gripen and Tejas also operate on GE-F404 engine and have same number of hardpoints. External loading of both planes is similar i.e. in range of 5.3-5.5 tons, and range is also in vicinity of 1,200 to 1,300 kms.

Thus, in my view, Tejas may infact qualify to meet MRCA requirements.

Technologies in course of development of Tejas are stupendous, and the same "'momentum" can be used to develop a 5th gen. fighter i.e. MCA.

Regarding wastage of funds for MCA, it may be known to you that in the proposed 5th gen. fighter programme with Sukhoi of Russia,
an estimated $5 billion may be spent by India, that too for only licence-production and tier-II development of a foreign design.

Development of indigenous MCA may be more cost-effective, besides being immune from sanctions, and shall provide invaluable and crucial experience and technology.

Again, DRDO may not be blamed for so-termed "'failures". It may be understood by media that only 5% of total Defence-budget is allocated to DRDO for R&D. Thus, such a budget may be "'microcosm".

Above situation may be similar to promising to fast for 40 days, but managing "only" 33.

Thus, in my view, the task of DRDO to complete projects under financial constraint, deadlines by the services, and under the surmount of comparable foreign systems--must be viewed as an achievement rather than a failure.

Thank you.

Vikram said...

I will first of all acknowledge the contribution made by Col. Shukla to India, by joining the Indian Army, and serving in it. IIRC, he is a war veteran and commanded tanks.

After reading his posts, I also realize that though he might be (I have no proof either way) a good military man, he definitely has very little understanding of engineering processes or the challenges which Indian defense organizations face.

As someone wrote earlier, he needs to educate himself; starting out with a list of all the systems and sub-systems which go into a complex weapon system would be a good start. After he has a list, he needs to go into who are the leading manufacturers of these systems worldwide, the level of experience they had, and the amount of money spent to reach their level of technological sophistication. He should then compare the Indian efforts for each such sub-system and get a sense of the bang for the buck. He could dig and figure how close or far the Indian effort is from success and what is the key ingredient missing.

I remember that he called Arjun a toy, and was all for the Russian T-series. As we dig deeper into the T-90s we find that many of its sub-systems (Shotra etc.) are no where near advertized. But I guess that is fine as long the Russians supply the Vodkas and the Natashas to keep our "defense journos" (sic) happy.

If he is serious about helping Indian Armed Forces out, he would use the unique position he is to highlight how Indian defense research organization s are unable to retain top talent since they pay below market wages. He could compare the defence research model of advanced weapon producers and help Indian policy makers to learn from them. He could also do a long term cost benefit analysis to make the case for improving the productivity and effeciency of Indian organizations, by greater investment.

What he needs to realize that the average Defense Lab Engineer can easily earn 2-3x their current wage by simply crossing the road in to the next technology park. And unlike Officers in the Army, they live a civilian lifestyle and do not have the perks of Army Officers (servants, homes, vehicles, sports and recreational facilities etc.). I actually find it amazing that anything gets delivered at all; I salute the folks who work in this organizations for peanuts only to face brickbats from the likes of Col. Shukla.

Use your position to do something constructive Col Shukla. It is very easy to throw mud.

anirban said...

Dear Abhiman, don't feed a person like Col. Shukla with any info on DRDO's work.

He will only use it to run them down w/o undestanding the first thing of what he is speaking about.

You are telling him about lca tejas and how it is unstable. Tomorrow may be, you will read in the papers how the tejas is "such a failure that they have so far been unsuccesful in making it stable " and how it still goes on being a "black hole for funds".

Then , you say :

"Tejas has highest percentage of composite material by surface-area (90%) and by weight (45%) of any 4th or 4.5 gen. fighter plane."

He will say tejas is a plastic plane (sic) and it costs so much etc.

Then again:

"It is due to this feature that despite being smallest and lightest plane in world (smaller than even T-50 Golden Eagle)"

And you think 'pundit' knows what a T-50
golden eagle is??

Going by his knowledge as evident from his reports, to him, T-50 is some aphrodisiac and golden eagle is either a
himalayan bird or a company manufacturing thermos flasks !!


To pundit shukla:
please, if you can, explain the following quotes from your write-up :

"Dominating the HAL stand was a hastily constructed scale model of the planned Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Other than that, the LCH actually exists only on a government document dated October 2006, sanctioning HAL vast sums of money for its development."


And what did you expect ?? they would develop a FSED (not that I expect you to know what that stands for) from thin air?? w/o any funds allocation ?? first of all you blame them for not doing anything susbstantial so far and in the next line you reveal that money has only been just released for development work to begin !! So you expect Defence Scientists to develop projects with funding from their own pocket ?? (their monthly salary btw comes in the region of 10-15k Rs). Now that's a brain wave !!
Also, please define "vast". (a little snippet of information : US Army project for an attack helicopter the RAH-66 costs $ 3.15 bn, that for a country with the worlds vastest technology base with no need to built manufacturing infrastructure for this project.)


"Nearby was a model of the Hawk trainer; HAL's role will be to build it on machinery supplied by British Aerospace, to blueprints from the same company."

Given that you do not support funding to ADA/HAL for such projects, your expectations regarding this was ??



"Outside the exhibition halls, HAL's products were responsible for the only accidents in an otherwise safe show. Just two days before the opening ceremony an accident involving a Dhruv helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) aerobatics team claimed the life of a young IAF pilot and critically injured another. And during the show, in an embarrassing accident in front of horrified spectators, a HAL-developed Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) veered off the runway and ploughed into the ground, triggering off a full-scale accident drill. "

Right !!!!

First of all the helicopter crashed before AI-07 so it does not make much sense to write : "....HAL's products were responsible for the only accidents in an otherwise safe show."
There was only one wasn't it?? Must have been inadvertent , isn't it??

And the IJT incident, surely HAL is to blame?? After all whenever some bollywood superstar runs over commoners in his/her pajero, its Mitsubishi's fault isn't it ?? For your information, the plane's tyre brst which led to the problem. Of course, your report does not mention the stupendous aerobatics performance by the Surya Kiran team. Incidentally they are flying the kirans which are , made in (hold your breath) India !! OMG, how can that happen ?? Desi product is supposed to be sh!t !!


"HAL-built Dhruv helicopters continues to grapple with tail rotor design problems, but they must be fielded because there is nothing else."

Nothing else for whom ?? Army ?? Air Force?? Navy?? If they really think Dhruv is not good, would they induct it in large no as they have done and continue to support their development??
Dhruv boasts one of the best handling characteristics for a helicopter in the world, ask AAC guys.(you should know that one!)

And exactly why is the IJT a hobby??


"But instead of hard questions and accountability, there is indulgence. In a jaw-dropping press conference at the Aero India 2007, head of the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) and ex-officio Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, Mr M Natarajan, announced a new 15-year DRDO programme to build combat aircraft that is not just hugely expensive but unrealistically, indeed laughably, ambitious."


Kindly explain the last few adjectives !!

Anirban.

sudeep said...

Didnt the IJT crash happen because of a mistake made by the test pilot Baldev Singh(?) and not because of a flaw in the design/construction of the plane ?

From what I heard, he did not close the canopy properly, which opened while he was taking off, thereby locking the steering wheel and the aircraft veered off the runway.. I may have heard wrong though :-)

>> "In this country, everyone assumes that R&D efforts must have a 100% success. Failure is an integral part of learning. In fact, I call failure as the initial step to success… we have to change the psyche of this country."

As an engineer who has graduated from an IIT and who has a second degree from a reputable American University, I must say, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Natrajan. Not all RnD projects can be expected to yield a 100% results on the bottom line ! For e.g. the first missile India tried to develop (the Devil project) was a failure, as the engine was only tested on the ground, yet it has led to the development of advanced missile systems like the Agni III and the Agni II. Similarly, the results associated with the ASLV project for ISRO..

>> This celebration of failure is seldom understood by the armed forces which plump for foreign equipment, regardless of its higher cost. The rationale, they say, is that lives often depend on equipment reliability. But if the military prefers foreign equipment, Mr Natarajan clearly doesn't think highly of them.

Well, these are Mr Natrajans babies and he probably feels terrible about them being rejected by the armed forces, but if India is to play a tier I role in the world order, besides securing the South Asian neighbourhood, and if military strength is a component of this aspired role, what alternative does India have aside from developing its own military industrial complex ?

>> This is an already yawning gulf that is growing ever larger between a government-funded DRDO which produces, at best, passable equipment, and users who expect and demand more. The government, meanwhile, stands and watches.

So what do you suggest should be done to bridge this gap.

Thanks
Sudeep

fissurezone said...

You are fucking disgrace! Go and hang yourself before someone else does it for you.

sudeep said...

>> This celebration of failure is seldom understood by the armed forces which plump for foreign equipment, regardless of its higher cost. The rationale, they say, is that lives often depend on equipment reliability. But if the military prefers foreign equipment, Mr Natarajan clearly doesn't think highly of them.

Apologies in advance for being a comment hog :-)

but let me put forward another data point: this time related to European defense industry. Why have they invested substantially in prohibitively expensive defense projects like the Typhoon/Rafael/Meteor when the JSF is available to them at a price thats a lot cheaper and comes with arguably better specs. The F22 will be eons ahead of any plane the EU can put into the sky, same for AMRAAM-D. Similar questions may be posed about the Galileo system..

IMO the answer is that the EU defense forces value their autonomy of operation a lot ! They are not prepared to rely on the Americans with whom they share a common civilizational ethos besides huge economic, cultural and social contacts.

I do not see such a commonality of interests between India and any other nation with an appreciable defense industry. In that case, what other option do we have - if we are to fight our wars and defend our borders without permission and largesse from the 'powers that be' - other than developing our own weapon systems ?

Rammohan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rammohan said...

Mr.Shukla/Late.Col.Shukla

As your accomplice said - I agree, it is an excellent piece.

That is -- only if you have commanded tanks in IA before you learnt to walk.. But if you are a person who drank milk before you took to Vodka/Coke then please be so kind enough to give my nation time to learn from its trials, experiences & the failure that have occured thereof.

As you have noticed (if you really care to look for improvement) the experiences with LCA resulted in a quick IJT.. we are slowly making our own EW systems, RWR, SPJ's etc.
Crawl before you walk -- and we all fall when we learn to walk.. Everybody needs time to learn.. so does my nation..

ofcourse, some people never learn!!

chacko said...

A word of caution while handling Bagula Bhagat Media. As someone said don't feed him. They don't understand and if they do they have a vested interest. Wrestle with pig in the mud, pig actually enjoys it. No matter how much facts you tell them, they will not understand it. Plus Shukls has grown old. Younger times he would have benn different.

It could be medical symprom of "compulsive depression", i suppose Rajat Pandit suffers from it too.

There has to be some explanation for these types in medical lingo.

chacko said...

If i may report on Ajai Shhukla:

Ajay Shukla is a failure. After 50 years + he has not been able to produce a President of India baby. First of all his baby had no tooth and hair when it was born. The baby used to cry every day. Almost 30 years after the baby could not become the president of India. His children were black hole for funds as non of them are even able to become prime minister of India.

Ajay Shukla is a failure.

Mathew said...

Mr. Shukla,

I don’t know what u have been/is smoking, and what you want to communicate?

• Your writing style shows a novice in the profession and wish you the best in the career.
• I take it your article seems to be for grabbing attention that a new CAT in the pro has arrived on the scene
• I had to leave half way as I just could not get where you are coming from and where u are going
• My sincere suggestions, stick to Page-3/yellow journalism where u will get better attention
• For reporting on high-tech, that too cutting edge defense tech, one needs some basic tech and industry background to first understand issues, analyze objectively and then report anything intelligently

Now on your piece- what ever I read; my few cents (hope I don’t have to go thru such creative indigestion again)

• We all know the DRDO is not to the same standards like the US DARPA/Western European agencies – but it is necessary for the country to have one at some limited budget to build and nurture the knowledge base and industry.

• There was nothing in India on similar lines and learning and building from scratch, I do give Kudos to DRDO and affiliated agencies for whatever has been done so far, of course, one always hopes they could do more and better (that goes for u & me too)

• The key problem I see with them is sound project management, but can’t really fault them as this has never been a strength in India even in the shining private industry (I do see lately lots of improvements here in the IT, Petro, Chem and Pharma sectors now and the Indian armed Forces also adopting it)

• I want to let you in on a secret – most cutting edge R&D projects do fail i.e. F-18, F-16, F-15, F-14, early Migs, Harriers etc. (If you want reference; History and Discovery channels have been running detailed programs on each of these high tech platforms over the past few months in the U.S, and you can purchase them online – a good learning tool if you want to be in this trade)

• But development and dollar spend continued because they saw promise and a clear bright light at the end of the tunnel

• For Gods sake, stop comparing Fighter aircraft production to other industries including space, because the aero-dynamic forces acting on a super sonic fighter aircraft are extremely complex (more than even a space vehicle), one would need an extremely powerful super computer with proprietary modeling SW just to understand these forces, let alone deign and building a production vehicle

• The most advanced like the F-35s and F-22s are still having lots of problems because the req specs are something nice but in the unknown realm to research, experiment and design

• Anyway I can go on and on, but bottom line, even if the LCA fails, research and building up local knowledge base needs to go on cause this cutting edge knowledge has tremendous spin effects on the rest of the industry.

• Buying from China-? Why not - if they are as good as the best (if you can name anything I don't know, please oblige). I live in the US currently and every thing one gets here is Chinese due to low costs, but is of the most rubbish quality (except US industry contracted work to their specs)

Best wishes and regards

PV Mathew

employee said...

hello Mr.Ajai,

After reading your article & reading the comments of other readers i am surprised that indians are not ready to accept failure or not ready to read the writing on the wall...as an employee of HAL where i am involved in some major decisions the board of directors take..i get a distinct feeling that the present set of board of directors donot hv a sense of ownership w.r.t. the company..everybody is worried about himself...due to which the organization is suffering..also with ousourcing reaching such highs its very common for the chaiman or a director to recommend a particular company bcos he has a commission there..so then where's the question of maintainning high standards..?? If some body invokes the Right to Information Act & accesses the files here it can be confirmed that there are lot of files where the CHAIRMAN Mr.Baweja has written a note asking directors & GMs to award contract to a particular company...so can we expect high standards or high output from such an organization.??? Where standars or performance is concerned all the bureaucrats in Ministry of Defence are also sort of hand in glove...Mr.Baweja has given an ESTEEM from HAL to everyone fo them & so they turn a blind eye to all his misdemeanours. If u read an article in THE HINDU dated 19th MArch 2007 the Director Finance Mr.Shivamurthy has said that profits will go up...its simply bcos HAL has bought 13 SUKHOIS from Russia and sold it to INDIAN AIR FORCE...so theres no value addition to HAL but its has sort of become a vendor....so why doesnt the AIR FORCE buy the planes directly from Russia...??
For all his problems the CHAIRMAN has given attrition as a major reason whereas the moral of the company is low bcos he doesnt treat anyone well..even top bosses like GM,ED are mistreated in front of everyone..so a lower ranked officer doesnt want to continue where he is mistreated in front of everyone...secondly the character of directors are so bad its not to be mentioned...Mr.Uma Maheshwar is a big womanizer & in his divison husbands who hand over their wives to him are promoted..i hv photographs to prove the same...

Seeing the degradation in an organization where i hv spent my life is really bad...at times i hv felt like resigning but then when i read articles of people like u ..i develop faith in the system..& carry on...