Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How weakness buys strength

The defence minister must have the political courage to order the military to induct specified Indian weapons platforms

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Apr 13

We know that Defence Minister A K Antony is honest, at least financially. But if there is truth in even half the allegations of corruption that dog his ministry, Mr Antony's probity has failed to keep his subordinates straight. The defence minister's thoughtless and knee-jerk reaction has been to declare that developing weaponry in India is the way to end corruption. Mr Antony, it would appear, believes that corruption is a foreign product.

But ending corruption does not feature in the many benefits that will flow from building our own military systems. Our defence acquisition process has been internally corrupted not by foreign devils, but by our own holy cows. Much of the responsibility lies with the prime minister and his national security team, who have shrunk from the hands-on management of defence, limply acquiescing to the military's insistence on making us the world's largest arms buyer. Then there are the generals and air marshals (I shall explain why I leave out admirals) who have deployed the manipulative argument that national security is under dire threat, and only the immediate purchase of this or the other foreign weapons system can protect us from the Chinese/Pakistanis/jehadis, take your pick. Next comes a sprawling, state-owned defence production establishment that has promised much, delivered little, and has never been held accountable for doing so little with so much. Bringing up the herd are the holy calves --- a new crop of private defence companies --- that have sensed clearly that India's rotten defence system is easier joined than reformed.

This country has what is needed to build its own weaponry --- talented engineers, software designers, an industrial base that supplies the world's automotive industry, and a military that can plan and oversee development programmes. But successive governments have failed to provide the political leadership needed to combine these elements. Mr Antony has publicly scoffed at the "miserly" R&D budgets of private defence companies, but history suggests that governments alone have the budgets and organisational clout to create a defence industry.

An aerospace honcho from Russia whom I asked why Indian defence production was doing so badly lobbed a question back at me. Why, he asked, was Russia such a successful builder of sophisticated fighters and helicopters when that country was still unable to build a passable passenger car? The answer, he said without waiting for a reply, was Moscow's strategic direction. Through famine, hardship and war, Russia's leadership systematically brought together the myriad elements of an aerospace industry: educational institutions that churned out aeronautical designers; design bureaus where legends such as Sukhoi, Mikoyan, Beriev, Ilyushin and Tupolev developed generations of aircraft; science laboratories that produced the special materials that go into aircraft and aero-engines; an industrial base that produced high-quality components like pipes, hoses, rivets, pumps and actuators; technological institutes that churned out trained and productive shop floor workers. With all this in place, Moscow decreed that the Russian military would use only Russian aircraft.

While India must upgrade its training, technological manpower, R&D base and production ecosystem, the biggest obstacle to indigenisation remains the military's argument --- supinely swallowed by a political leadership that is still haunted by memories of 1962 --- that Indian soldiers must be equipped with the world's best when they go into harm's way. Not one defence minister, or any national leader, has had the political courage to argue that Indian strategic interest demands that the military equips itself primarily with Indian weaponry, accepting short-term weakness to build long-term capability. The army and Indian Air Force (IAF) do not see that overseas procurement does not solve even the short-term problem, given how frequently it is disrupted by allegations of corruption.

The Indian Navy provides the army and the IAF with daily reminders of the benefits of indigenisation. With the same R&D base, the same feeble defence industry and the same defence ministry the navy has canalised its meagre allocation of 18 per cent of the defence budget into genuine indigenisation. Today, 43 warships are being built in Indian yards, with just two being built abroad. Initial warships were significantly below global standards. But the navy accepted those, building up industry and creating the capability to deliver warships that are currently up to regional, if not global, standards.

The army and the IAF have inexplicably rejected incremental improvement. The army continues to oppose the Arjun tank, apparently willing to countenance nothing less than a perfect fighting machine. Ironically, it is willing to use the outdated T-72, even though the Arjun has outperformed the more modern T-90 tank in comparative trials. Every major army employs "spiral development" of weaponry, accepting into operational service a "Mark I" product, using it and providing feedback that allows the scientists to develop it into a Mark II. The Israeli Merkava tank is currently being developed into a Mark IV.

In a similar quest for sublime perfection, the IAF resists the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The development of Mark II Arjuns and Tejas has been grudgingly conceded, but the process is being stifled. Such small numbers have been ordered that no industrial ecosystem will be galvanised.

Mr Antony must bluntly tell the army and the IAF that the days of importing weaponry are over. He must order them to identify their requirements and place development orders on Indian industrial consortia. He must bring to the table the components of a defence industrial base --- R&D, industry and the military --- and substitute rhetoric with the placing of firm orders. Sixty Tejas and 500 Arjuns in their Mark I versions would be a good beginning.


Anonymous said...

Indian army generals are fat peace time generals. They have the luxury of having a Himalayan border with one adversary and a technologically incompetent enemy on the other border. They have never had to fight for the sheer existence of their division, their corps, their nation. Yeh motay general thaat se rahne ko army join kiyen hai, they cant take any tough long term decision.

Bloody Civilians, what do they know abt war.

Debasis Dash said...

Sir,ur article comes at a right time when india is going to Face a New n Enhanced Challenge in Foreign Arms procurement.by this year end ATT will get in Action making india's foreign arms mania more complex.Goi Should think frm nw itself atleast for sake of National security.May God Bless them With Long Term Strategic Wisdom :D

sharan said...

State owned production establishment has promised much but delivered little is the reason why the generals and marshals tend to look abroad for weaponry. The Tezas started in 1980 , it has been 33 years now and it hasn't seen the light of day, God knows when it will touch production, can the AF wait this long ? And why did the HF 24 and the vijayant tank not progress to MK versions ? We maybe good at making the outer structure but simply don't have it in us to produce intricate engines and systems.
Also to be blamed are governments which lack a sense of vision .

Anonymous said...

Dude, our politicians/so called leaders don't have a long-term vision, instead they only have a 5-year "plan". Guess what that 5-year plan constitutes? Make "hay" (money) while the sun shines! You cannot expect high standards from those who haven't sacrificed for their country. Instead most of today's politicians belong to "princeling" generation and some were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. The only solution to this morass in Indian politics is a revolution! Democracy has clearly not delivered to Indians what our Independence leaders promised. Instead as Anna Hazare said, these leaders have actually robbed us more than the British. So, if you have talent, quit India. India's fate, is/will always be, governed by its "lowest denominator" (cattle class) not by its brightest. Our culture has become so fragmented by external pollutants that's its impossible to change it. Nations with higher culture will be successful, ex Western culture. Arabs/Muslims will be at the bottom pile. Indians will be content at whatever they get. China will emulate West and become successful eventually. This is our fate and only "lowest denomination" Indians can change it...No wonder, this "lowest denominator" (aam aadmi) is being very shrewdly exploited by our founding father's party. India's slogan should be "Aam aadmi ka 'aam' desh" (common man's ordinary nation).

-Amol (Mumbai)

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir, let me make a humorous comment on the Defence PSU which aptly describes the situation;
"Never in history have so many used so much resources and produced so little".

Sajeev said...

Well written with good arguments, bt do u really think its correct to crucify MoD for everything?

Just wondering about a number of indegenious projects,
INSAS rifles with other leading assult rifles
GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri engine in Tejas program
LCA Tejas itself (started 'long' back in 80s)


skj said...

Indian army generals are fat generals of a peace time army. They have never had to face to the possibility of annihilation of their division, their corps, their nation in war. Right now their priority is to look good by pinning two chestfulls of medals and to make post retirement arrangements. With a budget several times the size of Pakistan, they could not control the low intensity war imposed on us. A purge would be in order..

Sachin Khandelwal said...

Ajai, Good article. We all need to stay focused on make and improve model. Challenging environment calls for innovative persistent solutions and not knee jerk small and delayed foreign procurements... or it will be 1962 all over again in multidimension.

Anonymous said...

Bludgeon the Generals... into submission... Bludgeon the Chief Marshals... into submission...

Prodyut said...

By blaming the Army/Air force we are giving cover to the real culprits-the nameless faceless Bureaucrats. As the eminent Mr.Sridharan of Delhi Metro said "Even the Politicians are keen for progress but the Bureaucracy..."

The Armed Forces are NOT against Indigenous equipment They are against plain lying. Why did ADA say the LCA would be in Service by 2000 when in fact it's service entry continues to be uncertain even today. Who forwarded the proposal that project for the replacement for the MiG 21 should be go to an Organization (ADA) that did not exist. The RM? HAL? IAF? Who repeatedly supported the slippages in schedules without intervening to correct things? These are the questions that need to be asked and answered before we bleame the RM,IAF,IA,HAL.

Anonymous said...

Thanks once again for hitting the nail on the head. A nation without its own military production capabilities can at best be seen as an amateur part time military power.

I think that given our recent history wherein we have not had the kind of conflict that threatens the existence of the nation and kills millions of soldiers and citizens, it is quite easy for our government and our military to have such a easygoing attitude towards our defence capabilities.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant and practical article... I am software professional and I have experienced it first hand myself... We cannot, cannot, cannot build a perfect software the first time... You first build it, make it stable them improvise it...
Hopefully our Army and Airforce understands this and go for incremental improvement... Also hopefully our DRDO and private industry makes that extra push to atleast deliver things on time... then can improve it later...

Jayant M said...


I hope the next government inducts you in the national security council. I am not being facetious or flippant about the suggestion.


Anonymous said...

It was well known about your band vagon. So why not equip the Army with .303 in the name of indegeniousation while CRPF equip with Berreta...

Something wrong somewhere..

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ajai Sir,

A very good article.
Indian Navy always gives importance to indigenous development.
Read somewhere that HTT 40 basic trainer has verbal support of Indian Navy.HAL seems assured that Navy will select HTT40
when creating separate facility for Pilot training.So at least they get a customer.

The path followed by HAL by funding a project from internal funds is a welcome sign.

It should be made compulsory that profit making DPSU to invest in projects which are outside the GSQR and whose requirement may just be speculative.
We can very well absorb commercial failures like Amogh carbine and Excalibur also TAR but the experience gained from it will not go in vain.

Also what should be made compulsory is participation of universities in such projects which will help creating a greater talent pool.
This is far more necessary because participation of our University in technology development is minimal.

The lack of confidence of Army in DRDO, OFB and Avadi are two fold.
1. For lack of foresight in design stage and
2. Sloppy manufacturing.
By stating the above I am not giving clean chit to our Army.

But if Army doesn't want to give order for second lot of 310 t-90 fearing QC issues then situation is grim. One cannot blame Army for that.
But not giving orders for Arjun mk1 till mk1A/mk2 arrives was wrong on the part of Army as Avadi has completed 1st batch orders for 124 Arjun mk1.
and Arjun production line would sit idle for next 2-3 years.

If such is the situation which domestic manufacturer would come forward for manufacturing sub-components?

Finally, a sustained order for all domestic product is need of the hour.But don't you think they should be insured against sloppy manufacturing.
And how will that be done is also a question.

But Colonel,I feel you and your likes are the best persons to come out with a solution how to address the concerns of both worlds.( DRDO/OFB on one side and Army on the other).

Many knowledgeable persons have come out with many solutions, some are practical and some whose implementation will be difficult. while some have advocated solution which are far away from ground reality.

But, the solution to the problem lies in one of them. Wish those in power critically examine the views and suggestions put forward by you and other blogs and forums along with others in business and come out with a solution and implement it ASAP.

Lastly, All I can say is Thank you and carry on the good work.

hiremath said...

It should become mandatory for all defence contracts to Plough back at least 25 % of the profit for next version development.

Deshdaaz said...

अजय साब,

आप ना एकदम, वो कहते है ना "झांसू" लिखते हो| You are an e-lawyer having the guts and will to impeach,convict and punish this supposedly 'honest' Defense Minister(At least in the web-world!) जो देशकी 'वाट' लगारेला है!

Rahj said...

What is "honesty" worth if it isn't supported by competence or even basic intelligence ?

"Honesty" as a political gimmick is useless. It's better to have a patriotic crook than a honest fool .

AK Anthony has absolutely no strategic thinking, no prior defense exposure and utterly lacks the ability to motivate, plan or prioritize needs with an eye on the strategic environment.

What has AK Anthony's "honesty" brought India except Delay, missed opportunities, mismanagement and outright negligent behavior to plan for the future ??

sudeep said...


I point out the story "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant to you and any lurking Indian Army Generals. The story is about a young woman who borrows an expensive necklace to go to a party, proceeds to lose the necklace and spends the best years of her life toiling to save enough money to pay back the debt.

Strategic capability given by imported weapons is a borrowed necklace, that we can not afford to loose or use. In countries that manufacture their own weapons, times of war are boom times - as the economy shifts into a higher gear to provide for a nation at war.

On the other hand, in our case, our economy will likely face a balance of payments crisis if we enter a short 4 week war. We will have to depreciate the ruppee as we scour the arms markets of the world to replace weapons wasted in war at extortionate prices. No wonder, with an arms budget several times larger than Pakistan, we have not been able to stem their terror exports, or to settle the border in the NE on a relatively equal basis with China. Our Army/Airforce prefer to preen with borrowed expensive necklaces like T90s/Rafales than create a genuine war fighting force, that the country can afford to use and lose.

Armed forces may think these imported weapons are a necklace, but they are actually a noose around their necks, they will be yanked this way and that as per the convenience of the seller.

Guru said...

Ajai Ji,

Any updates that you could share about the status of IJT? What happened to the project? Are the first batch of 12 planes going to be delivered this year end?

Please share news on this front


Anonymous said...

A good and timely article.
The tendency to claw down for ‘Buy Global’ category items seems to be the line that Army and the Air Force have practiced in the past. Navy, though not much of a culprit gets caught in this web occasionally (eg the 80 nos -Shallow Water Crafts procurement case which Navy/MoD progressed under Buy Global category despite adequate capability and capacity available within our DPSU & private yards… ). The Army and the Air Force needs to dispense this urge for the present and future of our country dependency on these foreign arm suppliers.
By and large, one of our most successful story in defence indigenisation is undoubtly, our naval indigenous warship building programme. Here too, the Navy for its weaponry fit largely depend upon foreign OEMS as there is little or no choice to fall back within our country. I feel time has now come for our industry to take up this challenge and support these indigenous efforts. Our government besides advocating for clean procurement practices, should also act as a facilitator by favouring our own indigenous industry by virtue of bringing in favourable and unambiguous industrial policies in this direction.

Anonymous said...

Col. Shukla

Who was going to imbibe strategic thinking into the political class which has failed in providing the strategic direction for all this?

American Generals like from Eisenhower to Powell rose to promiment leadership positions. Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel have served in the military. Our faujis either become pundits like you, or 3rd echelon politicians like Khanduri and Roychowdhury.

The biggest damage to India's military has been done by its military men running away from the field of battle - how about an op-ed on that someday.

dannyboy said...

Procure locally is a mantra which can throw up some very interesting situations. Will we see PSU's employ "agents" to facilitate orders from the MOD.What if there is only one local Indian psu/Pvt vendor, then how does the govt propose to view single vendor situations??
Basically irrespective of how much we give St Antony a clean chit re his honesty, the grim truth is that he has been Defence Minister since 2005 ie 8 years -long enough for him to have given strategic direction to the Indian arms industry (psu/ pvt).The blame for our sorry situation today must be placed squarely on St Antony's head .

Anonymous said...

While I agree with sentiments of your article..pls tell me why a Jawab facing the business end of a modern Ak 47 does not deserve a travor or a Fn ...just because lazy babushka are wiling away their time till retirement in DRDO? Or a fighter pilot must risk his life flying a useless fighter when the enemy he would comfort had access to latest weapons...in combat ,as you would know, there are no runners up

Yogi said...

I think you got it all wrong! The facts:
1. Army buys entire personal kit, including boots, socks, trouser, shirt, cap, jersey and coat from Ordnance Factories based on self-certification by the factory. Meaning Army can not reject these items, even if these are sub-standard.
2. Army buys personal weapons like rifle, pistol and stencil gun from Ordnance Factories. Again self - certified by factories. That is why Napalese Army may refuse but Indian Army can not refuse INSAS.
3. The 2.5 and 5 Ton trucks are made by Ordnance Factories with ToT and their quality is far lower than those made by Tatar or Ashok Layland.
4. As for tanks assembled at Awadi, you would know better than me and should share the reality with your reader.
Need of the hour is not to browbeat this or that organization but create a level playing field, where the professional (army or IAF) can put it's need on the table and system allows fair competition between PSU and Private (including foreign) and forces a transparent decision within reasonable time limit.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous at 21:33 17th April,

AK-47 is not modern. In fact it was first produced in 1948. Actually the SLR, the Belgian FN FAL, was put into production in 1950, and has been phased out by the Indian Army in favor of the INSAS some time ago. So you see, we already have more modern weapons in the hands of our soldiers than the ancient AK.

Secondly which useless fighter are we forcing on our pilots? And what are the super duper fighters our enemies are enjoying?

Anonymous said...

can you name a single project that IAF/Army is funding with IITs. Nil. Do IITs conduct research that eventually fixes like peaces of a jigsaw puzzle into a larger US requirement. Yes
Does DRDO/PSUs supports FDI? NO
The need of the hour is Defence Tech commission. with representation from academia,Services technocrates and DRDO
that should dictate the requirements,guide the research,evaluate the Offsets,monitor their implementation and suggest govt at the highest levl about Mil Ind Complex development.