Swallowing the DRDO line? I certainly enjoy swallowing their lunch...
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th July 14
Conventional wisdom has long held that India --- the world’s biggest defence importer --- produces just 30 per cent of its defence equipment needs, while importing 70 per cent. On Monday, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief, Dr Avinash Chander, flatly rejected this figure, declaring that over 65 per cent of India’s defence requirements are produced indigenously.
Speaking in New Delhi at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Chander declared: “If you take the last seven years’ (procurement) sanctions, more than 50 per cent of them were for indigenous items.”
A day later, on Tuesday, the defence minister gave parliament an even rosier picture. Replying to a question, Mr Arun Jaitley stated, “Over a three year period, i.e., 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, 69% of the total capital and revenue requirement of Services (sic) was met through indigenous procurement.”
This includes both capital procurement (i.e. new equipment), as well as revenue (i.e. running) expenditure. Looking only at capital expenditure, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) claims more than 57 per cent is paid out to Indian vendors. On Tuesday, Mr Jaitley told parliament, ““The proportion of expenditure in respect of payments to foreign vendors to the total expenditure on defence equipment for Capital Acquisition during the financial year 2013-14 is 42.7% for three services”.
These figures could be telling only half the story. Often, Indian contractors, who are paid money by the MoD, disburse a portion to foreign vendors for assemblies, sub-assemblies and components that go into the “Indian” equipment they supply the military. It remains unclear where this money is accounted --- paid to Indian vendors, or to foreign vendors.
This uncertainty leads to contradictory figures. For example, the DRDO chief says that the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is two-third Indian, and indigenisation will rise to 80 per cent when the Tejas gets its indigenous radar. Meanwhile an audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had alleged that the LCA is 90 per cent imported.
Responding to a Business Standard question about this contradiction, Chander cited the example of the Tejas mission computer, a key piece of software. He said, “Every component in the mission computer is imported. But hardware is not the dominant cost. If the mission computer costs Rs 50 lakhs, the hardware would cost just Rs 10 lakhs. The remaining cost is intellectual property --- the design and software, which is done in India.”
Chander further pointed out that India’s ballistic missile systems, like the Agni-series, are 85 per cent indigenous, while the military’s radar systems are also highly indigenised. The same is true for most of the navy’s warships, he said.
Even so, the DRDO chief acknowledged four weaknesses that would have to be addressed to reduce defence imports. The first is engines for aircraft, ships and land vehicles. Chander said a “national mission” is under way to develop a 1500 horsepower diesel engine. Meanwhile a multi-agency task force, including DRDO, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, was exploring the development of a gas turbine for aircraft, ships and railway engines.
The second major weakness is in materials technology. India does not produce aluminium-lithium alloys for engines; silicon wafers for electronics and polymers. Thirdly, India has not built “seekers”, components that help a missile lock onto target. Sending out a signal to foreign companies, Chander said, “We are looking for international collaboration to set up the capability in India.”
The fourth major weakness is in defence R&D infrastructure. “In the entire country we have only one 46-year-old, supersonic wind tunnel at the National Aerospace Laboratory. If it stops, every aeronautics programme in the country will come to a halt. We do not have a high altitude engine test facility. We have only one missile test range (at Chandipur, in Orissa) which is coming under pressure from environmentalists and local economic interests.”
Chander also pleaded for an electronic warfare (EW) test range, a cyber test range, a floating test range for torpedoes and a range for testing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. Finally, precision fabrication facilities are needed for state-of-the-art optics and electronics, he said.
With the defence budget due to be unveiled on Thursday, the DRDO chief proposed five “mega-missions” to indigenously cater for 80 per cent of India’s defence requirements.
These include “Mission Missile Autonomy”, to build all types of missiles from the small Astra air-to-air missile that was recently fired from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter; to the complex anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system that will guard against incoming nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Chander claimed that two major Indian cities would have an ABM shield within 2-3 years.
The second is “Mission Air Dominance”, to develop manned and unmanned aircraft. “Mission Modernising Army” would develop systems like the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) and the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), both of which are languishing at the conceptual stage. “Mission Network Centric Capability” would create the digital command and control systems needed to digitally link up military units in the battle space. Finally, “Mission Blue Sea Strike” would develop the surface and underwater vessels and the weaponry needed to maintain control of the seas.