Monday, 23 May, 2022
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Rafale row confirms India needs its own defence industry if it has to be a global power

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India’s armed forces urgently require advanced technology in weapon systems and other equipment.

The Rafale deal controversy reaffirmed a crucial fact: A regional power with global ambitions but without an indigenous military industry would be crippled even during small crises.

If India wants to be a power worth reckoning, it must stand on its own two feet.

Besides a homegrown military industry, it must possess power projection capability. And the economy must grow at a minimum of 10 per cent to support such self-reliance.

Need for advanced technology

India’s armed forces urgently require advanced technology in weapon systems and other equipment but they are not yet available off-the-shelf and what is available is always second best. In fact, critical components are either inadequate or come at a very high cost.

As sellers of such technology keep their own geopolitical interests and constraints at the forefront before making any deal, the Army will face the threat of its supplies being stopped during emergencies.

Note that India’s neighbours are not only collaborating but also reverse engineering latest technologies, especially stealth, missiles and air defence. If India has to survive in this potentially combative environment, it must be well-prepared. Else, the peril is not far away.

Also read: How IIT Madras’ Make in India defence model is a blueprint for success

DRDO and industry dilemma

The abysmal track record of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is not a big secret and it has been derailed by research, manufacture and sale woes.

Since the Indian defence industry is at a nascent stage at best, private players are invariably dependent on advances from the government. So, industrialists remain unwilling to invest in research and/or manufacturing unless the government provides guarantee that product will be purchased from them. Even the banking sector is reluctant to provide loans to new industries and start-ups in this sector.

In such a milieu, the armed forces are thrown into the same old rigmarole and forced to purchase weapon systems and equipment from foreign suppliers.

Also read: In the defence scam brouhaha, efficacy of Rafale jets, Bofors guns, Agusta helicopters gets drowned

Cutting the flab

Voices across defence think tanks suggest the armed forces urgently require trimming but they provide no reasoning except pointing to the economics of maintaining such a large force. No research is done or actual finances worked out. Obviously, the intelligentsia is writing without due thought and following a single direction.

But the fact remains that the forces can’t afford to reduce manpower at their whims and fancies, especially when they do not have the main advantage of technology.

The process of ‘cutting the flab’ being projected can’t be done overnight as the reduction of intake by cutting recruitment is time-consuming and should not be hastened.

This hasty reduction may affect the forces adversely in the long run, generate dissatisfaction and impose a larger burden on the unemployment crisis.

Comparison with China

Comparison with China is always pitched forward, claiming that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has shed over 3,00,000 men. That certainly is a fallacious argument to begin with.

Imagine the morale of the force and the country with a sudden drastic increase of so many unemployed people. How can anyone believe two Army size formations (PLARF and PLASSF) are being created by shedding 3,00,000 highly trained personnel?

The PLA has also opened the doors for foreign deployments and plans to steamroller ships like dumplings: it added thirty-two ships in 2018 alone. PLAAF has raised the new J-20 stealth regiment, the Y-20 transport regiment and new fighter regiments are joining the force on a regular basis.

Therefore, the PLA losing personnel is one story we must take with a pinch of salt.

Also read: Indian Army reforms: Cutting administrative flab or needless downsizing?

Shifting of ARTRAC

The ridiculous idea of shifting the ARTRAC was mooted for want of training grounds and brings us to several questions:

Does a command headquarter require training ground? How was the ARTRAC working until now? Was any case for such a training ground taken up? Did no one pay any attention to these issues since they were raised 28 years ago in 1991, first in Mhow and later moved in Shimla, in 1993? Did it move without any planning? Those planning the entire army’s training couldn’t plan their own move and training?

Relocating 62 Cantonments

The ‘Tughalaki Farman’ to relocate 62 cantonments in prime areas was issued in May 2018, calling it a necessary radical reform. It would involve selling off the property and using the money thus generated for purchase of equipment and weapons for the armed forces.

Someone should first work out the costs of establishing new, modern cantonments along the cost, designing and construction with continuous monitoring, and not to forget transfer. It would simply be unviable.

A thought also should be given as to where the 62 cantonments will be located and how they will survive between the time of vacating the cantonments for sale and construction of new ones, which will not be completed in less than a decade.

We must be glad that the thought of relocating the entire capital, since most of it is colonial vestige, has not yet crossed the writer’s mind.

Also read: Dear General Bipin Rawat, this is what is wrong with your military reforms

Disastrous implications

Many a serving veteran states that such preposterous ideas are generated by ISI masterminds. Some say that if the nation doesn’t require the armed forces then disband the entire force and hire mercenaries on as required basis.

Both assumptions would be as wrong and unjustified as the thoughts they wish to ignore.

However, India must not be in a hurry to implement such decisions. A thorough study of every aspect with experts in the field should be carried out. For failing to prepare is preparing to fail!

The author served in the Indian Army for over 33 years. He was a satellite imagery analyst for more than two decades and served in high altitude areas of J&K and northeast. Follow him on Twitter @rajfortyseven.

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  1. Focus on indigenous R&D is missing. The Rafale debate is futile. No one is thinking with a long term perspective. Transfer of technology is a mirage that has brought nothing concrete in the past seven decades. In fact, it has enhanced our dependence on donor countries. HAL with its poor track record, has very low technology absorption capacity and not even able to manufacture rotor blades of helicopter – a product which has been considered as obsolete in France and the production has been discontinued. Domestic production cost of Sukhoi planes is 45% higher that its imported version. The maintenance and servicing costs of these planes is exorbitantly high. Russia reserves rights to supply the critical components and is thereby milking the recipient country. India is unable to design engines of Tejas aircraft’s even after pursuing the matter for more than two decades. Upgrading and refurbishment of old fighter aircrafts is of critical importance. HAL is unable to complete the task in a given time frame. Purchasing 36 Rafale planes is just a short term temporary solution. More is needed to strengthen our airforce.

  2. What this top military says is interesting. But it would have been thought that the experience gained would have allowed him to make realistic comments. First, it would be useful to start from the ground up. The place of the soldier, the sailor, the airman in the armed forces must be respected and recognized. If men and women in the armed forces are neglected in their basic equipment, salaries, and pensions, what is the use of positioning the country as a global power. Such a choice can only make the country a giant based on clay feet. Finally this article is not consistent with the title announced. The country needs a rethinking of the organization of its defense and especially a commitment over several years in the financing of military expenditures. Currently, we are seeing announcements on acquisitions, but we do not see funding, and the defense budget is shrinking. These are points on which the author of the article should have focused.

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