India’s Strategic Criticality: Need for an Effective National Response
Ajit Doval, KC - Former Director, VIF

In the last six decades there has indeed been substantial accretion in India’s National Power. The economic progress, technological advancements, human resource development, infrastructural improvements and, to some extent, up-gradation in military capabilities have positioned India as a potential node of emerging multi-polar world order. India’s size geo-political positioning, world’s largest youth bulge, stable democracy and civilizational assets greatly enhance its strategic potential. However, whether India will or will not be able to convert its potential into a real power remains a matter of doubt. One factor that lends credence to this doubt is a lurking suspicion about India’s ability to synergise its advantages and display the resoluteness of a big power to tackle its critical strategic imperatives with total national resolve.

The security quotient of a nation transcends far beyond normative computation of the ingredients of its state power. It needs credible capabilities and decision taking capacity in relation to the present and potential threats it faces, a national synergy to optimise its response and, most importantly, a national will to pursue a long term strategic plan factoring in its strengths and vulnerabilities. Though often underestimated national will is the most decisive factor in converting high potentiality to tangible reality. As power of the state manifests through the actions and inactions of the government ability of the governments to take bold decision in real time and execute them with total resolve are necessary to win the power game. For achieving this, it is incumbent upon the political leadership, particularly those in power, to evolve a national consensus on critical issues of national security interest through a de-politicised, credible and informed discourse, cutting across the party alignments, group interests and ideological fixations.

India’s strategic environment is undergoing a tectonic shift. Leave aside the impact and implications of global developments following the end of the cold war; developments in its neighbourhood are ominous and have serious security implications for India. Emergence of China not only as a major economic power but a state that is pursuing a grand strategic plan with clock wise precision and expanding its strategic reach backed by an ambitious militarization programme is a reality whose import can not be underestimated. Entrenchment of radical Jihadi Islam along India’s western frontiers with the world trying to buy peace through appeasement, nuclearised Pakistan’s unabashed black mail demanding a cost for containing jihadi terrorism and pursuing an India-specific militarization programme, beefed up both by China and the US, are causes of serious concern. India’s eroding maritime pre-eminence in the Indian Ocean with increased Chinese naval presence and India’s long coast line (7,500 kms) becoming vulnerable to terrorist infiltrators, gun running, smuggling etc. are threats India has yet to find an effective response to. Added to these are massive demographic invasion from Bangladesh with illegal immigrants now exceeding 20 million creating conditions of a potential civil strife and undermining the security of vulnerable North-East region, inexorable growth of Left Wing Extremism and growth of radical Islamic groups with trans-national linkages are matters of serious concern. The fact that a national debate on these pressing issues, a necessary pre-requisite for a united national response, is either conspicuously absent or mired with political acrimony is unfortunate. The country needs a new strategic mind set and a consensual long term vision if it has to emerge as a major global power player.

In the contemporary context following strategic issues are flagged on which there is a need for holistic national response and meeting of minds among political parties, strategic thinkers, security planners and the people at large.

Western Neighbourhood:

India’s western neighbourhood, now nomenclatured as Af-Pak region, has emerged as the world’s most dangerous and unstable region with an unpredictable future. Diplomatic nuances aside, the US led International Security Assistance Force having failed to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan and estimating the cost of staying in Afghanistan unaffordable is planning a retreat. What makes it serious for India is political accommodation of Taliban, providing them both legitimacy and power, and freedom of action to Pakistan to handle Afghanistan.

With India marginalised, following the Istanbul and London conferences, and President Obama’s pull out plan by 2011, Pakistan had acquired the centre stage position in terms of handling the Taliban, underwriting political arrangement in Afghanistan and management of terror in Af-Pak region. Buoyant with its success, Pakistan’s new priorities would include wiping out Indian influence in Afghanistan and reorient Afghan National Army and security setup to achieve its ambition of strategic depth. It will try to manipulate the Jehadis in a way that maximises its own perceived advantages. As long as West is reassured of its own security interests it will be willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s Covert Action designed to bleed India. Pakistan will also extract heavy price from the West in return for the services rendered not only in terms of financial assistance and military build up but also for exerting pressure on India on issues like Kashmir, sharing of water etc.

Despite its claims of being a front line state in war against terror, Pakistan continues to rely on Covert Action (CA) as an instrument of its state policy and provide sanctuaries, training, weapons and finances to terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Harkat-ul-Jehadi Islami, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc. that see India as their prime target. Pakistan is likely to continue with its covert offensive against India as a low cost option against an asymmetric adversary to pursue its strategico-political objectives.

The mood in military-ISI combine in Pakistan is euphoric and triumphant. It stems from its perceived vindication of the grand strategy to play a ruthless zero-sum game at the cost of West and other stake holders keen for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan army and Intelligence all along had worked on the premise that US and NATO lacked the stomach to take indefinite losses and sooner or later were bound to leave. In pursuance of their grand strategy, Pakistan deliberately undermined Karzai’s government, patronized powerful Taliban groups of Haqqani, Hikmatyar etc and provided safe havens to Quetta Shoura of Mullah Omar. While pretending to be extending its all out support to west in neutralising Taliban and extracting a heavy price for it, it did all that it could to ensure defeat of the US led International Security Assistance Force.
Following current developments and trends need to be factored in designing our response:

  • On the pretext of fighting the War on Terror, Pakistan is procuring large quantities of military equipment from the US; with India seen as the sole adversary. The new inventory includes 18 nuclear capable F-16C/D aircrafts. The US is also upgrading 60 F-16 A/B aircrafts already in Pakistan’s inventory. Additionally, Pakistan is getting twelve new F-16A/B aircraft at throw away prices from the US;
  • Pakistan has received eight PC-3 Maritime Recce Aircrafts along with 100 Harpoon missiles, which could pose a serious threat to Indian naval ships and commercial shipping and off-shore installations;
  • The major force-multiplier being acquired by Pakistan is Swedish Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). These are high attitude airborne radar systems designed to detect aircrafts, capability to distinguish between friendly and hostile aircrafts. The first consignments of these have already been delivered. It is noteworthy that these weapon systems give Pakistan virtual military parity vis-a-vis India and seriously inhibit our ability to use air power in the event of even grave provocations;
  • The Pakistan Army launched large scale military operations in Swat and South Waziristan last year with great fanfare. Ostensibly to relieve some forces for these operations from its Eastern Front with India, Pakistan had lobbied hard with the US to force India to reduce its troop levels in J&K. to support the Global war against Terror and to enable Pakistan to drain the terrorist swamp it had created in its own territory, India went along and reduced its troops from J&K. Sadly, the response to this reduction of troop density in J&K has been a marked attempt by Pakistan to exploit this gesture by increasing infiltration of terrorists into J&K with the specific aim of reviving violence. Any gesture for peace is being viewed as a sign of capitulation;
  • Since 2009 there has been a sharp accretion in infiltration attempts from Pakistani side. In 2009, there were 485 infiltration attempts as compared to 342 in the previous year showing nearly 45% increase. Between 2008 and 2009 there has been nearly 100% increase in the number of terrorists infiltrated. As per the defence sources, over 400 militants are awaiting at the borders to be infiltrated into India. The Pakistani Terrorist infrastructure in POK/ Pak is intact and being readied to maximize infiltration in the coming summer months. Similarly, the figures of casualties also indicate terrorist groups upping the ante of violence. There is a discernible increase in terrorist incidents in and around the urban centres like Srinagar, Sopore etc. Blowing up of the railway track and frequent attacks on Security Forces is a matter of concern.
  • The divided and emaciated Hurriyat was resurrected when the Home Minister offered to talk to them in Nov. 2009. It is regrettable that last month when the Home Minister wanted to meet the Hurriyat leaders in Delhi they turned down his offer dubbing talking to him as meaningless and instead met Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi;

CHINA:

From Indian security perspective, China’s rise is one of the most notable historical developments of the post-war era. Over the years, particularly after the launch of its modernization and reforms programmes in the late 70s, there has been considerable accretion in its State power. While the world has been more focused on its impressive economic achievements, China has also been assiduously building up its strategic strength – militarily, technologically and diplomatically.

China’s defence budget for the year 2009 stood at US $70.24 bn that was increased to $77.95 bn in 2010, depicting an increase of 10%; a double digit hike for the tenth year in a row. In contrast, India’s defence budget was barely $30 bn in 2009 and marginally increased to $31.9 bn in 2010. As the Chinese system of computing their expenditure is quite complex and opaque, arriving at exact figures would be any analyst’s nightmare. The US Defence Intelligence Agency estimates China’s defence budget in the range of US $85 to US $125 bn. Experts estimate that in next 10 years Chinese military expenditure will cross US$ 1tn. Between 2000 and 2005 China imported weapons systems worth over US $11 bn from Russia alone and the inventory included Kilo-class Submarines, Sovremenny-Class Destroyers, Sukhoi-27 and Sukhoi-30 fighter jet aircrafts. China is rapidly modernizing its 2.5 million strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which includes building up a powerful blue water navy with offensive capabilities, introducing new weapons systems, upgrading equipment and integrating new technologies.

India has an unsettled border with China, falling along eastern, middle and western sectors of China’s Autonomous Tibet Region. During the 1962 aggression, it annexed areas considered by India to be part of its territory. The border dispute has lingered for over four decades despite India’s consistent efforts for a peaceful settlement. As a step towards conflict resolution, in 1981 Mrs. Gandhi, asked China to spell out its position with respect to the disputed borders with maps. While India had no problem doing so using authenticated historical maps, it took two decades of intense persuasion before Beijing exchanged one map with India and that too of the least disputed middle sector. It appears that China is in no hurry to settle the border dispute and keep it as a lingering issue to exert pressure on India. It estimates that the differential between the Comprehensive National Powers (CNPs) of the two states is steadily tilting in favour of China and by 2025 it will militarily be in a position to dictate its terms of settlement.

Through a well calibrated plan China is extending its strategic influence among the South Asian States sharing common borders with India like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar as part of a deliberate policy to contain India. The key component in this containment strategy is Pakistan; its prime surrogate in South Asia. China has given it unprecedented support in nuclear proliferation and provided missile technology and conventional military weaponry at most concessional terms. The military inventories of Pakistan’s armed forces are predominantly Chinese and Pakistan’s indigenous defense production infrastructure is entirely of Chinese origin. The Chinese describe this strategic relationship as “higher than the mountains and deeper than the seas”.

Following contemporary trends/developments are a cause of concern and need to be factored in designing our response:

  • Number of Chinese intrusions on the border have gone up significantly. The provocative stance and statements on Arunachal Pradesh are matter of serious concern that needs to be taken seriously;
  • China has very substantially upgraded its logistical capabilities in Tibet. The rail link to Lhasa has virtually doubled the capacity and rate of induction of Chinese troops into Tibet in any crisis situation. Two additional rail links to Tibet are under construction along with a large number of Airfields. There has been an across the board against of the capabilities of the Chinese Military and Airforce;
  • There is a significant shift in the pattern of Chinese military exercises. After almost two decades of rehearsals for amphibious landings against Taiwan, last year for the first time the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) carried out large scale overland military exercise designed to rehearse likely scenarios against India, Vietnam and possibly Korea;
  • In its Defence White Paper of 2006 China enunciated a comprehensive Perspective plan that laid out a roadmap to full fledged super power status in three stages;
  • Frist Stage By 2010 it hoped to be in a position to take on any “moderately sized adversary” in Asia (namely Taiwan, India, Vietnam). This phase was concluded a year ahead of schedule and vide its well advertised Military Exercise Codenamed Kuayue (Stride) in 2009, it advertised its ability to take on Asian rivals like India and Vietnam.
  • Second Stage By 2020, China hopes to be in a position to match up with the second tier world powers like Russia, EU and Japan.
  • Third Stage By 2050, China hopes to acquire a full fledged Blue Water Navy and an Informatised Armed Forces. This is an euphemism for becoming a super power at par with the US.
  • China is not only meticulously meeting its perspective targets cases is a year ahead of the stipulated dead lines. This is in sharp contrast to India where time overruns quite often extend to decades;
  • String of Pearls policy: More significant are the Chinese Strategic presence in the Indian Ocean Region and her “String of Pearls” strategy. Under this strategy China is registering its maritime presence and building up Naval Capabilities in Indian Ocean littoral countries surrounding India. The Chinese initiatives include assisting Pakistan in developing the Sea Port and Naval Base of Gwadar. It has sought Naval berthing / call facilities in the ports of Myanmar and in Chittagong in Bangladesh. It won the contract for developing the Hambantota Port/oil farm in Sri Lanka. It is actively seeking port/base facilities in the Seychelles and Maldives (apparently to support its anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia). Besides, it is cultivating the Govts. Of Maldives and Seychelles to secure base facilities in the name of supporting its anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia;
  • China’s new found interest in J&K: Following President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009 and a mention in the joint communiqué issued by him and President Hu Jin Tao stressing a new role for China in South Asia, Chinese interest in Kashmir affairs has shown an unwelcome change. Within days of the visit, in November 2009 itself, an initiative was taken by the Chinese inviting the Hurriyat leaders to China; first time ever. Talking to the media on November 20, 2009, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said “Yes, I will visit China soon. I have been invited by a Chinese NGO to talk about Muslim issues. It is basically a Muslim NGO.” Shahidul Islam, Secretary to Chairman, Hurriyat said that “He (Umar Farooq) will be highlighting the Kashmir issue during his visit to China which is now an important player in the region”. Meeting of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Brussels with Ying Gang, Chinese director in their foreign office, on 24 March 2010 was a further step forward. Mirwaiz was requested by Ying Gang to visit China. Han Foundation, a Government supported think tank, proposes to undertake research on Indian part of J&K, including role of the army. It is noteworthy that the Chinese Embassy has sought to underline J&K’s perceived disputed status by stapling the visas of Indian citizens from this State. Previously, China had pursued the policy of equidistance on the J&K issue and emphasized resolution through bi-lateral engagement. There is, however, not a perceptible shift in its posture to the detriment of India.

Inadequacies In Response To Military Threats:

In the backdrop of sharp accretion in military capabilities of China and Pakistan and keeping in view strategic partnership between the two there is an urgent need for augmenting our defence preparedness. Presenting the budget, Finance Minister asserted that “secure border and security of life and property, fosters development.” However, the budget totally betrays this sentiment. There is barely 3.8% increase in the defence budget (that in real terms hardly works out to 0.35) as compared to 8.6% in overall central government expenditure. The following highlights of defence budget for the years 2010-11 are indicative of our allocations falling far short of our minimum requirements:

Defence Budget Highlights

 

2009-10

2010-11

Remarks

Defence Budget(Rs in cr)

1,41,703

1,47,344

  1. The increase of 5,641 in BE of 2010-11 is 3.98% as against 34.19% increase in last budget.
  2. In real terms, the growth over last years BE is barely 0.3% .
  3. The RE for FY 2009-10 stood at Rs. 1,36,364 surrendering rupees 5439 crore from BE 2009-10. Surrendered amount could have been more is revenue expenditure had not been revised upward by rupees 1561 in RE.
  4. The capital expenditure, required for acquisition of defence hardware, in the revised estimate was down by Rs. 7,000 crore.

Growth in Defense Budget(%)

34.19%

3.98%

Revenue Expenditure( Rs in cr)

86,879

87,377

Growth of Revenue Expenditure(%)

50.85%

0.57%

Share of Revenue Expenditure in Defence Budget (%)

61.3

59.3

Capital Expenditure(Rs in cr)

54,824cr

60, 000 cr

Growth in Capital Expenditure(%)

14.20%

9.44%

Share of Capital Expenditure in Defence Budget (%)

38.7

40.7

Share of Defense Budget in GDP(%)

2.30%

2.12%

Share of Defense Budget in Central Govt Expenditure

13.88%

13.29%

(Source: Ministry of Defense “Services Estimates2010-11 and Ministry of Finance, Union Budget 2011.)

Service wise Share of Budget

 

2008-09

2009-10

2010-11

Remarks

Army

Rs 59,058 cr

Rs 76,117.2 cr

Rs 74,582 cr

Decline

Navy

Rs 17,312.7 cr

Rs 20,604 cr

Rs 21,467 cr

 

Air Force

Rs 29,271 cr

Rs 34,432 cr

Rs 40,462cr

 

TOTAL

Rs 1,05,641.7 cr

Rs 1,31,153.2 cr

Rs 1,36,511 cr

 

DRDO

Rs 6937.5cr

Rs 8481.5 cr

Rs 9809 cr

 

Department of Defense Production

Rs 2019 cr

2067 cr

Rs 1015 cr

Marked decline

 

The major short comings in our defence build up include the following:

  • Artillery: Last major acquisition of guns in India was 400 pieces of Bofors (39 calibre 155 millimeter FH-77 B) from Sweden in 1984. Artillery, as highlighted by the Kargil war, is a key battle winning factor. A hundred guns were lined up to support each battalion attack and in the end served to shake the Pakistanis out of their well entrenched positions. Over a decade ago the Indian Army had drawn up a plan to mediumise 80 % of the Artillery Regiments of the Indian Army. This was supposed to reduce the large number of diverse calibers in use with the Artillery ( 75/24, 105 millimeter, 122 millimeter, 130 millimeter, 155 millimeter) and introduce standardization around the 155 millimeter. Though new tenders have now been floated for the following their becoming operational may take 5 years or more.
    1 : 39 calibre 155 millimeter guns for mountains;
    2 : 52 calibre 155 millimeter guns (long range howitzers) for plains;
    3 : SP Guns for deserts;
  • Armour: The Armoured Corps is still holding few regiments of vintage tanks like Vijayantas and T-55. There is an urgent need to induct 347xT-90s contracted for in Dec 2007.There is an even more urgent need to remove Night Blindness of the tank fleet. Only 310xT-90 Tanks have proper Night vision/fire control equipment. 70% of the tank Fleet is Night Blind. It is noteworthy that in Gulf War I the Russian T-72 tanks were well matched with the American Abram tanks in the engagements that took place by day. However at night the Image Intensification equipment on the US tanks made a critical difference. It picked up the Russian tanks of the Iraqis at ranges of over 1000 m, whereas the Russian tanks with their Infra Red devices could only see upto 300m. This was disastrous for the T-72s. Pakistan has upgraded the Night vision capabilities of its entire tank fleet. Since most of the combat in the future battles will take place at night there is an urgent need to speed up up-gradation of T-72 MI Ajeya Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) by fitting new generation night sights and fire control equipment;
  • AD Artillery: This faces serious problems of obsolescence. There is an urgent need to replace L-70 (40 millimeter AD Gun System) and Schilka (ZSU-23-4 Schilka SP) as also Surface to Air Missiles like SAM-6 and OSA AK;
  • Infantry: Needs New Stens/ Machine Carbines, better grenades, more Hand Held Thermal Imagers and BFSRS (Battle Field Surveillance Radars);
  • Army Aviation: There is an urgent need to replace observation Helicopter fleet of Cheetas and Chetaks of out dated technologies with more modern and better equipped Helicopters. Pakistan has brought about substantial improvement in its fleet of helicopters;
    1 : Communication Equipment needs urgent up gradation;
  • Indian Navy:
    1: Acquisition of Gorshkov delayed by 2-3 years;
    2: Submarine Arm strength getting eroded due to slow pace of acquisition;
  • Indian Air Force:
    1: Chinese Air Force is fast reaching qualitative parity and major Numerical advantage. By 2020 will have 2300 combat aircrafts as gainst our 750;
    2: Induction of Tejas, indigenously built Low Combat Aircraft (LCA) with huge cost and time over runs (initiated in 1983) has been badly delayed;
    3: Multi Role Combat Aircrafts (MRCAs) will take another 5 years for induction;
    4: Mig -21, Mig 23 Mig-27, fleet badly obsolete. Squadron strength getting eroded;
  • The former Soviet Union had heavily subsidized India’s capital Military Stock from the mid 1960’s to the late 1980’s. As such India had a decisive technological/qualitative edge over the Chinese in terms of military equipment through out the 1970s and 1980s. The Sino-Soviet split in the late Sixties left PLA with a huge inventory of vintage Soviet military equipment of the 1950s era. However, the Soviet Union collapsed economically in 1990 that was soon followed by its balkanisation seriously denting its defence industry. Its capability to modernize, produce and supply military hardware to India at affordable terms for India came down several notches. The Chinese began their military modernization around the same time. In recent times, China has largely replaced its obsolescent capital military stock. Today it has some 2,500 Third and Fourth generation fighters to India’s 600. This amounts to a very worrying quantitative as well as qualitative edge. The Chinese Tank fleet is equally of modern vintage and the prime focus of Chinese military modernization is on its 2nd artillery Corps and the PLA Navy. In the meantime, India’s Soviet era capital military stock has now reached virtually the end of its life cycle begging rapid replacement. It is here that the dangerously slow pace of India’s weapons acquisition process is opening up huge windows of vulnerability.

    India does not have to engage China in a ruinous arms race that seeks to match it weapon for weapon. However, catering for what China can deploy against India, India has to maintain force levels that are credible and could serve to deter any adventurous action. In its capacity build up India will have to generate levels that can help the transition from Dissuasion to Deterrence against any Chinese threat. This translates into speeding and streamlining our arms acquisition process and taking fullest advantage of the fact that we are today in a position to acquire latest technologies both from Russia and Western sources.

    What is utterly confounding is the excruciatingly slow pace of our arms acquisition process. The entire Soviet era stock of capital equipment is now due for replacement. Yet major arms acquisitions have been delayed for years. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report has highlighted the following glaring slippages:-

    • 8th Plan (1992-97): Just 5% of the planned acquisition of Tanks and ICVs was carried out. This was the era of a major systemic upheaval in Russia and our own economy was close to collapse. The delays/ slippages were therefore understandable;
    • 9th Plan (1997-2002): Despite the upsurge in the Indian Economy, only 10% of the planned acquisitions could materialize;
    • 10th Plan (2002-2007): Despite the Kargil and Op Parakram crisis, the percentage of equipment acquired fell woefully short of planned targets. Following facts are illustrative:-
      a) Tanks- Only 30% of planned acquisitions could be completed;
      b) Infantry- The Infantry that faces the Proxy war in J&K and insurgencies in the North East could acquire only 48% of the equipment it had planned for;
      c) Mechanized Infantry- Only 42% of the planned acquisition could be affected;
      d) Artillery- This arm has suffered most grievously since the Bofors scandal, the entire mediumisation and modernization of the Artillery has been held up. Self propelled guns and medium artillery are being delayed inordinately and the manufacture of ammunition for the Bofors has just not taken off. Only 48% of the planned acquisition could be completed;
      e) Air Defense Artillery- Only 23% of planned acquisition was done;
      f) Signals- Only 35% of the planned acquisition could be done;
    • In fact, of the 250 items planned for acquisition in the 10th Plan, only 96 items could be acquired. This is opening up alarming voids in our defence preparedness.

      Need For Progressive Self Sufficincy In Defence Production:

      It is indeed lamentable that even 62 years after Independence, 70 percent of India’s capital military stock is still of foreign origin. Apart from entailing a heavy drain on our foreign exchange reserves, this is highly undesirable as in conflict situations; foreign arm suppliers could withhold spares/ammunition support at critical junctures. China, that started with much lower degree of technological capabilities, on the other hand has determinedly pursued a policy of autarky by buying off the shelf a limited quantity of key weapon systems, reverse engineering them and going for their mass producing. A key example is the Russian SU-27 fighter which they copied and are now producing as the J-11. The JF-17 fighter being jointly produced by China and Pakistan has copies of the Russian Mig-29 engine. Media reports indicate that Pakistan had supplied unexploded American Tomahawk missiles fired on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Afghanistan to China- who promptly copied it and helped Pakistan produce its Babur Cruise Missiles.

      In the 1950s India had proclaimed its desire to indigenize its arms production, however most of this effort was wasted in Govt run ordinance factories that produced low technology items like uniforms, boots, low technology equipment and outdated technology vehicles that were highly fuel inefficient. India’s DRDO enterprise was saddled with lack of talent and bureaucratic inertia leading to failed/shelved projects and huge time and cost overruns on one hand and lack of synergy with defence production units. Even celebrated Indigenous products like the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Arjun Tank in actual fact entailed import of components from diverse countries.

      The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) program was launched in 1983 to replace the mainstay of the Indian Air Forces fighter fleet- then the Soviet Mig-21 Aircraft. After repeated time and cost overruns, the first LCA (Named Tejas) flew in May 2003.It is a light-weight, Multi-role, single-engined Jet Fighter aircraft. Limited series production began in 2007.A two-seater Trainer version is also under developement. The IAF would need 200 single-seat Fighter aircraft of the LCA (Tejas) class alongwith some 20 Two Seat Trainers. The Indian Navy may order up to 40 such Navalised versions of the LCA for operations from Aircraft carriers. The problem area is that the engines of the LCA are of American origin and the avionics are French. These foreign components are a major vulnerability in a crisis situation. The Arjun tank had a German engine. In practice this form of indigenization led to “multi-country dependence” instead of the earlier dependence on a single source.

      The public sector approach in India has been a dismal failure. Since 1990, the Indian economy has been liberalized and has become globally competitive. A large number of American and European firms have off shored their R&D and production to Indian companies (especially in the automotive sector). It is time therefore for India to involve its private Sector in a very major way in its Arms production. This will enable it to tap the best talent in the market and value engineer the product through commercial competition. Indian Private Firms should be encouraged to seek tie ups with leading foreign arms manufacturers and if needed, set up consortia to produce cutting edge technology weapons and equipment. This will give a tremendous fillip to Defence R&D in India and truly indigenize our arms Industry. It would be equally important for our Ordinance Factories to outsource manufacture of low tech items like individual clothing and equipment to civilians firms and switch to the manufacture of high-tech items that need specialization. The agonisingly slow pace of our arms acquisition process is increasingly making it imperative that we speed up the process of the indigenization of our arms and equipment. It is ridiculous that six decades after Independence India should still have to import 70% of its capital military stock.

      • Indian Ordnance factories must be debarred from producing low tech items of individual clothing and kit which can easily be procured at much cheaper costs from the private sector. They should focus instead on producing more sophisticated and state of the art weapons and equipment. It is indeed ridiculous that India should have to import pistols/machine pistols, GPS kits, Night Vision Devices and the AK series of rifles;

      • It is ironic that while procures its imported defence equipment from private sector it is reluctant to involve Indian private sector in manufacturing defence items on spurious security grounds. Involving Indian private sector will enable tie ups by them with leading arms manufacturers of other advanced countries and the hiring of the best talent. Commercial competition would serve to value engineer the product. This will permit economies of scale by the export of weapons and equipment. Apart from” Navratnas”, we could establish Consortiums to produce complex weapon systems;

      • The DRDO must stick to selected items/areas where it should develop core competencies. It must recruit and retain talented people and ensure there are no time and cost overruns. The Services in turn must fully partner the weapon development process and not act as mere critics. They should have a stake in the timely development of competent weapon systems that suit our terrain and combat environments. The Services must convert their extensive combat experience into usable data bases;

      India in its long history has paid an affordably high cost for its lack of strategic vision, inability to fathom intentions and capabilities of its adversaries and put in place a long term plan to tackle them effectively. Let our coming generations not accuse us of committing the same follies.
      The author Former Director Intelligence Bureau
      Published in Eternal India in June 2010

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