Imperatives of Defence Modernisation and Indigenisation
Vice Adm Raman Puri, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Self Reliance in defence production has been one of India’s national goals set since the 1950’s. Post 1971, it was quantified as reversing the ratio of indigenous production to imports which was in the ratio of 30:70 to 70;30. However, on the ground, the situation has not changed. On the contrary, after more than 40 years, the level of imports has only increased. There are many causes for the present situation and in the order of their significance, these are :-

A very incorrect approach to Acquisition Planning which is not tuned to meeting future challenges. Modernisation by definition should be a process of creating military wherewithal to prevail at the locust of engagements (which may be virtual in future) foreseen on a rolling basis over the next decade (at the least) and possibly two decades in many cases in a country like India with a complex geopolitical situation at hand and with very limited access to advanced technologies. To achieve this, we need a Force Development Strategy based on Defence Planning Guidelines .Such guidelines would be based on the National Security Strategy which defines the Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces in a future timeframe. The current system, as codified in the Long Term Perspective Plan bases the modernisation needs on the Raksha Mantri’s ops directive which only visualizes current contingencies.

The above leads to a very faulty acquisition system tuned to largely covering the current voids, and necessarily results in procurements, especially in the case of the army, which are termed as urgent operational and inescapable requirements or requirements that are needed to make up force levels approved decades ago. The Government is then in fact coerced into a buy/ buy and make route which cannot lead to meaningful indigenization and self reliance and even covering the current voids for reasons explained below. Except for one to one replacement of imported spares and aggregates whose manufacturing technology is transferred, no other indigenisation by and large takes place. Indigenisation which gives us a design to build capability is possible only in systems developed domestically. The Navy with its integral design capability has done better though in the crucial requirement of combat and main propulsion systems, its indigenous quotient is average to poor.

Substantial procurement lead times exist even for foreign in production Buy/ Buy and Make/Make even with JV programmes. RFI, Firming up the QR, AON, Issue of RFP, Trials & evaluation in different terrain and climatic conditions, OEM selection, price &contract negotiations have to take place, on completion of which there is a lead time to supply in various phases with increasing indigenous production content. Our experience is that the start of delivery can take 6-8 years and more so that while procurements are initiated to cover immediate operational voids these continue to exist .Also while this system designed to fill existing voids carries on, new voids emerge and are recognized.

As regards indigenization, it may be mentioned that by definition it is a process of converting raw materials into equipment and systems acceptable to the user such that we do not need to go to the OEM for deep repair/ upgradation of the system and then productionising them(Mark II and so on.) Joint Ventures /TOT agreements with a production agency essentially result in Licence Production and cannot meet the goals of indigenization. This is as the design technology is not transferred and is very difficult to transfer anyway because the process of technology development remains opaque and critical design is all held closely by the OEM or as a result of its country’s policies.

The Systems and production technologies released to the country will further be governed by the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA),the Export Control regimes in place and the OEM’s internal policies, so that critical sub systems and aggregates continue to be OEM supply. This is so for example in the SU 30, 4phase TOT case and enhanced FDI or otherwise will not substantially alter this situation

Finally, transfer of technology based on licensed production of systems even with joint ventures result in a built to prints capability which implies that a system in production elsewhere is productionised by an industry (public of private) in India through transfer of production drawings and software programs. The design and development aspects remain opaque. This is very different for prototype to production capability required of the industry when productionising indigenously developed systems where prototype drawings through some iterations as trials progress have to be converted to production standard drawings by the industry. There are some exceptions like Bharat Electronics but largely industry in India is tuned to license production. It can be said that excessive dependence on license production has degraded the industries capability to productionise indigenously developed systems.

It can, however, be established that considerable technology base has been established in the country including in the private sector as the IGMDP (Missiles Systems), LCA, MBT, ATV Lakshya, Naval Projects and others have matured and have been productionised\ are in the process of productionisation after trials and evaluation. It is this base that can now deliver results in many areas in a 5 to 10 year time frame and as a matter of policy concentrated upon. Many structural and process changes will be required and projects related to Mission Needs approved in a 5 to 10 year and more time frame depending on the Technology Readiness Levels in the country as is the practice all over the world. These are, however, worth making if we are to have a self-reliant and affordable armed force which underpins our foreign and internal policy objectives with confidence.

Published in Vivek: Issues & Options, September - October 2014
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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