Strategy for Defence Exports: Need for Alternative Measures
Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty

Issues Meriting Importance

India currently is the highest importer of weaponry in the World. While our adversaries China and Pakistan import weapons, both have scaled down their imports and enhanced their exports. Our adversaries are by and large authoritarian regimes where the military is given high importance. In our country, aspects pertaining to defence receive comparatively lesser financial support vis-à-vis our adversaries. Our aims of keeping defence expenditure down are laudable but difficult to implement against the aggressive adversaries. A realistic question that one asks, “How did other democratic nations like the United States (US) overcome these hurdles? The answer to this question is not easy. It probably lies in the US having a few extra-ordinary personalities, experts on strategy and procurement, at the working level who could directly access the powers that matter and get issues resolved at the earliest.

At the outset, there is a requirement for a National Security Strategy which leads to a Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) and onwards to the development and manufacture of weapons. For a weapon to be exported, our own Armed Forces must be using the same in a manner which gives confidence to personnel of other armies regarding the capability of the weapon. The two individuals who are responsible in a considerable way for the creation of US National Security Strategy and Development of defence weapons are Andrew Marshall and John Boyd. It is pertinent to be enlightened about the modus of these two individuals.

Andrew Marshall is a US foreign policy strategist who served as Director of the United Department of Defence’s Office of Net Assessment from 1973 to 2015. Marshall joined the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, which initiated him into the field of strategy. In the think-tank during the period 1950 to 1960, Marshall came across a line of strategic thinkers. This group included Charles Hitch, Herman Kahn, James Schlesinger and Daniel Ellsberg. It is notable, he worked with Herman Kahn on Monte Carlo methods, a process by which problems are solved using probability theory of statistics and applied mathematics. James Schlesinger would later become the Secretary of Defence and personally involved himself in the creation of the Office of Net Assessment.

Marshall joined the office and his initial task was to provide strategic evaluations on nuclear war issues. In the 1970s, Marshall worked closely with the Secretary of Air Force, James Roche. The draft for the Defence Planning Guide (DPG) was created in 1992. Marshall was contacted by Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz and Zalmay Khalid, all of whom would rise to important positions in the US administration of George W. Bush. Andrew Marshall has been noted for fostering talent in younger associates who then rose to influential positions like Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and many others. The Chinese have a deep respect for Andrew Marshall. General Chen Zhou, who is the author of four Chinese Defence White papers, has stated that “We studied Revolution in Military Affairs exhaustively. Our great hero was Andy Marshall in the Pentagon. We translated every word he wrote”. Andrew Marshall always thought out of the box.

Andy and the people on his staff raised the issue that predicted that after the Cold War ended, precision guided munitions, wide area surveillance platforms and computerised command and control networks were going to change how conventional wars would be fought in the future. He also contributed to the Air-Sea battle which enabled the US Air Force and the Navy to finally conclude that there was a need to synergise their forces to respond to China’s newly acquired strength. He started the debate first within the Pentagon and eventually it was discussed in all international forums. He was the pivot with regard to strategy in the US.

Out of the National Security Strategy, the force structure is carved, and from this flow the needed weapon and associated technologies. It would be pertinent to discuss the second officer, late Colonel John Boyd. He was a fighter pilot during the Korean War and later on a flying instructor and a consultant with the Pentagon. Boyd was a military strategist and was responsible for the theories of manoeuvre warfare, the famous OODA loop and the development of the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Falcon and the F-18 Hornet aircrafts which are versatile even today. Prior to the First Gulf War, Secretary of Defence, Dick Cheney called him back from his home in Florida where he had moved to due to ill-health, to the Pentagon and there he worked out the overall plan along with other strategists.

These two examples, prove the need for accelerators within the hierarchal system who could generate speed to aspects connected with national security strategy and development of weapons. In our case, the moot question to ask is: can we find means to speed up our process of becoming an exporter of defence weapons within a decade? The answer is positive provided we adopt innovative methods.

Innovative Methods

As reported in the press, the Government has formed a new panel under the chairmanship of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to create a new national security roadmap. The institutional set up will be called the Defence Planning Committee (DPC). It will be an institutional body that will envisage a draft national security strategy and will also formulate an international defence engagement strategy. It was reported that the three service chiefs and officials from defence ministry worked after the budget session to get this institutional body set up. Chairman Chiefs of the Staff Committee (COSC), all the three Service Chiefs, Defence Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Secretary of Expenditure in the Finance Ministry will be involved in this planning committee.

The DPC will mainly focus its work on four different aspects, i.e, Policy and Strategy, Plans and Capability Development, Defence Diplomacy, and Defence Manufacturing Ecosystem. There will be four corresponding sub-committees to look into these particular matters and all the reports will be submitted to the Defence Minister.

It was also reported that the DPC would define national defence and security policy by undertaking security risk assessment. The institutional set up will also lay out the national military strategy, defence reviews, and an overall national security plan. To ensure that these will meet their desired end, the DPC will have to work across ministries and will also have to obtain approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security. Another major area of work, developing a defence manufacturing ecosystem and boosting the exports of indigenously produced defence products, will also be undertaken by the DPC.

The DPC has a huge charter of duties and all personnel have their own commitments. Despite four sub-committees being set up it would be a tough task as issues entail complexities between the three services. It would also need assistance as the Defence Minister comes at the end of the loop instead of being totally involved in it. In any case, the DPC has been set and we are keen that the key aspects are tackled. The main authority is the Defence Minister and she has to be involved along with her Ministry. This can only happen if we have replicates of Andrew Marshall and John Boyd in her charge.

While the DPC does its task, an extremely complex task would fall to the Defence Export Task Force under the Raksha Mantri. This would be an important task force to propel India as an exporter of weapons in the next 10 years. This is a Task Force which would work directly under the Defence Minister and provide kinetic energy to the subject of exports. The Task Force would be composed of the following:-

  • Raksha Mantri,
  • Defence Secretary,
  • Secretary Defence Production.
  • Financial Adviser
  • One Colonel from the Indian Army.
  • One Captain from the Indian Navy.
  • One Group Captain from the Indian Air Force.
  • One Scientist F from DRDO.
  • Representative from the Private Industry, who would be the accelerators.
  • Director level officer from Defence Finance.

As one can observe from the composition the kinetic elements of the group would be the Colonel, Captain, Group Captain, Scientist F, Director Defence Finance and Representative from Defence Industry. Their minimum tenure should be five years. They would be the work-horses to ensure that the documentation as also the production take place at the fast track. Decisions must spring in real time and at electronic speed. The Raksha Mantri and the others, including the Cabinet Committee for Security (CCS) , must hold their hands.

India’s weapons buying is frequently crippled by multiple and diffused structures with no single point of accountability. Further, there are multiple decision heads, duplication of processes, delayed comments, delayed execution, no real-time monitoring, no project-based approach and a tendency to find fault rather than facilitate. This was an assessment carried out by NDTV. The 27 point internal report prepared late last year by the Ministry Of Defence candidly states that of 144 deals in the last three years only 8 to 10 per cent fructified. Further, from the stage of ‘Request for Proposal’ till the deal is closed by the Competent Financial Authority, delays are from 2.6 times to 15 times. It also suggested that the Technical Oversight Committee can be done away with. Implementation is missing in our entire process of formation of national strategy, development of weapons and force structure.

All this indicates that there is lack of synergy. Intelligent enthusiastic firebrands, who can navigate their path through unchartered terrain, are needed to solve the problems and help the Raksha Mantri to make India export defence equipment. It is in this context that the Task Force would be able to plug the loopholes and chase the lower and intermediate levels to speed up and complete the process.

The DPC, with its four sub-committees could submit drafts and reports but have no kinetic power or the authority to implement. The Raksha Mantri is the sole implementing authority who forms a part of the CCS. Unless she is involved as a working hand like her counterparts in the US, UK and China, we would continue to import weapons instead of exporting to other countries. The Export Task Force should be flexible and must have direct access to the Raksha Mantri. This would provide a kinetic alternative to the collegiate-consensual system which currently exists.

Journey of Defence Exports

At the outset, the Export Task Force would be in direct touch with the Army Design Bureau, the Naval Design Bureau, the Air Officer-in-Charge of Maintenance (AOM), elements of DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU) and the private sector, including the Micro Small and Medium Scale Industries (MSME). They would be able to rig up the right type of weaponry which would be acceptable to our services and thereafter, be available for export.

As on date, we are exporting limited items. These include Offshore Patrol Vessels, lightweight torpedoes, components of Bofors Guns, upgrade of T-72 tanks and components of aircrafts. We need to focus on a few technologies which would help us to enhance defence exports. These are: communications including quantum technology, nano-technology, artificial intelligence and robotics. These would be in addition to the existing weapon technologies which we are researching.-

  • Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher,
  • Brahmos Supersonic Cruise Missile,
  • Nag Anti Tank Guided Missile,
  • Akash Surface to Air Missile,
  • Dhanush, 155 mm Medium Gun,
  • Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System,
  • Indigenous Weapon Locating Radar,
  • C4I2SR Systems,
  • Advance Light Helicopter,
  • Offshore Patrol Vehicles,
  • Tejas Mark 2 Fighter aircraft,
  • Components and Spares of various systems.

The items mentioned above would be ideal items for export which can be suitably customised for exporter requirements. As was observed during the 10th Defence Expo held from 11-14 April 2018, India has attained significant manufacturing capabilities. Our ability to boost MSEMEs and start-ups with financial backing will pay rich dividends. The need of the hour is the implementation which the Task Force will ensure.


For India to become a defence exporter, kinetic task forces would be needed. For anything to happen in this field, all powers are vested with the Defence Minister. Implementation occurs when a participative team aims at achieving specific targets with timelines. Committees will continue to submit reports which can be optimised in the kinetic scheme. The Export Task Force must comprise intellectual firebrands of the Andy Marshall and John Boyd variety who will expedite the existing system, making it more dynamic and purposeful.

Exports must be the new mantra of the Ministry of Defence and a new policy known as Generate Export Policy must find its way. Implementation must be the keyword, and that would make our policies proactive with regards to our national security strategy, force structure, design, develop, manufacture and export weapons.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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