Indian’ Arsenal Three decades ago when the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) unveiled several blueprints for the attainment of self-sufficiency in military hardware it was stated that with the completion of the projects India’s dependence on foreign sources for weaponry for national defence would shift dramatically away from the 70 per cent foreign and 30 per cent indigenous content paradigm. Recently, while addressing the DRDO Research Council Defence Minister A.K.Antony asked the scientists to set a goal of achieving indigenisation of 70 per cent from the current level of 30 per cent in ten years in the manufacture of Defence products. This means that we have not moved even one per cent beyond in dependence on foreign sources for our military arsenal in the past thirty years. In the intervening decades some of the plans have fructified in half-baked fashion. The main battle tank (MBT) Arjun has been inducted into the Army in limited quantity and is in grave danger of being blackballed by the users for not fulfilling their requirements. The light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas is still some years away from joining squadron service with the Indian Air Force mainly because the indigenous Kaveri engine has failed to come up to standards on the test bed and so the LCA will have to continue to fly with a foreign engine. With two of its most cost-intensive projects being inordinately delayed the nation has had to buy both tanks and aircraft to fill the gaps in modernization and, at the very minimum, to retain the conventional edge on the battlefield. Basically, it is the slippage in the delivery schedule of the major weapons platforms like tanks, aircraft, and artillery that India has continued to be dependent on foreign sources of weaponry. If timeframes had been met, within about 15 years of the conceptualization of the weapon system India would have raised the level of self-sufficiency to about 50:50. DRDO scientists have been accused to being over-ambitious in their targets. Yet in missile technology, they have managed to overcome the hurdles placed in their path by such restrictive international arrangements as the Missile Technology Control Regime intended to prevent India from making strides in nuclear deterrence even as its neighbourhood was clandestinely acquiring proven nuclear warheads and the means of delivery. Reality check shows that India has failed to utilize to the fullest extent the licenced production deals it has entered into. In fact these agreements had resulted in half-baked competence in the many laboratories that were created within the DRDO to lay the foundations of a viable and vibrant indigenous military-industrial complex. India’s very first sojourn into aeronautics was when the British Gnat fighter jet was acquired under a licenced-production arrangement. It did appear at the time that India would take giant steps in military aviation when it launched the indigenous design and development of a follow-on aircraft to eventually replace the ground attack fighters in its fleet. An admittedly efficient airframe was not matched by an adequate engine because the Egyptians failed to develop an engine that was intended to be fitted to the Indian fuselage. The resultant HF-24 Marut was underpowered and could not be utilized to full potential. A good aircraft can only be produced around an engine of proven capabilities. But this lesson we had learnt the hard way for the second time while developing light combat helicopter, the Dhruv. When we negotiated a licence production arrangement with the French for Allouette helicopters, we did not lay enough emphasis on acquiring the know-how for helicopter engines. So India had to buy a foreign engine for the Dhruv. It is this factor of a large percentage of foreign involvement that has hitherto kept India in dependency mode for its weaponry. When Dhruv and Arjun projects were unveiled by the DRDO, the emphasis was on building the weapon platform around a foreign engine even as an indigenous engine development project was undertaken for both the aircraft and the tank; it was promised that in the series production the indigenous engine would be installed. That has not happened. The indigenous tank engine has been abandoned and the Kaveri engine for the LCA is in the doldrums. This factor and corruption in defence deals have induced the UPA government to introduce a new procurement policy with two planks- buy and make – buy the whole weapons platforms to fulfil urgent needs of the armed forces, and get the technology arrangement similar to the licenced production of good old days. Its seeks to offset up to 30 per cent to seed indigenous capabilities on which future systems could be created; and put in place indigenous design and development capabilities. The runaway success of the BrahMos supersonic missile system – a India- Russia joint venture- has prompted the defence mandarins to adopt “joint development” route for all future weapons projects with any nation that is a leader in a particular weapon system. Of course “joint development” implies that there would be equal contribution in expertise by all those who are involved in the project. In one sense this will give full play to all the competence that the Indian military-industrial complex has accumulated over the years of licenced production. On the other hand the other partner would fill in the gaps in know-how on the Indian side. This would make for the maintenance of time schedules and thus prevent cost overruns as BrahMos has proved. While this will ensure that India will get state-of-the-art weaponry its armed forces need it must lead automatically to indigenous design and development of the next generation of that particular weapons platform. It should be a process of natural progression so that acquired expertise is not lost. This is what had happened in the “licenced production” days. Examples are galore. In the HDW submarine case, the trained manpower was lost because there were no follow-on orders; 155mm howitzer product improvement suffered because the contract was cancelled in the wake of the Bofors scandal and there was no attempt to protect national interest by reverse-engineering the system to produce the next variant of the howitzer which we are now trying to buy from abroad again; the upgradation of the 105mm Indian Field Gun suffered because the Gun Development Team at Jabalpur was disbanded. In the final analysis it is necessary to put on record that whatever the DRDO has achieved in the past three decades has come in the teeth of embargos and sanctions to prevent India from catching up with the rest of the developed world. That the attempt has failed is proved by the signing of the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement–something that would not have happened if Indian scientists had not attained the high level of competence that made it impossible for anyone to ignore them in a highly competitive milieu. India has reached a point where it can replicate in its military-industrial complex what others have done in space and nuclear energy.