Liberate defence industry

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by JAYRAM, Mar 22, 2012.


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    Mar 8, 2011
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    North Frontier, The Mighty Himalaya's
    Manoj Joshi New Delhi, March 22, 2012 | UPDATED 10:27 IST

    There should be little surprise in the report by the NGO Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) that India has been the world's largest arms importer in the period 2007-2010. This should not be taken to imply that India is feverishly arming itself, or is involved in an arms race of any kind. It is merely the consequence of the dysfunctional defence research and development, production and acquisition processes in the country.

    As much as 70 per cent of the arms and equipment used by the Indian armed forces is imported. According to SIPRI, India was the world's largest arms importer, accounting for 10 per cent of global arms imports. The four next large recipients of arms in the 2007-2011 period were South Korea 6 per cent, Pakistan 5 per cent), China 5 and Singapore 4 per cent.

    In 1995, the then scientific adviser to the defence minister APJ Abdul Kalam was asked to suggest measures to enhance the indigenous content of our defence systems from the existing 30 to 70 per cent by 2005. Sadly, the figure of the indigenous content of the equipment used by our armed foces has not budged from the 1995 figure and remains stuck at 30 per cent. Clearly then, India needs imports to keep its armed forces in working order. But so stilted are its acquisition procedures that its armed forces never seem to complete their modernisation programmes.

    Last year, a presentation made by the Army to the Standing Committee of Parliament revealed that the Army's modernisation process would only be complete by 2027. The Indian Air Force says that it will be at its optimum level only by 2022, that, too, if it received all its imports on time. As for the Navy, it is seriously behind in its ship acquisition programme. Most alarming is the state of the submarine arm.


    We have been trying to develop an indigenous defence industry since the mid-1950s when we imported whole plants to make the Shaktiman and Nissan trucks. But we have gotten nowhere except in the case of naval construction where the experience of making the Leander class frigates and operating Russian Kashin- class ships yielded design knowledge that led to the development of the Delhi-class destroyers and the subsequent classes of frigates. As a result 80 per cent of India's ships are built indigenously. It is not as though there was no planning.

    The investment made in importing technology for the Advanced Light Helicopter project was done to ensure that the third generation of helicopters used by our forces would be Indian designed and made. Sadly, despite the making of the Dhruv, the country is still importing a large number of helicopters.

    The biggest disappointment has been the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) which designed a basic trainer HT-2. The HT-2 was developed by HAL in 1951-52 and followed up by the HPT-32 in the 1980s. After the latter was grounded because of safety concerns in the 2009, the HAL proved unable to provide a follow on to this most basic of aircraft and the country is now being compelled to import the Pilatus basic trainer from Switzerland.

    The fate of the intermediate jet trainer has been similar. In 1964, HAL flew the Kiran I, a jet trainer which served the air force well in its variants with production ending in 1989. But the HJT-36 which was to have succeeded the Kiran and which made its first flight in 2003, is yet to join the air force in significant numbers. As is well known, the IAF has imported British Hawk aircraft to impart advanced jet training to its pilots.


    The result of the serious shortages that plague our forces is that they are never ready for use, when they are needed. This is what happened in the wake of the Parliament House attack in 2001 and again in 2008 in the wake of the terrorist strike in Mumbai. The Army, in particular, reported shortages in a range of areas.

    In the meantime we have got into a vicious cycle in which indigenous design efforts never seem to succeed because of imports, and imports continue because indigenous design efforts never seem to work.

    The government is aware of this state of affairs and has rejigged policy in recent years, but it has not provided the required leadership that is needed to overcome the problem.


    Formally, India's vibrant private sector has entered into the defence manufacturing area. As of now, nearly 200 private companies, including big names like Tata, Larsen & Toubro, Rolta, ABG and Pipavav Shipyards, Wipro and Mahindra & Mahindra have had licenses issued to manufacture arms and armament.

    But this means little as they still confront many hurdles. This is because there is a vested interest in the Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) and ordnance factories continuing to retain their monopoly in the name of security. We have seen this in the case of ship-building where public sector yards are simply refusing to give ground to competent operators like L& T. A major reason for this is the powerful unions in the DPSUs and ordnance factories who have developed a vested interest in bilking the defence budget for their needs.

    This is where we need leadership in the Defence Ministry. After all, the country's security cannot be held hostage so that we can preserve the self-esteem of the DPSUs and their unions. The private sector must become the mainstay of defence production in the country, just as it is in other industrial sectors.

    Liberate defence industry : Manoj Joshi News - India Today

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