A lengthy one , but a must read ... AeroIndia 2009: Future challenges intense, opportunities immense, says Dr. M Natarajan news 11 February 2009 Collaborations with foreign entities was there earlier as well, but essentially it was restricted to productionisation. Now we are talking from a position of some strength, particularly in design and system engineering, says Dr. M Natarajan, scientific advisor to the defence minister, and DRDO chief. 1. The defence sector is poised to enter into unprecedented cooperation with nations and corporations. How do you view the advent of such an era? What are the likely gains of such cooperation, and the pitfalls that we ought to guard against? I am greatly excited about the possibility, opportunities of increased collaborations. Of course collaborations were there earlier too but essentially it was restricted to productionisation. Now we are talking from a position of some strength, I would say, in design and system engineering - so obviously this collaboration starts right with the possibility at the development stage itself. Dr. M Natarajan, scientific advisor to the defence minister, and DRDO chiefThe opportunities are indeed good because in a highly inter-dependant world it would be too difficult to simultaneously develop all the constituent technologies. For example, it could relate to propulsion- though you may be good in designing aero structures, aero-dynamics. You may have developed some capability in system integration, yet you may not be ready with the levels of expertise needed in propulsion technology in spite of having some manufacturing capabilities in license produced engines. So, it's not in fact a handicap, if we team up with a partner country, or industry, to hasten your programme for development. For, then it is achievable in a shorter time span and also the overall maturity of the product is achieved to higher levels of satisfaction of performance. The pitfalls, and this is equally true with certain types of sensors, as I mentioned this could be true of a sensor or a radar, or parts of a radar, because we can do signal processing very well in this country. We can do integration well, we can build an antenna, maybe the signal and data processor of electronic carriers or whatever it is could be sourced from other countries. So it gives you many opportunities to assess your own technology levels and integrate either at a modular level, or as a total module. Now that depends on how much you are willing to compromise, and how much your collaborator is willing to part with. But, I think, as they see your competence and expertise to do such tasks, the willingness to cooperate increases because they see greater business opportunities, which is the reality of business. Cushioning against the pitfalls is necessary since we must realise in today's globalised world, there are two distinct types of restrictions. One is governmental - for whatever reasons, it could be you are not signatory to the NPT, or the MTCR, that is not in the hands of engineers that is the country's policy. The second is also business compulsions - that certain levels of technology may not be parted with, till they see that if they don't part with it you could go to an alternate source. The third is that if you continue to source certain parts, or modules, as part of technology package from another country it is absolutely essential that there has to be a guarantee of supplies for a certain period. Also, for a variety of reasons, such as new NSG regulations etc many countries want to sign end-user agreements with certain compliance requirements. It is necessary to check that those compliance requirements do not infringe with our rights to use the products we design, be it aircraft, or electronic warfare systems, in a manner most appropriate for our armed forces. Not withstanding this, collaborative means, in my view, should be increasingly adopted, because that is the only way to do future business. 2. In an era of global recession, mounting development costs and decreasing orders at home for foreign companies, how should India approach the issue of cooperation with global entities in the defence sector? As far as defence is concerned there are certain bottom line requirements, notwithstanding economic problems, which are based on a nation's security concerns - so the same logic does not apply, as in the commercial sector. But even that bottom line, as far as a country like India is concerned, is quite reasonable. Therefore, our partners abroad should find India an attractive partner. The reason why we want to develop and collaborate is to keep the costs of the total supply chain at manageable levels, and also to maximise indigenous materials of construction and capability because these kind of products will require life cycle support over almost 25-30 years. It is not necessary that all these companies will remain in the same form for such long periods. So, we should have the ability - should something happen earlier than that - that companies get re-structured, or business plans get changed earlier than that, we have a back up plan and we are not put to any major hardships. So, these are some of the pitfalls as I mentioned, but not withstanding that, economic considerations in defence will be secondary - though important - to the meeting the principal objective of armed forces requirements. Obviously, we look for a win-win situation for both parties, where as you develop, the foreign partners also appreciate your capability to absorb higher technology levels. They had doubts about this earlier on whether we could actually absorb high technology and integrate it into a meaningful product. However, with the success we have had with LCA, electronic warfare - particularly our ability to integrate avionics eg: Sukhoi, recently, the MIG 27, which we have upgraded with our modules and the air force is extremely happy. All these are a clear pointer to a mastery of our capability and this should augur well for collaborative efforts. So any collaboration, I perceive, is a clear opportunity for a win-win situation, with economical prices and on-time deliveries for our armed forces.