The present “Fire and Forget” style of weapons development has not worked and will not work in a hundred years. The development of weapons independence will need the active and sustained collaboration of the four constituents of the POBAT and that too in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. This, the cabinet must lead and ensure. Left to the politicians alone, they will ignore it till too late. Left solely to the bureaucracy, the threat will be downplayed in the name of looking for seeking diplomatic solutions. Quite understandably, the Armed Forces, acting alone, will over prepare for a worst possible scenario. The solution would be unaffordable and unsustainable. Left to the technocrats, we will have we shall a technical chaos – an enjoyable technical picnic but too often very little by way of timely hardware in service.
Successful weapons development programmes require the united efforts of the Political, Bureaucratic, Armed Forces and the Technological (POBAT) establishments. Individually, none of them has the capability to develop a suitable weapon, but together, as always, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The sustained poor performance of the Indian weapons development programmes is a result of a situation where the first three have abdicated their responsibilities to the Technical Establishment. Contrary to popular belief, Technology, Facilities and Funding are not the main constraints to developing a viable weapons Industry. Thinking in terms of a Matrix, as used in mathematics to solve complex multi-variation problems, India is repeatedly failing because it is focusing on the Technical Sub-Matrix whilst ignoring the other critical Sub-Matrices. The pursuance of the above model for the past seventy years has resulted in India, perhaps the fourth largest economy in the world, being the leading importer of weaponry. This can be changed by the Total Matrix approach.
Successful weapons development programmes require the united efforts of the Political, Bureaucratic, Armed Forces and the Technological (POBAT) establishments…
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is not the most well funded of Space Organisations. The performance of ISRO has been entirely satisfactory on counts such as utility and contribution to the nation building process, professionalism and credibility. It has evolved its own philosophy and path without aping others and is arguably the most cost effective of all such organisations with particular skills in long range telemetry and control e.g. the Mangalyan project. ISRO has earned the grudging admiration of its peers which is rare praise indeed. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of its sister organisations engaged in weapons development.
To the Indian citizen, this great difference in results is baffling. On one hand, we have brilliant results on a modest budget in an area that is literally “rocket science” and on the other hand, we have “performance” so pathetic, it has the dimensions of a swindle. We have projects that have lingered for years despite considerable funding. There have been suggestions of involving the private sector and that delightful (to the recipients!) panacea of increased funding. This is putting the cart before the horse. Funding and private sector are necessary, but not sufficient. Unless systemic changes are made, involvement of the private sector may lead to wastage of trust. This contrasting performance in space research and weapons development can only be explained by viewing the problem as a Matrix.
The Matrix Approach
In mathematics, a Matrix is a series of factors arranged in rows and columns. These factors are “weighted” according to the influence it has on all the other factors and are used to solve complex multi-factor situations. The point of the Matrix is all the factors have to be solved to arrive at the correct solutions. The emphasis is to identify and adjust for all the factors irrespective of the “visibility” or importance of the problem.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is not the most well funded of Space Organisations…
The HF 24 project is a good example of what happens when some “small” factor in the Matrix is ignored. The government of the day wishing to develop a supersonic warplane, paid due attention to all the major problems of developing a supersonic warplane in India of the fifties. Foreign design leaders were recruited, factories and facilities were built up, funding to the tune of several tens of crore was sanctioned but there was a fatal “oversight”. Prof Kurt Waldemar Tank, the chief designer had chosen the Bristol B.Or.12 engine for the HF 24. It was a well-considered decision which even with the benefit of hindsight can be faulted. The chosen engine had good prospects of being selected by NATO for its light fighter programme. The Bristol B.Or.3 Orpheus was already under production at Bangalore. The Bristol Siddeley Company had completed the bench tests and had flown the up rated B.Or.12 engine for 150 hours on a Sabre test-bed and had asked for a further one crore per year to complete the certification. This was refused by someone! The immediate result was that the HF24 was doomed to having only 55 per cent of its design installed thrust – and that too in a tropical country where thrust and lift are both significantly eroded by the temperature.
The HF 24 was an aircraft of which a respected UK journal wrote that if the HF 24 can meet its technical objectives, it could find an enormous market amongst the world’s smaller air forces for fulfilling the demand for a low-cost ground attack aircraft with a supersonic dash performance. The cost of the loss of this opportunity cannot be computed. The further move to remove the residual core German team of about six designers in 1969 just as the HF 24 squadrons were being built up, resulted in the expected Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) related problems not being tackled and the aircraft had limitations of gun induced vibration of the cockpit and control locking problems.
The decision to not sanction the two crore rupees resulted in severely curtailing the potential of the investment of several crores. The reason for the decision which sabotaged the entire project could be many – political disinterest after 1962, ignorance by the concerned Ministry, “covert” marketing by the existing weapons supplier or sheer corruption. But it illustrates the need for sustained “weeding” of apparently trivial issues even after major decisions have been made.
The story of the TSR 2 programme of UK in the 1960s is relevant because it shows the typical “soft” problems that beset the development of an advanced weapons system…
The TSR 2 Story
The story of the TSR 2 programme of UK in the 1960s is relevant because it shows the typical “soft” problems that beset the development of an advanced weapons system. There are excellent references about the often painful details, but the summary is as follows. In the late fifties, the UK wished to have a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) system – a nuclear deterrent independent of the USA. In hindsight, such a need was preposterous and an overreaction to a non-existent Russian threat. Due to the anticipated delays in the SLBM programme it was desired to have an aircraft-based nuclear delivery system – the Tactical Strike Reconnaissance 2 system.
The RAF which wanted to have the aircraft set about getting the specifications as different as possible from the RN’s Blackburn Buccaneer subsonic carrier-borne strike aircraft. Table 1 shows the successive increase of requirements. These were all “justifiable”- more is always “better”- but added exponentially to the cost. The last straw was that the bomber was required to takeoff from a grass “Dakota” aircraft airstrip because it was felt that the existing runways would be bombed. To design a “soft field” undercarriage with balloon type tyres requires more airframe volume as opposed to thinner higher pressure tyres that are sufficient for concrete runways thereby increasing both weight and cost! It is not entirely surprising or a coincidence that undercarriage resonance was one of the major problems encountered during development. More capability can be justified, but it may break the camel’s back often technically, but certainly always in terms of cost and time!
There was competition between the Navy and the RAF. The Navy wanted funds for its super-carriers and saw the TSR2 as a competitor for funds. Lord Louis Mountbatten, the First Sea Lord, played a role in this which was subsequently described as “beyond the limits of propriety”. He discouraged the Australians, who were initially interested in the aircraft to counter a perceived threat from the Indonesians about the prospects of the TSR2 thus helping to kill its export potential which could have brought down its unit costs.
The Americans played a role by offering the UK, the TFX which at that time was not even ready. They then offered the Phantom both for the RAF and the RN. Here the British made the mistake of insisting on a British engine, the RR Spey and much British avionics. The subsequent redesign of the airframe was a heaven-sent opportunity for the Americans to jack up the quoted prices by about 30 per cent. This will have relevance in the way we negotiate our “Make in India” programmes.
The HF 24 project is a good example of what happens when some “small” factor in the Matrix is ignored…
The UK Government, reorganising the British Aviation Industry under pressure from the Americans, formed the BAC consisting of the former Vickers Weybridge works because it had experience in large airframes (civil Viscount airliners it may be noted!) and the English Electric Warton works which had actually designed the aircraft and had been building the Lightning Mach 2 interceptor but gave the programme leadership to Weybridge! The time and energy lost in overcoming initial cultural frictions and rivalries wasted time and money.
The final and perhaps the most disgraceful act of the episode was that when the programme was eventually cancelled expectedly on grounds of cost, the outgoing Labour Government ordered that not only would all the 20 prototypes be destroyed or rendered unflyable, but also the tooling and jigs were to be destroyed so that the project could not be restarted when the Tories came back to power! We in India condemn ourselves that we are unique in our chicanery!
The purpose of citing the above is to show that not only India but every country faces ‘sub-surface’ problems in the process of weapons development. The successful ones manage to solve them by painstaking diligence as a National Policy. Any of the components alone cannot do it and the old adage “The whole is greater than the sum of its part” is doubly true!
It is necessary to illustrate what can be achieved by painstaking common sense from the example of France under De Gaulle who faced the identical problem of an independent nuclear strike force. France decided that the possession of the bomb was sufficient deterrence. A ‘viable’ deterrence was adequate and affordable; an “unstoppable” deterrence, whilst ideal, was not. Accordingly, they chose a much simpler profile of low altitude, but not the terrain following tree-top level of the TSR2 penetration and the aircraft was to operate from standard Armee d’l Air bomber bases. This simplified technical problems and costs. Accordingly they, up-scaled the proven Mirage 3 by 50 per cent into a twin-engine version using the same engines and many of the systems already proven. Led by Marcel Bloch Dassault with a team of fifty engineers and focusing on having the aircraft aerodynamics right, the Mirage IV-01 prototype was flying within two years of signing of the contract (please note well!).
The Armed Forces, long accustomed of getting a fraction of what the demand, have made a habit of exaggerating threats and the consequent demands for funding…
Though the aircraft was in every way technically inferior to the TSR 2, it fulfilled an identified need to adhere to a tight timescale and budget. Such was the soundness of the decision and perhaps indicating how threats are routinely over assessed. The aircraft was supposed to be in service for only ten years, the so called “inferior” solution, actually remained in service for close to forty years.
To Indian readers, there would be an uncanny similarity between the TSR 2 and what is happening in India. This is nothing to be surprised at rather it is that we should recognise that such problems are inherent in a democracy and having acknowledged the existence of the problem and acknowledging some additional problems as an ex-colonial country diligent efforts must be made to solve them. These problems are what constitute a Sub-Matrix of the Indian Matrix.
The Indian Matrix
Any weapons development programme will have a set of universal problems. These are challenges of developing new technology, inter-services and intra-services rivalry and unrealistic assessment of threat. There is usually a hidden Sub-Matrix of interactions on which any weapons development programmes run. These in India‘s case are as under:
- An overly powerful bureaucracy whose threat perception is – the Indian armed forces, Pakistan and then China, unfortunately, in that order of priority.
- A political establishment, particularly post 1969 and the beginning of coalition politics, where political survival and retention of power took priority over national interests.
- Higher than usual levels of corruption which leveraged the ever-present pressures from existing arms suppliers. These resulted in efforts being vectored in different directions so the net vector was much smaller and weaker than sum of the efforts and resources put in.
Encouragingly, however, here have been very successful programmes run in the areas of missiles, sonars and radars, AWACS and helicopters. This would indicate that the malignant Matrix is not overwhelming in strength. The pro and counter development strengths are in near equilibrium and corrections in even one of the above three could make significant changes in the situation. Corrections in all, and we could surprise the world!