It was only last month that Modi Government, three years after it had announced its policy of not purchasing arms from outside but produce them in India only, for its armed forces, under its ambitious and far sighted programme Make in India in Defence, had finalised and made public its Strategic Partnership Policy (SP) in Defence Production envisaging joint ventures between global armament majors and Indian private sector companies under make in India framework.
Within one month of its coming in public domain, the dog fight among global armament majors have already started for Indian market capture. This is good omen for India. It needs to be understood that when the Make in India in Defence concept was announced three years back, the foreign firms, the weapon producing majors were not enthused substantially and the Indian private sector to which this project was opened was complaining that they are not getting the level playing field.
India a country which is rubbing its shoulders with the best in the world in terms of Outer Space and satellite technology, Which constructs its own nuclear reactors, is a super power in information technology but imports 70% of the weapons which it needs for its second largest Army, fourth largest Air Force and Fifth Largest Navy in the world even after 70 years of independence, it is really a shame. In the decade gone by India has inked 60 Billon dollar arms deal and is poised to buy another 100 Billion Dollars worth of arms soon.
Compare this with China which got actual independence two years later than us and is third largest arms exporter in the world today. Even Pakistan with no industrial base like India has procured export orders for its top of the line fighter aircraft JF-17 Thunder which it is producing with the Chinese help.
What is even more shameful is that all this is happening to us despite the fact that we have a Research and development organisation in Defence (DRDO) worth more than 25000 corers, 41 large ordinance factories, eight huge defence PSUs, Six shipyards and 49 states of art laboratories. So what is wrong?
Modi Government is very right in its thought that these billions of dollars of arms purchase made from abroad, apart from a heavy drain on the Indian exchequer, also makes the country dependent on the arms supplier country for the spares supply of which that country can choke us in the event of war. To that extent to demand that all weapons must be made in India is justified. How badly the requirements of armed forces were neglected by the Neta-Babu combine of this country in last 70 years can be gauged by the fact that Indian Air Force (IAF) requirement of 126 Rafael fighter aircrafts to replace its aging MIG-21 fleet better known in Air force Circles as flying coffins due to its extremely high crash rates was put up in 2002.
However the Neta-Babu combine straddling MOD did nothing on it. Today due to the retirement of MIG fighter squadrons and no replacements the strength of IAF is down to 34 squadron’s just two more from Pakistan’s 32 squadrons that also when China and Pakistan have joined hands against India and the authorised strength of IAF is 45 squadrons. This is nothing short of panic buttons but who is accountable for this situation?
To get over this emergency due to utter inefficiency of these MOD Babus, Modi Government has contracted a deal of 36 Rafael fighter aircrafts to be purchased direct from France at the cost of 59000 corers. For the rest of 90 fighter aircrafts MOD was pressurising the IAF to go for the LCA Tejas Mk 1 A, a junk aircraft being produced in India by DRDO since last 25 years and still not declared fully fit for operations. Retired Air Marshal M. Matheswaran, a former deputy chief of the Integrated Defence Staff, said the LCA TEJAS IS obsolete. It is a very short-range aircraft which has no relevance in today’s war fighting scenarios. If you are trying to justify this as a replacement for follow-on Rafael’s, you are comparing apples with oranges.”He said the plane was at best a technology demonstrator on which Indian engineers could build the next series of aircraft, not something the IAF could win a war with.
The main reason Make in India did not prosper in defence production field despite us having a huge production base in India in terms of DRDO, Defence PSUs, ordinance factories, naval shipyards and state of art defence laboratories is the Indian bureaucracy who ensured that armed forces should have no say in this indigenous production. All of them have been functioning with no accountability. When Indian politicians made right noises that why we cannot make our own weapons and why we have not opened defence production sector to private firms these MOD agreed on 26 % private sector participation in 2001.
Even a primary school student will tell us that defence production means cutting edge technology and no country in the world or arms producing major will ever part with this technology without having control on management, that is more that 51% share.
Our political masters were fed with the fear that if foreign participation is increased then there will be loss of security, well knowing that when we are buying 70% of arms from outside as it is we have lost this security. Now for Make in India in defence, Modi government has in Aug 2014 raised this ceiling to 49% but even then it is too less. It has to be 51% if we want to succeed and enthuse major arms producing firms coming to India to make it as their production base.
Another major reason for Make in India not succeeding in India is the poor quality control and inefficiency in functioning of our defence PSUs and naval shipyards. The Rafael fighter deal was stuck for so long because the IAF was demanding quality guarantee from the HAL which were to produce these planes under license from Dassult France Company. Dassult France Company knowing the way of functioning of HAL and its lack of quality control was not prepared to give this guarantee.
The current state of functioning of HAL is such that 50% of the latest Sukhoi-30 MKI that HAL has produced under licence from Soviet Russia, eight of them have already crashed. At any time out of 201 such planes with IAF only 50 % are functional due to various snags. Similarly the Jaguar deep penetration fighters produced by the HAL under licence from Britain keep on crashing at regular intervals, again thanks to the lack lustre work culture in HAL.
Same goes for the functioning of DRDO and ordinance factories. It is a shame that India is now planning to buy the very basic arm for its army, the Rifles from outside since the INSAS Rifles produced by the Ordinance factories are obsolete and prone to stoppages at the crucial times. Since 1986 no artillery guns have been produced in India. After arrival of Modi Government and the strictness they have exercised suddenly Ord factories have produced a state of art medium artillery gun Dhanush which is world class.
The Arjun Tank has a long chequered history and has become so heavy that we are forced to buy T-90 tanks from Russia. Since Ordinance factory Avadi can only produce 12, T-90 Tanks a year we are forced to buy them from Russia. Only working of shipyards are comparatively better because Naval officers were involved in project direction and management of these shipyards right from beginning. That is why they are able to produce state of art frigates and destroyers like INS Kolkata and INS Kocchi. So what is the answer for make in India in defence to become a success?
The answer is the Indian Strategic Partnership Policy (SP) announced a month back by the Modi Government. This envisages joint ventures with Global Majors on armaments with Indian private sector companies. On Monday World’s largest armament producing company Lockheed Martin has signed a pact with Tata Advanced Systems of India to produce its famous F-16 single engine fighters in India. In India its latest fighter F-16 Block 70 D will be made. Lockheed will shift its entire factory from US to India if it gets the expected orders of 100 to 200 F-16s.India will also be able to export this fighter to other countries.
The famous Swedish Arms producing company SAAB is also in fray. It has offered to produce its latest single engine fighter Gripen-E in India if it gets the orders. However SAAB so far has not announced its tie up with Indian Private Firm. It needs to be remembered that when India had floated its MMRCA project in which India finally selected Rafael twin engine fighters from France, both F-16 and Gripen-E were also in fray. At that time Americans had expressed their doubts as to whether HAL will be able to absorb the F-16 technology and produce the fighter in India.
If these deals are not enough now Reliance Defence LTD Company of India has announced that it has tied up with France major armament firm Thales for producing of various armaments in India. This pact with Thales was signed on Wednesday 21 Jun. 51% of shares will be held by the Reliance.
These happenings are just starters. After the Modi Government has cleared the decks by coming out with a firm and logical Strategic Partnership Policy. More tie ups to produce weapons in India will follow. Towards this end India should bank on its three main arms supplier countries which are America, Russia and Israel. India with its huge market, English speaking large skilled manpower and large private companies will soon emerge as a major arms producing country. From its current status of world’s largest arms importer India if it continues this way will become a major arms exporter in the world. India then can indulge in arms diplomacy in the world arena which pays maximum dividends.
Mr Jim macnerny the CEO and chairman of the world’s largest arms producing company Boeing says that India has the technology base in materials, metals, electronics and soft ware the main requirement is to integrate them, which will make India’s make in India in defence project a roaring success. However we should be rest assured that this integration is not possible if we allow our defence production units to function under the present dispenson of SAB CHALTA HAI mindset.