In short, it is a method that accepts the possibility that the eventual weapon may be quite different from what the staff requirement envisaged but will still accomplish the capability that was sought.
At the intellectual level, this reform requires a mindset different from the traditional one:
- Traditionally, defence staff officers are trained to assess future threats and formulate staff requirements for weapons that would be able to cope with those threats. Staff requirements do not make allowance for the limitations of indigenous capability or changes in technology.
- The mindset underlying the reform is that given the rapid pace of change in military technology, “the Defence Staff’s primary responsibility must be to get mature technology to those in the front line as rapidly as possible” rather than insist on 100% fulfillment of staff requirements. It is precisely for this reason that the greatest advances in military technology occur during war. To achieve any desired capability rapidly, it is necessary to accord flexibility to the development organisation.
Institutional Resistance to Change and Caveats
The idea that the eventual weapon may not reflect the original requirement would not find easy acceptance in those having a traditional mindset. Several gut issues are involved like:
- It is the services who have the responsibility and the accountability for present and future defence.
- The services know best what they need.
- A Development Organisation cannot be (nor perhaps would it wish to be) responsible and accountable for ‘effectiveness’ since much would depend on how well the ‘user’ exploits it. Nevertheless, DRDO has repeatedly urged adoption of the Mark 1, Mark 2, Mark 3 concept for DRDO products but it has yet to gain widespread acceptance.
The main caveats would be that the reform is being attempted in America where:
Whenever the DRDO and Defence Production are unable to deliver on time and the Services cannot wait, the Services import their requirements from abroad.
- There are well funded Government agencies and large private sector defence corporations, whose experienced scientists are engaged in wide-ranging research on future weapons.
- It is customary for the Government to fund two contenders for developing major platforms like ships, tanks and aircraft. Final selection is made after an operational competition. The loser does not suffer financial loss.
The situation in India is different:
- Whilst India’s DRDO is the government counterpart of the US’ DARPA, India’s Defence Research Laboratories cannot be considered as the counterparts of the huge American private sector corporations whose survival and profitability depends on their systems finding acceptance in the services.
- Whenever the DRDO and Defence Production are unable to deliver on time and the Services cannot wait, the Services import their requirements from abroad.
Despite such caveats, there is evidence that Indian innovation can achieve remarkable things when there is synergy. One outstanding example is the Navy’s APSOH Sonar.
The APSOH Project
The Advanced Panoramic Sonar Hull-mounted (APSOH) achieved, as early as the 1980s, exactly what the Pentagon reform sought to achieve in 2002. The time taken to develop APSOH from concept to Sea Acceptance Trials was six and a half years.
The genesis of the project lay in the sinking of the frigate Khukri during the December 1971 Indo-Pakistan War and the inability of the subsequent Hunter-Killer operation to destroy the Pakistan Navy submarine. The urgency of finding a remedy led the Navy to wholeheartedly support what is now termed Evolutionary Acquisition and Spiral Development.
Between 1976 and 1983, a team of talented young naval officers worked hand in hand with scientists at the Naval Physical and Oceanography Laboratory, with professors at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and with experienced naval officers at the production agency Bharat Electronics. They designed, developed, produced and installed the Navy’s first indigenous hull-mounted sonar which, in the complex hydrological conditions typical of Indian waters, performed better than any other sonar in the world.7
Indeed, one of the important recommendations of the Group of Ministers constituted after the 1999 Kargil War was that the Army, Navy and Air Force should establish linkages with DRDO and the production units.