During the recently held Air Force Commanders conference in New Delhi, Raksha Mantri AK Antony, while admitting that the armed forces had been depending on outside suppliers for their defence requirements, stated that it was now time to stop this practice. A country like India, he said, could not indefinitely continue to rely on such outside suppliers and the priority should now be on self-reliance and indigenisation.
How often in the past have we heard Raksha Mantris espouse the cause of self-reliance and indigenisation only to see that nothing substantial happens where it is most supposed to, that is in the labs, on the shop floors and perhaps Armed Forces HQ.
If you got the feeling that you were seeing a rerun of an old script, you would be right. How often in the past have we heard Raksha Mantris espouse the cause of self-reliance and indigenisation only to see that nothing substantial happens where it is most supposed to, that is in the labs, on the shop floors and perhaps Armed Forces HQ. The call for indigenisation and self-reliance remains mere rhetoric, repeated at conference after conference for some sound bytes in the evening news.
What does an average person make of all this? All he sees and senses is smoke without any fire. Are there indeed evil forces at work to see that we remain dependent on outside powers for our defence needs? Sell our souls to the devil so to speak. Are we ignoring the DRDO and its many arms, each holding a gleaming weapon system like some mythological figure, or is there more hype than substance to the DRDO claims?
This article does not even pretend to suggest that it will have answers for any of the woes that befall self-reliance issues in India. All it aspires to do is put into perspective some of the problems related to indigenisation and self-reliance in the field of design, development and production of new weapon systems for India’s defence.
Frequent Changes to Qualitative Requirements
DRDO has always complained that the armed forces frequently change the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) or the Air Staff Requirements (ASR) and this adversely affects specified timeframes. Without such changes, they maintain that they would largely be able to meet PDCs. I heard this when I was serving at Air HQ in the Directorate of Air Staff Requirements in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the same view is prevalent today in articles written by stalwarts of DRDO, both retired or serving. Nothing seems to have changed in the decades gone by. The Advanced Light Helicopter would be a good start point to see if revised ASRs are indeed the cause of delays in DRDO projects.
It has taken 26 years, and it will be many more years before the LCA enters squadron service in any viable numbers.
The IAF started inducting a large number of helicopters post the Indo-China border clash of 1962. The use of the helicopter by the USA in the Vietnam War, however, created a wider interest in this unique machine. ‘Wider interest’ means that not only was the IAF keen on exploiting the helicopter flying envelope as being witnessed in Vietnam, but Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) also expressed a desire to design and manufacture helicopters in India. This was a follow up to the CS Subramaniam Report on building up the aeronautical industry in India, including the manufacture of aircraft.
Accordingly, in the mid 1970s Air HQ issued an Air Staff Requirement for an Advanced Light Helicopter. Air HQ envisioned it as a single engine helicopter. However, with more detailed battlefield damage and crashworthiness analysis of the Vietnam War suggesting that twin-engine survivability was essential, Air HQ decided to incorporate twin engines in the helicopter. It should be remembered that in the 1970s the Indian Armed Forces had very little or no experience in the use of battlefield helicopters. US studies brought out statistics that twin engines and enhanced crashworthiness afforded greater survivability, which was an essential prerequisite for battlefield helicopters.
Consequently, a revision was made to the ASR to include twin engines and enhanced crashworthiness, and ASR 2/79 became the standard for manufacturing the ALH. Now you can call this a revision of an ASR but with more awareness and greater technology such a change was mandatory. While many in DRDO understood the rationale for the change, there were and always will be elements who attribute ‘pig-headedness’ to all such changes
The point to note however is that after the revision to the ASR to incorporate the twin engines there were no further revisions. Yet the production of the helicopter was delayed well beyond the stipulated PDC.
Not only has the ALH not entered service in large enough numbers, but also there has been no report on the light helicopter that was to be designed separately.
Take the case of the LCA, another aircraft project delayed considerably even though no changes were made to the ASR. There was a seminar at Air HQ in late 1981 or early 1982 on the requirement for a MiG 21 replacement. An Air Superior Fighter (ASF) was projected as the replacement. Everyone who was anybody in the aeronautical think tank from Bangalore attended the seminar. Air Force C in Cs and all relevant Directorates and Branches at Air HQ were attendees. The aim was to discuss the requirement for a type of aircraft that would be most suited as a MiG 21 replacement, to be available in a timeframe that would make it contemporary to anything flying in the world. From all the design and development claims that were discussed at the seminar that day, one came away convinced, somewhat naively it now seems, that India would very soon build an LCA that would be the envy of the world.
Today in 2007, we still do not have an LCA that is in production. It has taken 26 years, and it will be many more years before the LCA enters squadron service in any viable numbers. The aircraft that the IAF hopes to induct at the end of this decade or at the beginning of the next, and that will be in service for some decades, cannot any longer just be a replacement for the MiG 21; it needs to be a replacement for the SU 30! Had production of the LCA started in the 1990s as envisioned at the seminar then a MiG replacement would have been just fine. Today when we have big plans of transforming ourselves from a regional to a global power, then we must also have capability matching those plans. A capability of just crossing our borders to deliver a few tonnes of ordinance will not suffice.