Originally Published 2011-06-15 00:00:00 Published on Jun 15, 2011
At a time when India flaunts its 'arms card' to woo global arms suppliers, its attitude towards strengthening its R&D base has been pathetic. Indian spending on R&D (less than $2 bn) is one-fiftieth of that of the US ($96 bn) and one-fifteenth that of China ($32 bn).
Military Indianisation: Are we heading the right way?
Prior to India's Independence, the PM-in-waiting Pandit Nehru had asked a distinguished British scientist and later a Nobel laureate Sir Patrick Blackett as to how long will it take to 'Indianise the military', referring primarily to minimising India's dependence on foreign equipment and secondarily to Indianise the military manpower structure (overwhelmingly dominated by the British nationals in the officer corps during the time). Sir Blackett answered that it could take 18 months in the short term and many decades in the long term for self-reliance in Indian defence! A similar question was asked in 1925 (where Motilal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah were members) to Sir Andrew Skeen who submitted a report to the then government (on the creation of a Military College in India), known as the Skeen Committee Report.

Decades of contemplation and action on the Indianisation process of the military have produced what at best can be termed 'mixed results'. In between, India attained independence and of late flourishing in economic terms, Blackett enforced his ideas of production of previous generation weapons and non-investment in applied research or modern technologies, institutions were created and encouraged to work in silos, defence industries became 'exclusive' state controlled entities and defence scientific institutions led by brilliant scientists unfortunately became rigidly vertical institutions while the private industry has still been kept at a safe distance. In between also came some crazy ideas like 'conversion' led by Nehru confidant Menon who wanted to produce coffee percolators in ordnance factories!

Some attempts have been made to inject much needed reforms in India's higher defence management sector in recent times. Institutions like Defence Acquisition Council, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, Joint Tri-Service Command and Strategic Forces Command have come up in the past few years while attempts at synergising the civil and military structures through Integrated Headquarters have also been undertaken. A decade of reforms, however, has brought very little desirable results as the Indian defence sector is still grappling with issues like joint-ness in the armed forces as well as intra-departmental coordination, rationalised budgeting, integrated planning, manpower and many other related areas.

Self-reliance in weapon manufacturing and defence technology development are the two critical areas where the Indianisation process has visibly failed. India's arsenal is still largely filled with foreign equipment while its industrial and military technology bases have largely been found deficient. India has been able to create a huge defence scientific industrial base with 50 DRDO laboratories, 8 larger defence public sector units (DPSUs), 40 ordnance factories with more that 700 scientific and industrial collaborations with universities, specialised research institutions and private industries. Both DRDO and DPSUs are now corporatising their entities, thanks primarily to new initiatives taken by the government, while DRDO is reportedly undertaking reform initiatives as per the recommendations made by the P Rama Rao Committee. Among the notable achievements by DRDO and production agencies are indigenised technologies like ballistic sciences, aerospace engineering, avionics, heavy engineering, propulsion engineering, marine engineering and life sciences, among others. Still, India's arms import dependency is alarmingly high and its scientific prowess in defence much below global standards.

Six points are flagged here to explain the existing status of Indian defence science technology and industrial base. First, the idea of Indianisation of the military has not been translated into concrete action plans flowing from a stated policy. Hence the need for formulating a national policy on defence scientific and industrial base. Second, defence science & technology and industry suffer from the problem of integration as they have been operating as independent entities. While DRDO is the technology innovator, its interaction with government production agencies (DPSUs) is at best symbolic while with the private industry is non-existent. Third, private industry is supposed to be a locomotive of self-reliance in defence, yet it is structurally situated outside the relevant department. The secretary of the Department of Defence Production does not have a dedicated wing under his command to examine issues related to private industries. Fourth, a trust deficit and sceptical mindsets typify the attitude of the government towards the private sector's abilities to produce state-of-the-art military equipment. The number of 'make' projects (defence projects undertaken by the Indian private sector) constitute less than 5% of the total procurement projects awarded by the MoD to the private sector in the last three years! Fifth, both DRDO and production agencies suffer from a 'concocted' model of project management-not been able to prioritise 'strategic' from the rest. Almost a third of DRDO laboratories are engaged in 'non-strategic' scientific projects while HAL, instead of graduating itself to be a true systems integrator, is still engaged in bulky licence production projects. Last, but not the least, Indian spending on R&D (less than $2 bn) is one-fiftieth of that of the US ($96 bn) and one-fifteenth that of China ($32 bn). At a time when India flaunts its 'arms card' (enhanced financial muscle for acquiring weapons) to woo global arms suppliers, its attitude towards strengthening the indigenous R&D base has been pathetic.

Realism emphasises the centrality of state in global affairs and history gives enough evidence of possession of formidable 'hard power' by a few states in global politics. India's Indianisation process of its hard power does not provide sufficient proof of an ascending power. It's time that the state initiates a fresh multi-disciplinary debate on the 'Indianisation of the military project' in order to locate its position in global affairs.

(The author is a Senior Fellow in security studies at  Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Financial Express
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