Self sabotaging our defense industry

Consider this: Indian research and scientific agencies have created rockets to put satellites into space with a failure rate close to zero, even sent probes to the moon and mars, detonated both an atomic and a thermonuclear weapon, designed and built some of the world’s most advanced nuclear reactors, supercomputers, and missiles.

But have you ever wondered these same agencies have been unable to produce good fighter planes or Helis, best in class tanks or frigates, and even do not have the capability to make top quality guns for our soldiers or well equip them in other similarly trivial areas?

With the Augusta Westland choppergate scam now in the news 24x7, I think it is a good time for me to register here what I have always been thinking with respect to the question raised above:

I strongly feel the Indian defense industry has been sabotaged by our own corrupt politicians for decades now, personally incentivized by the sweet deals offered by foreign companies and middlemen to them and this in turn supported by foreign governments, that have both economic and geopolitical interest in seeing India does not produce such indigenous weaponry.

And why I raised the first para about our accomplishments is, if you notice closely, these are the industries and areas where foreign governments have serious restrictions on their companies in technology transfer and selling to India. For example, no country is going to sell us ICBMs, advanced rocket technology, and nuclear technology. So since these areas were only governed by national interest and not interfered upon by politicians for their personal gains, they seem to have done well.

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Cheers for taking up the issue!

While what you are saying is largely correct (especially the last para on external restrictions forcing innovations) when viewed on international fora, but if we need our capabilities to improve, my opinion is, we need to perform a surgical analysis of our institutions - their past present and future. So allow me the liberty to try.

Firstly, a deductive analysis will show that government institutions have had all levels of success and failure horizontally distributed across its institutions. In this particular context, most of the timely and “…failure rate close to zero.” innovations have been contributed by ISRO, while others on the list:

  • Supercomputer PARAM 8000 (India’s first) was built with some international assistance and triggered by denial of American cray supercomputers to India because of their skepticism towards us. Nevertheless, a milestone to build it in 3 years time.

  • DRDO deserves a special mention as it has been the biggest presenter of mixed bags. While its international collaborations have largely been successful, like the BrahMos with Russia, it has also been convicted of causing huge time and cost overruns. The 2015 sacking of DRDO chief A. Chander, the “Agni man” on grounds of his “Chalta hai” attitude causing for instance, the indigenous Aircraft Carrier to now cost Rs 19,341 crore from its original cost of Rs 3,241 crore or the delays in LCH-Tejas, Kaveri Engine, among other allegations is a case in point.

Here it becomes imperative to highlight the reasons for a stark contrast in their performances since DRDO, for all its great contributions cannot be made a scapegoat and the government and their PSUs bear equal blames.

The real reason for which ISRO has succeeded is because it always had the free hand to perform without the needless bureaucratic hurdles to throttle their work. ISRO works directly under the supervision of the Prime Minister as part of the Department of Space and is managed by specialized technocrats rather than generalist bureaucrats.

Contrary to this is the ad-hoc manner in which Ministry of Defence operates and the arms length distance it keeps from the end users of defense products, i.e. the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy. It also helps in “lobbying”, or in our simple language, bribing by third-party enthusiasts. Here I should mention that there have been reports, time and again that global Space Research Agencies aren’t happy with the cost and time effective ISRO’s functioning and would love to “lobby” to cripple it, but that hasn’t happened until now, has it?

So far, we haven’t focused on the category of the post: Geo-politics. By the way, do you remember that scene from border where Sunny Deol gives a Thumbs-up to Jackie shroff flying high and him reciprocating though it would have been a little difficult to view gestures? That we remember was the greatest underdog story ever: The Battle of Longewala I mention this to put into perspective what role global tilt of power can play.

So it’s 17 June 1961, first flight took place within six years of the specifications for the fighter being drawn up for the first ever indigenously built (though designed by a German: Kurt Tank) Bomber-Fighter Jet HAL HF-24 MARUT - The spirit of the Tempest. Fast forward to 1971 Indo-Pak war, Marut, and some Hawk hunters rose to the occasion and the dawn of 7 December was marked by the victory of the underdogs.

For all the fairy tale about our first ever Jet, it was far from perfect. Its aim was to top Mach 2-3 but Israeli bombing of Egyptian tactical sites led to the destruction of Rolls-Royce Engine factory there leading to poorer engines being used. More importantly, it was 1974, the year of SMILING BUDDHA: Pokhran I, when all the Democracy ‘imposers’ (read imposters) were so scared of a rogue nuclear power that they imposed numerous sanctions against India With limited resources and more important things to focus on (1975: Allahabad High Court found the prime minister guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha and the rest is history)

We can go on and on relentlessly as the geopolitics never ends, it only begins a butterfly effect for something great later on.

For some visual treat, here is HF-24 MARUT

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Oh, great analysis and information sir. Marut is a good example of how our defence industry is sabotaged. After Marut was retired in favour of foreign jets, HAL took nearly 4 decades to come up with Tejas. Media is also included in this game by agents paying them off. Only yesterday news was out in the choppergate scam that nearly 7 or 8 media persons were paid off for news coverage beneficial to them or something like that.

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Probably time to create a #Defence forum.

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