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General’s Advice: AID INHOUSE DEFENCE GEAR, by Dr. PK Vasudeva, 4 April, 2012 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 4 April 2012

General’s Advice


By Dr P K Vasudeva


The leak of Army Chief General V K Singh top secret letter of 12th March to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regarding serious gaps in the delays of procurement of defence equipment affecting the battle worthiness of the Army is more than welcome. It has confirmed that political and bureaucratic leadership has failed to realise defence planning which has been kept under wraps for years despite three Service Chiefs’ regular presentations on defence and security preparedness twice a year during the Commanders’ Conference.


Unfortunately, it is not possible for any nation, which has ‘70 per cent dependency on imports of defence equipment’, to improve its battle worthiness especially when the military preparedness is a continuous process. India has an extremely poor track record of Five Year Defence Planning and its implementation. This perpetual problem has always been a cause of big worry for the Service chiefs who have the ultimate responsibility of preserving the integrity and sovereignty of the country. 


Operational capabilities of the Armed Forces in terms of weapons and equipment have always been affected due to lack of self-reliance in the country and the long periods it takes to procure these items. It is not just the allocation of capital outlay in the budget. It is more due to cumbersome procurement procedures, lack of accountability and transparency of bureaucracy, friction between service headquarters and the defence ministry staff (civilian), and the fear of audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General, monitoring by the Central Vigilance Commission and harassment by the Central Bureau of Investigation after the fear of debacle like Bofors scam which is haunting the nation even today.


According to a well-established Swedish group, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) India has replaced China as the largest arms buyer of the world, accounting for 10 per cent of all arms purchases during the past five years. During 2007-2011, SIPRI noted that New Delhi had purchased some $12.7 billion in arms, 80 per cent of which was from Russia.  


In fact, China, which used to be the largest importer of arms during the past decade, has built admirable indigenous capability by heavily investing in Research and Development (R&D) within the country and even poaching scientists from Russia. In our case, the Services seem to have won the day instead of working closely for instance to make a success of the indigenously developed Tejas – Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and Arjun (Main Battle Tank) despite good showing in trials they seem to have taken a greater slice of the pie for procurement from abroad.


Some analysts in India attribute the failure to create a domestic defence industry to government involvement as India’s public sector is very inefficient and the private sector is by and large kept out of arms production though it is highly capable.


More than 60 years after becoming a Republic and 50 years after the debacle with China, the opaque Indian defence production establishments do not produce high quality clothing and personal inventory items such as boots, bullet proof jackets let alone a suitable rifle for a one-million army, or tanks and aircraft.


Luckily Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee during his Budget presentation announced approval for setting up joint ventures by defence PSUs in public-private partnership (PPP) mode to boost indigenous defence production particularly the state-of-the-art equipment.  Extremely welcome, but how much will it be able to contribute is yet to be seen.


Stressing on closer coordination between industry and the Armed Forces at an ASSOCHAM meeting, Gen VK Singh emphasised that the country’s dependence on foreign firms must be reduced.We source 70 per cent of equipment from outside and need to reduce this dependence. We need to be self-reliant and maintain independent capability, so there needs to be more coordination,” he stated. 


The private sector is pumping big money into the defence supply business as the Government moves to increase domestic sourcing to rein in costs. Companies such as Tata Motors, Ashok Leyland, Mahindra & Mahindra and Larsen & Toubro have formed multiple joint ventures and entered into technical collaborations to locally develop and supply the defence, paramilitary and police forces with modern equipment.


“The defence forces now want contemporary products, not outdated equipment. The Government is also looking to reverse the 70 per cent dependence on imports for defence equipment and so wants more private sector participation,” noted Dr V. Sumantran, Chairman, Ashok Leyland Defence Systems and Executive Vice-Chairman of Hinduja Automotive, at the recent DEFEXPO.


Tata Motors is investing around Rs 600 crore on the Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), for which it is one of the four companies issued with an Expression of Interest (EoI) by the Indian Army. Also in the fray for an expected order of 2,000 units are Ashok Leyland, Mahindra and the Ordnance Factory Board.


Among the various private sector companies, Tata Motors has responded positively, it will soon be supplying 8X8 logistics vehicles to agencies such as the Air Force. With the defence business expected to generate Rs 1,000 crore of revenue in 2011-12, Tata Motors is also developing left-hand drive models for exports markets such as West Asia.


Meanwhile, Larsen & Toubro also announced a joint venture with Samsung Techwin to make howitzer guns at a plant in Talegaon, Maharashtra. With plans to locally source half of the parts, a technical bid for supplying up to 100 guns to the Indian Army has already been submitted.


Ashok Leyland also showcased new set of products-in-development with partners such as French firm Panhard and German KMW. A new plant is likely to come up for vehicles such as armoured light tactical vehicles, called COLT, which will have completely indigenised drive train systems.


Sadly, India lacks long-term vision and a culture of R&D. The government keeps on forming one committee after another for indigenisation but when it comes to implementation of the panels recommendations’ it is not serious. The dependency of defence equipment on foreign firms has to be curtailed and manufactured indigenously as Indian industry is capable of producing results. The MoD should take a cue from China and Israel for manufacturing defence equipment indigenously. It has got to be self-sufficient and self-contained in its modernisation of defence equipment. How many more Generals are needed to drive home this point for it to sink in? Time our political leadership started thinking of the nation. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)


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