Monday, May 10, 2010

India lags in self-reliance Indigenous defence capability is paramount

by Dinesh Kumar

More than five decades after it began its quest for self-reliance by establishing a series of government-owned defence research and production units, India has been unable to indigenously develop, produce and export any major weapon system. It remains overwhelmingly dependent on foreign vendors for about 70 per cent of its defence requirement, especially for critical military products and high-end defence technology.

India’s defence ministry officially admits to attaining only 30 to 35 per cent self-reliance capability for its defence requirement. But even this figure is suspect given that India’s self-reliance mostly accrues from transfer of technology, license production and foreign consultancy despite considerable investment in time and money.

Although it would be unrealistic to expect any country to be cent percent self-reliant (even the most advanced countries are not), India has not been able to develop any core strength in defence technology to enable it to be placed on the world map, except arguably to a limited extent in missiles and warship design and production.

In contrast, the world’s major and middle-rung military powers, which possess a strong and well-established defence industry and military-industrial complex, are largely self-sufficient in some, if not all, critical cutting edge military technologies. In addition to being major producers of defence technology, these countries are also major exporters of defence equipment, which, in turn, serve as a source of influence in their foreign policy.

This is especially true of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and also several advanced countries or middle-rung powers such as Israel, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Even though China is a major importer of defence hardware – it is the second largest recipient (in US dollar value) and has signed the third highest number of transfer agreements of defence equipment among developing countries between 2000 and 2007 – yet at the same time it is self-sufficient in certain key military technologies and emerged as the fifth largest exporter of defence equipment to developing countries between 2000-2007.

In contrast, India’s modest record of producing and exporting weapon systems is evident from the fact that India’s defence annual exports averaged a meagre US$ 88 million between 2006-07 and 2008-09. Imports have also meant infrastructure and product support problems for an Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet that comprises 26 different types of fighter, transport and trainer aircraft and helicopters sourced from at least six different countries.

The same holds true for the IAF’s air defence comprising surface-to-air missiles, radars and aerostats. The issue of sourcing equipment and its product support from different countries also holds true for the technology-intensive Navy. Its air wing comprises UK-supplied fighter aircraft; surveillance aircraft sourced from Russia, the US and Germany; and a wide range of helicopters sourced from Russia, UK, France and the US.

The submarine fleet is sourced from Russia and Germany with France in the pipeline while aircraft carriers are sourced from the UK with a Russian-made aircraft carrier in the pipeline. Similarly, all high-end technology equipment and even some low-end equipment in even the comparatively less technology intensive Army is similarly equipped with imported weapon systems and other equipment that ranges from tanks, artillery and air defence systems to even high altitude clothing including jackets, shoes and gloves.

India’s over dependence on imports comes at a tremendous cost that includes re-negotiations, cost escalation, delay in delivery, problems in product support, denial of technology and technical glitches. An adverse fall out of India’s over-dependence on imports is the regular occurrence of either proven or alleged scams in procurement from foreign vendors which, on occasions, have led to cancellation of deals.

This has ramifications for the armed forces which fear that their operational preparedness and modernisation will suffer. For example, in 2005 alone, the CBI was investigating 47 cases of procurement. In the last five years alone, the defence ministry cancelled deals involving import of 400 anti-material rifles, 197 light helicopters and 400 pieces of 155 mm towed artillery guns after years of technical trials and negotiations. In addition it has temporarily suspended contracts worth US$ 279 million and even black listed four foreign and three Indian companies.

As such, India’s over dependence on import is fraught with concerns for the armed forces in particular and the country’s security in general. Since military technology is constantly changing and potential adversaries making new procurements, there is no weapon system that is likely to remain relevant for the future.

A weapon system, such as for example, a submarine bought in the 1980s becomes inflexible to meet the technological challenges posed by an adversary’s procurement of a sophisticated anti-submarine warfare technology some years later. Although import of weapons ‘supplies technology’ it does not necessarily transfer technology. Neither do sellers transfer the ability to upgrade the technology when the need arises. Countries remain reluctant to part with critical and strategic technology both because it has power in it and because it has involved considerable monetary, technological and human resource investment.

Further, the maintenance cost of weapon systems keeps increasing whereas its effectiveness remains constant at best and, at worst, keeps reducing vis-à-vis potential adversaries. In the absence of any serious indigenous capability, foreign suppliers become the reference point for the Services which usually want the most sophisticated (and therefore expensive) equipment.

In many cases, India’s defence acquisitions have been plagued by both indecisions and by cumbersome decision-making and procurement process. The long procurement process has, in turn, been afflicted by protracted negotiations followed by long delivery schedules and problems of product support.

The net result is that the Indian armed forces are affected by a combination of depleted and antiquated equipment, deficiencies in training and a questionable operational readiness. A majority of the Army’s artillery, air defence artillery, and armour dates back to three decades and more. Both the capital and technology-intensive Navy and IAF are suffering from either a depleting strength or ageing technology.

The Navy’s fleet fell to 129 warships in 2008 notwithstanding the Defence Acquisition Council’s stipulation to maintain a minimum-must force-level of 140. Its fleet of submarines – a stealth platform critical for sea denial – has fallen from 22 to 16. The IAF’s fighter squadron strength has fallen to 32 from a sanctioned strength of 39.5, and as, currently envisaged, will still be two squadrons short of the authorised strength even at the end of the 12th five-year plan period (2012-2019).

Besides, technical obsolescence has affected the trainer aircraft fleet and air defence radars, while the transport fleet is suffering from a perennial shortage of spares thus adversely affecting its serviceability. The situation hardly augurs well for a country that boasts of the world’s third largest military located in a difficult and hostile neighbourhood and views its strategic interests as extending from the Strait of Malacca to the Strait of Hormuz..........................Source

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