The PM has been echoing the call for on numerous occasions, post-onset of COVID 19. The recent standoff at the LAC has once again made security strategists revisit the issue of the location of supply chains in a country where openness and transparency are not consistent with what prevails in the democratic world.
One issue that is grabbing headlines is the extent of panic procurements which the Government has been constrained to carry out to address capability gaps. Such purchases have serious pros and cons from the long term technology security angle. They could stymie any efforts in hand to develop similar systems indigenously, besides ending up being a liability particularly if ammunition is involved since it is difficult to accurately assess the residual shelf life of imported ammunition. Consequently, you have cases of misfires and barrel bursts leading to injury to crews and damage to systems. To obviate these adverse consequences, I think a carefully planned approach to this entire issue of self-reliance in defence needs to be adopted.
I call it an Engineer`s Approach to capability development. When I first referred to it while in service, it generated a lot of reactions from the generalists or general managers. Many reasoned they had read and practised the art of warfare for so many years—tactics, strategy and operational art, no one had talked of the science of warfare. Anyway, after some requests, they agreed to sit through the session. Using big data, a presentation was given on the existing capability of the big five systems wrt the cold start doctrine and the ability to complete a set of missions. It was demonstrated how missions were adversely impacted if systems did not function failure-free(reliably) throughout the combat pulse. At least one got to know how far or long one could jump or run. The audience was given quantified inputs on existing equipment capability and what it should be if such a mission is to be executed with a high probability of success and what needs to do. The importance of integrated readiness and interdisciplinary collaboration became evident to all, something very difficult to achieve in Government where all are used to siloed working.
Using a similar analogy, on the occasion of Engineer`s Day I propose a 3 pronged strategy to shore up indigenous defence manufacturing. The approach is simply common sense and can be adopted in any field, all that is needed is a genuine commitment towards self-reliance and a basic foundational understanding.
- Capability Enhancement Programmes: Several platforms in the current inventory that is majorly obsolescent can be brought to contemporary levels of equipment capability through incremental technology insertion and upgrade. The M1 Abrams is still going strong after 40 years as a consequence of technology insertion. Most obsolescent systems in the inventory may require capability enhancements. It will help develop foundational know-how.
- Development of Complex Systems: Projects for the manufacture of new systems need to be taken forward through collaboration rather than competition. Collaborative prototyping aims at collaboration between public and private sector as has been done in the Dhanush program, wherein capabilities of Army maintainers, ordnance factories and private sector were Why not roll out strategic partnerships between public and private sectors. In response to some requirements, as many as 15 – 20 vendors respond, much like a response to Army recruitment rallies. Those who do not make the cut finally, lose further incentive to participate in future programs having invested time and money in the programme without success.
- Technology Incubation: There is a need to work on creating a culture of innovation and creativity all around. The IDEX initiative needs to be expanded in scope and funding to include the development of next-generation subsystems for future combat systems.
If the Prime Minister`s call for self-reliance has to be made a reality, the indigenous Defence Industrial Base has to spearhead the same, not foreign OEMs. OFs, DPSUs and private players like L&T, Bharat Forge, Tata Power are the cornerstones of the local DIB, having the knowledge base to take up development of weapon systems. They cannot remain a place for low-level assembly, build to print and component manufacturing efforts and need to move into the domain of high wage research and innovation-based industrial entities whose creativity not only secures Mother India but also provides spin-offs in civilian fields.
This calls for a strong emphasis on core competencies and intense subsystem level collaboration between public and private sector. Weapon systems incorporate a host of technologies that combine together to produce a military effect. To emerge as a net innovator and exporter of weapon systems we need to think beyond the algorithm. Time to graduate from being rigid and risk-averse to becoming agile, experimental and adaptable. Time for another Dr Kurien or Mr Sreedharan to emerge from the rank and file of the engineering community to take the helms, set course and sally out.