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PROPOSED DEFENCE REFORMS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MOVE FORWARD

Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd) Writes :The proposed defence reforms announced by Finance Minister on May 16, 2020 should objectively improve military capabilities and capacities. There is a need to maintain balance between procurements ex-import and from Indian defence industry. It will primarily ensure self-reliance with quality and state of the art weapons and platforms to enhance operational efficiency of the Indian Armed Forces.

Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd) Writes :

Introduction

The proposed defence reforms announced by Finance Minister on May 16, 2020 should objectively improve military capabilities and capacities. There is a need to maintain balance between procurements ex-import and from Indian defence industry. It will primarily ensure self-reliance with quality and state of the art weapons and platforms to enhance operational efficiency of the Indian Armed Forces. The focus of the defence reforms should be to prepare Armed Forces to fight current and future wars with next generation weapon systems. Future wars cannot be fought and won by yesterday’s technology. Warfare and technology make the perfect partners of destruction.[1] In future wars humans will be stepping back and technology will take the lead. Army Chief Gen M M Naravane during an interaction with the press prior to DefExpo 2020 said, “Technology will be a key driver of future wars.” He further said, “For the Indian Army whether it is recruitment or acquisition of the defence equipment — Quality and not the quantity is the mantra.”[2] Future wars will be dominated by drones, robots, cyber, information, electronic and precision engagement by lethal long range vectors. Even for defending national boundaries, during peace and war, technology will tilt the balance in favour of those who will exploit it better than the adversaries. Thus, defence reforms and weapon and equipment acquisition must be in line with the threat a nation faces from visible and invisible adversaries.

Proposed Defence Reforms an Overview

Indigenisation of Defence Sector. Push for indigenisation is part of military capability development. But if indigenisation remains restricted to make in India in partnership with foreign defence industries without investing in R&D, it will be status quo and no move forward. Thus, indigenisation should result in self-reliance manufacturing and developing next generation weapons and systems. Indian defence industries (private & public sector) have to first acquire the niche technology whereas, to day India is completely dependent on joint ventures and imports of weapons and technology. Unless technology is developed in the country, indigenisation has little meaning. India is still looking for technology for even to develop basic infantry weapons leave aside high technology systems. There is also a need to identify areas where additional capacity of defence industries can be utilised for civilian use. For example aviation sector (especially helicopters), ship building industry and unarmed drones for surveillance for internal security and disaster management.

74% FDI.  No company will bring in money unless they see profit in the business. Thus, FDI increase to 74% is a welcome step. This should also encourage arms industries to bring in technology & assist in setting up R&D laboratories. Increase in FDI is just one of the measures but along with increase in FDI what government should aim is to encourage export of weapons, equipment and subsystems. The new initiative should help in developing competitive technology for both domestic as well as for international market.

General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR). For some time there has been a debate on GSQR. It will be immature to suggest that GSQRs could be 70% or lower to give impetus to indigenisation, but it is also correct that GSQR should be realistic, affordable and the systems should enhance operational efficiency. Therefore, GSQR should be in two parts. First, those parameters that are basic and cannot be lowered. Second aspects that can be lowered or compromised. A case in point is that efficiency of a gun, sights, night fighting capabilities, accuracy, armour, and mobility of a tank cannot be compromised, but comfort level, space inside for crew rest can be compromised. GSQR must keep in view the enemy capabilities also. At no stage should a soldier be in a disadvantageous position vis a vis his adversary when he goes to war. In any case it is not the responsibility of the armed forces to earn profit for domestic industries or make them successful, the job of armed forces is to win wars. Domestic industries must produce the best and compete to keep forces at optimum operational level. GSQR should be reflected within and avoid being a subject of media and public debate.

Import Ban on Spares. It is a welcome step since spares either are procured at exorbitant price or there is a time delay. This becomes critical especially during war and standoffs. But we must also keep in view the quality of these spares. Companies making spare parts or equipment must be held accountable for failure. The accident rates in aircrafts, upgraded and overhauled by HAL have dismal record. Thus, to give impetus to indigenisation these companies cannot fail forces. If they do fail, they must be held responsible and accountable.

Import Ban on Artillery Guns. The current guns under production mainly Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATGS), Dhanush & K9 Vajra-T (SPH) are among the best contemporary guns in use globally. The three guns under production provide lethal fire support in all terrains. Thus, ban for import at this stage is in order and justified. The assembly line of K9 Vajra-T (SPH) will run dry soon and so will be the other production lines after they complete the existing orders. Will these assembly lines be dismantled or they will be asked to develop next generation artillery guns that should be ready for induction by 2030 or beyond? In addition, these guns would require upgradation to increase their life and utility. Thus, the manufacturers should invest in R&D for next generation guns and ammunition and not stop at this level only. Moreover, India must aggressively promote these guns for export once they finish their initial contractual obligation with the Indian Army.

Capital Procurement Budget for Domestic Industries. The domestic industries earlier were unaware about the budget available for them. As a result, most domestic industries were shy of investing in defence sector or even R&D. The Government of India (GOI) has removed this ambiguity and it is a positive step. It will also contribute to arms export to friendly foreign countries and will certainly increase competition among the Indian Defence Industries.

Corporatisation of Ordinance Factories. It was long overdue. The current set of Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) was outdated and was breeding inefficiency and poor-quality product since it was not accountable for the budget it spent on production. This step of the GOI should lead to more competitiveness between OFB and private sector. Private Industry should be allowed to compete with OFB for supply or stores, ammunition, weapons, and equipment by Armed Forces. This will improve quality of product at competitive rates.

Auxiliary Support Imperative to make These Initiative Succeed. Private industries often face problem of ranges for testing their weapons and systems. To give impetus to the defence manufacturing, Ministry of Defence should allow use of testing infrastructure of DRDO and OFB by private industries. This will assist private defence industry to remove anomalies of systems and sub systems before these products are offered for trial. Private industries should also be allowed professional vetting or advice as and when sought during development stage of the systems. Both these aspects will enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of the private defence industries.

Conclusion

Some of these reforms were long overdue and may bring some profound changes in accountability and quality of product by DRDO, OFB and even the private sector defence industries. The focus should be to give best at competitive cost to the armed forces. Another aspect that is important is quality control and accountability of the OFB and industries against high accident rates and failure to provide quality product. The experience of the armed forces so far with DRDO, OFB and even PSU has not been particularly good. The production line has not been able to maintain quality of equipment, stores, weapons, and platforms over a period of time. This will call for stringent quality control and there should be multi-tier quality check. Since it involves lives of the soldier and can compromise national security, the audit agency for quality control must be independent of bureaucratic control and should be answerable for failure of weapons and equipment. This audit agency should ideally function under Cabinet Committee on Security or under PMO.

 

End Notes

[1] Thomas Macaulay & Tamlin Magee, The future of technology in warfare: From drone swarms to VR torture, Tech World, April 18, 2018.

[2] Huma Siddiqui, Technology will be a key driver of future wars, Indian Army is on track’: Army Chief Naravane – Exclusive Q&A ahead of DefExpo 2020, Financial Express, February 04, 2020.

 

 

Brig Narender Kumar is a Distinguished Fellow with the USI of India. He has extensive experience in counter insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. His areas of interest are Internal Security, Transnational Terrorism, Indian Ocean Region and Military Reforms. He has authored more than 200 research papers/ Chapters for books/ articles for various journals and web portals.
Article uploaded on 19-05-2020
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI of India.

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