A long haul, no quick fix

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

The gov­ern­ment’s re­ported de­ci­sion to press ahead with in­volv­ing the pri­vate sec­tor in de­fence pro­duc­tion is wel­come. It has been long over­due. How­ever, cau­tion is in or­der on ex­pec­ta­tions of cost-com­pet­i­tive com­pe­tence straight­away. The ob­jec­tive must be to reap long-term gains, in terms of in­dige­nous de­fence tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity and cost sav­ings in the medium to the long term. The In­dian pri­vate sec­tor has two dis­ad­van­tages, as com­pared to for­eign com­peti­tors. They have a cap­tive, lim­ited mar­ket for what they pro­duce on or­ders from the In­dian armed forces and are likely to be pricier, when com­pared with for­eign arms man­u­fac­tur­ers who en­joy economies of scale.

A prime ob­sta­cle to In­dian com­pa­nies ac­quir­ing scale is a poor rep­u­ta­tion for as­sured qual­ity af­ter the ini­tial batches, which af­flicts In­dian man­u­fac­tur­ing. This calls for sus­tained ef­fort to im­prove the in­tegrity and cred­i­bil­ity of In­dian man­u­fac­tur­ing exports in gen­eral, and not just in the de­fence in­dus­try. The sec­ond dis­ad­van­tage is a poor record of re­search and de­vel­op­ment, hon­ourable ex­cep­tions notwith­stand­ing. It is pos­si­ble for the gov­ern­ment to fund and catal­yse the needed R&D, by con­tract­ing out re­search on the lines of the De­fence Ad­vanced Re­search Projects Agency, which iden­ti­fies prod­uct and tech­nol­ogy re­quire­ments and bids out R&D con­tracts.

The re­sul­tant in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty can be li­censed to In­dian de­fence sup­pli­ers. A net­work of univer­sity de­part­ments and stand-alone lab­o­ra­to­ries in the pub­lic and the pri­vate sec­tor, draw­ing top tal­ent with pay and perks be­sides in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenge, is es­sen­tial for in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­ity in ad­vanced de­fence tech­nolo­gies. Of course, these things can be dis­pensed with, if all that the armed forces want from In­dian pri­vate in­dus­try are sup­plies that are not crit­i­cal on the bat­tle­field. But if In­dia wants to repli­cate the kind of suc­cess that tiny Is­rael has man­aged, leave alone the break­throughs of the mil­i­taryin­dus­trial com­plex of the US or Europe, the plan­ning hori­zon has to be long and broad, and not con­fined to which com­pany would get what kind of or­der.

From The Eco­nomic Times

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