Kudos to Mint for looking beyond the euphoria of the 126 fighter plane deal and suggesting a systems approach to defence production in India (“Wings of Fire”, Mint, 5 September). India’s defence acquisitions over the next few years are mind boggling. The average capital expenditure on defence is likely to be $10-15 billion a year over the 11th Plan period, or $50-75 billion from 2007 to 2012. Over a decade, the figure could rise to more than $200 billion, putting India on par with countries such as Russia and Israel for the first time in its history. With a policy of 30-50% offsets, this would imply a bonanza of $100 billion for Indian industry. Obviously, the private and public sectors do not have the capacity to deliver such a scale of production at present.
Israel has developed its Military Industry Complex (MIC) through a public-private partnership. Thus, Israeli defence firms such as Elbit, Rafael and Israel Military Industries are able to create synergies that are absent in India. Russia, and now China, have integrated their defence production capabilities. Even Pakistan is trying to emulate them. Creation of defence clusters with dual use technologies is one solution.
Cutting-edge defence research in many spheres, such as the Joint Strike Fighter programme, is a multinational rather than a single country effort. BrahMos is the most significant example of this, where Indo-Russian cooperation has enabled production of cruise missile in quick time. And now BrahMos II, touted as a BrahMostra (Brahmastra), is in the offing. Similarly, the Pinaka system is also being driven more effectively by involving Larsen & Toubro and the Tata group.
So what India needs to create is a Military Industry Network, not a classic MIC, which will include indigenous and external, public and private industry in all spheres—research, development and production. A network is more relevant. Appropriate technologies and production capabilities can be accessed, both at home and abroad. There would be constraints of government sanctions, intellectual property rights and technology sharing, for which not just the military, but also the defence and external affairs ministry would have to be involved. Do we have adequate competencies in our administrative machinery to be able to lead multinational negotiations in defence deals? Unless we develop such proficiencies, the perils of being led into a military expenditure bubble by powerful global defence industry giants such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin loom large.
So, where is the defence technology master plan on which the research, development and procurement process is to be based? Currently, it appears that research, development and production contracts are being parcelled out based on a need for replacements or random disaggregation, rather than a holistic programme based on the future needs of the armed forces driven by the Joint Doctrine. So, let the defence doctrine drive acquisitions rather than fancy MNC brochures.
Rahul K. Bhonsle is security analyst and editor of South Asia Security Trends, a monthly journal covering security trends in South Asia. Comments are welcome at email@example.com