Country is currently in my opinion successfully tackling the COVID19 pandemic but it needs to maintain its focus in key areas of national security also, lest we are left behind. Indian Defence News a few days back reported, “China has been focusing on expanding its Navy in recent weeks, even as it has been battling the Covid-19 outbreak which engulfed much of the country beyond the epicentre of Wuhan. Chinese state-run media reported that the country was all set to launch its second Type 075 amphibious assault ship soon”. Similarly, it is collaborating with Turkey and Pakistan to develop high end drone technology. As per reports by India Defence News, “Turkey justified its massive investments in drone technology when it overwhelmed Russia-backed Syrian forces and destroyed its Pantsir missile system and other military hardware”. Infact the headline reads, “Pakistan Pleased, India Unnerved by the success of Chinese, and Turkish Drone Technology?”
What does it mean for India? It clearly implies that we cannot let our guard down. The statement of Army Chief, General M.M. Naravane earlier this month admitting that the Indian Army is reworking and refining its war strategy for an all-out war on two fronts with China and Pakistan,” needs to be taken in the right spirit. He is absolutely bang on target. We need to focus on technological capability enhancement and development to avoid being surprised in the aftermath of the COVID19. Towards this, the endeavor to acquire 100 loiter fire and forget munitions is a step in the right direction. However, these are short term measures. We need to invest very seriously in indigenization. India can only become a significant power and net security provider in the region if it transforms itself from a buyers defence force to makers defence force. We must realize that besides being cost prohibitive, import dependent defence forces will never get the top end technology. In addition, in times of crisis the country may be denied critical spares and equipment by countries upon whom we are dependent for support.
Therefore to overcome these problems, Make 2 has to be fully supported by all those who are key players in this process. For Make 2 to succeed, we have to target our internal processes of procurement, design, development and effectiveness of our defence industry on a war footing. The Navy by far has forged ahead in this regard. Although, the Army is also evolving and improving its processes to promote indigenisation, a lot more effort is needed. The establishment of Army Design Bureau and posting serving officers to head some key Ordnance Factories by the Army is likely to produce positive results. However, in my opinion the real impetus will only come with public – private partnership with business interests of private industry being taken care by the government. We have tried the Public Sector approach for far too long without commensurate results. As per Dhruv Jaishankar a well-known defence expert “Efforts should be made to ensure predictable long-term requirements and create a more level playing field between the public and private sectors”.
In addition, a collaborative effort between defence industry especially Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and academia will go a long way in development of high tech weapons and equipment. There is also a need for developing niche technology systems with intimate private partnerships in areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cyber and space based military systems. MSMEs will be of great value in pushing forward the Make 2 agenda provided they are given help in funding during the R&D stage, which is the real fund drainer and dampener for private sector in weapon and military equipment development cycle. To achieve this if need be the government must go to the parliament and seek a different process of acquisition atleast in high tech areas, free of bureaucratic hurdles which only cause delays and do not assist in development of top end weapons and equipment.
The key agencies involved in defence capability building such as the MoD, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Director General of Quality Assurance (DGQA), private defence industries, academia and the three services are already making efforts to promote Make 2 initiative but they need to be refined and procedural hurdles removed.The CDS with the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) will be a game changer in this regard. I am sure he will enthuse the necessary synergy, cooperation and innovation in the procurement and development process to make India self-sufficient atleast in niche technological areas such as AI, Quantum Computing and Space based military systems.