Wheels come off a Mirage aircraft after a refit by HAL and we lose two ace pilots. The Chief of Air Staff publicly states that supporting HAL affects IAF’s operational capabilities. The public views the increase in defence budget outlay as marginal, despite tall claims. The IAF may also be heading into a training crisis due to non-availability of aircrafts. A wider analysis indicates that our defence is in distress of gargantuan proportions rivalled by farm distress and the ILFS fiasco. This is grim reality.
By the time our ten trillion-dollar economic ambitions are realised we will add only two Squadrons of Rafales and may be two more of Tejas (if ultimately found compliant) to our dwindling fighter fleet. Our economic and military power graphs are going in opposite directions mainly due to national ineptitude. How else can one explain the Government concluding a deal for 36 Rafales without a viable Plan B, without due diligence, based on an IGA which is vague and shaky. State politics and power retention trump national needs and a competent Defence Minister is replaced. A near bankrupt private player comes into focus. An experienced HAL is excluded. A piquant situation emerges. The government backs private entities and side-lines HAL, despite milking it financially dry. The opposition backs HAL while it seeks a probe into the Rafale deal. No solutions to address the defence needs of the nation. In any case successive governments over seven decades have failed to ensure that HAL is a national asset which can design and develop modern aircraft. It is now a financially ailing, historically underperforming, bloated NPA which assures poor quality with unacceptable delays but refuses to reform. Worryingly, variants of this story are replicated across critical areas of the defence firmament.
The military teeth of a nation are represented by its Fighter Aircraft, Battleships, Rifles, Tanks and Guns. India’s fighter aircraft status has one foot in the ICU. Without a basic rifle, Infantry, our fighting sheet anchor, is fast approaching that stage. A fast track purchase of 73000 Sig Sauers is only a band aid on a gunshot wound. Our tanks are vintage, lack ammunition and engines. The saving graces are our Navy which has a well-grounded programme of indigenised warship construction and our Artillery which is fast modernising with a stream of guns, missiles and rockets. They will deter our adversaries up to a point but cannot hold them off. Overall, we are grossly out of balance. An economically rising India must have a strong military apparatus in case its ambitions are to be fulfilled. Elementary dear Watson.
In response to an article on defence procurement, my old commander commented that we must first carry out surgical strikes on the defence procurement machinery to make it effective. The first strike. Overhaul and prune the overweight MOD so that the politician who faces the hustings and the servicemen who face the bullets drive the system and not let unaccountable bureaucrats brake it. The tail cannot wag the dog. The second strike. Get Naval and Artillery experts to replicate their successful models. Eject tried, tested and failed, self-proclaimed experts who dominate the Delhi Talk circuit. The third strike. Reform DPSUS, OFB and DRDO and make them perform. We have invested in building their capacities for seven decades. Management must perform or be changed ruthlessly. The fourth strike. Ditch hype. Get down to serious knowledge-based indigenisation which is inclusive in nature to private and public players. The fifth strike. Create empowered commissions to get some critical equipment off the ICU list. The sixth strike. Look ahead. Disruption in Military Affairs is happening. Disruptive technologies are making the brick and mortar defence industry redundant. The seventh strike. The defence budget must specially fund outcome based, time critical projects (beyond normal allocation). The eighth strike. Develop a knowledge path for defence technology and management from grass root level upwards. Our knowledge bank must be deeper.
For those who think that this is theoretical, let me assure my countrymen that it is not. The successful Naval and Artillery models have ingredients of the suggested strikes. Let me also clarify. There are more than a few good men in and out of Uniform, Bureaucracy, Public and Private Industries and Scientific/ Research Community who can make the difference. Find them and use them. But then if you have four defence ministers in five years we will continue ‘Kadamtal’. I do hope the next Government which comes to power realises that if the defence and economic graphs of the nation do not match, India will be in trouble. Question. When India is a ten trillion-dollar economy, where will China be? A Chinese growth rate of even @6% with their economic and military graphs in sync is frightening. China is our main adversary as said by late Mr George Fernandes, two decades ago. Time to do something effective to protect India concretely besides chest thumping and back patting on our repeated failures.