Why are we buying even helicopters from abroad?     

Make in India in defence is a serious issue. Unfortunately, this government specialises in image-making & in coinages like Make in India… a kind of building an advertising campaign

Why are we buying even helicopters from abroad?      
user

Kapil Kak

(Outspoken in his criticism of ordnance factories, Air Vice Marshal (Rtd) Kapil Kak, however, supports the idea of ‘Make in India’ and participation of the private sector in manufacturing defence hardware)

Make in India in defence is a serious issue. Unfortunately, this government specialises in perception building, image-making and in coinages like Make in India… a kind of building an advertising campaign…what we have is just a document. Where is the policy? We are still groping around defence procurement procedures, not even policy. Where is Defence production strategy ?

I just want to look into the big items. Where is the Arjun tank after four years? How has the LCA Tejas moved? How has modernisation of IAF accelerated? From 36 squadrons, we have come down to 31.

We lost the last year of the UPA Government and the last four years of the Modi Government and we have paid a high price. Globally, the defence Industry is not growing; it is stagnant in fact. So, we need to push our own agenda and bargain on technology transfer as buyers.

But we Indians are not good at strategising. We are very good at coming up with ad hoc solutions to problems that arise. I must admit we are masters in managing crisis. In any crisis we can marshal our resources and turn the crisis into an opportunity. But we don’t have a long-term vision, a policy and a strategy, and then the patience and perseverance to do painstaking corrections in policy over the years. That is why, I suspect, Make in India has remained a political slogan.

Those who work in this ministry should have the right background and expertise. This should be our approach if we are looking forward to the next 20-25 years. So, India should focus on its core competence and go all out to excel in it. We should not spread our little resources and expertise in a wide spectrum

Not PSUs alone

I don’t support the idea that for indigenisation we have to bank on the public sector alone. I simply don’t believe in it. We need to encourage the private sector, which has the technology, skill, advanced management etc to be able to organise the initiation of a process and see it to the end through actual delivery of the product to the services which need them the most.

Ordnance factories have outlived their utility. They have huge inventory and high cost of manpower. When a range of products can be procured easily and qualitatively from the private sector, why are ordnance factories manufacturing uniforms of soldiers?

The notion that the private sector cannot be trusted is actually misplaced. Some of the most secret programmes under the UPA like the submarine, major electronic warfare systems, certain components of naval ships and combat aircrafts were all conceptualised, designed, developed, produced and delivered by the private sector in all these years.

We need to understand what we can do within the country. We have to keep in mind the fields we have specialised in so far, and we need to further specialise in them. We are trying to manufacture helicopters. Now, although we started very late, India today does manufacture multiple types of helicopters. And still, after doing all that, in 2018 you entered into a programme to get some 200-300 helicopters from abroad! But why? This government needs to answer. Because we are doing the reverse of ‘Make in India’ … we are buying from abroad. If we had a strategy, we would have foreseen what we would need and when and prepared for them in advance.

We have seen the LCA deployed by the Navy, which has very good indigenisation. The Army and the Air Force has generally stayed out of any induction of modern weapon system including ammunition. If there have been imports, then there has been one-term licence to manufacture. Licence to manufacture for example the Ka-226 helicopters from Russia or the French Rafale or now the aircraft for which the RFP will soon hopefully be done and the augumentation of the Rafale –all this is not ‘Make in India’ at all. They are Licence manufacture. Make in India is when you get down to the drawing board, make the computer assisted design, then design the product, then cut the metal to produce it, manufacture it and then test it. After testing, you ensure that it meets the standards and then deliver it to the services on time. We have seen the LCA, and though it is genuinely ‘Make in India’, it took 35 years to deliver. Therefore, we do need to have a strategy.

I think there should be a separate ministry of defence modernisation and indigenisation. A full-time minister—just one points person—a full team of technological experts and not bureaucrats who are in animal husbandry one day and then the next day come over to the defence ministry.

Those who work in this ministry should have the right background and expertise. This should be our approach if we are looking forward to the next 20-25 years. So, India should focus on its core competence and go all out to excel in it. We should not spread our little resources and expertise in a wide spectrum.

As told to Bhasha Singh

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines