Strange as it may seem, Indian genius can successfully launch multiple satellites or a spacecraft to Mars but seems hopelessly ill-equipped to develop a basic armament such as a rifle, carbine or pistol.
Obviously, there appears to be a huge disconnect between technical prowess and the organisational capabilities on ground.
At the same time, while an energy dependent country like India needs to modernise and create a powerful Navy with an equally lethal Air Force, New Delhi’s neglect of modernisation of its Army creates a dangerous situation placing the land borders and those who protect them under tremendous pressure.
Two countries, i.e. China and Pakistan, lay false claims on Indian territory. With continuous Chinese incursions nibbling away bits of Indian land and supporting internal insurgencies and Pakistan’s export of terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy, the Indian Army has constantly been on its toes since Independence.
The bewildering variety of antiquated artillery guns - 120mm mortars, 105mm Field gun, 130mm Medium gun, 155mm Gun, 122mm Howitzer, 122mm Multi-barreled Rocket Launcher and now Pinaka and Smerch Long Range Systems are a logistician’s nightmare.
Ground based air defence is practically non-existent and devoid of Control and Reporting (C&R) System. Further, air defence is in shambles as the L-60 and L-70 guns are of WW II vintage.
On the other hand, the Schilka self-propelled guns, SAM and OSA-AK missiles are of early 1970s vintage. Not a single gun and missile has been acquired since then.
Tanks and ICVs are night blind. New Delhi is unable to decide between import of Thermal Imager Fire Control System (TIFCS) and Thermal Imager Stand Alone System (TISAS).
Imagine Pakistan forces equipped with night vision devices sitting right behind blind Indian mechanised forces since modern wars will be fought largely at night.
The Infantry soldier fights with a WW II carbine while the terrorist is equipped with an AK-47. The DRDO has been kept in business by funneling taxpayer’s resources but the INSAS rifles and LMG have not proven successful.
The Future Infantry Soldier As A System (FINSAS) project is yet to take off. The DRDO continues to copy ideas from the brochures of the western firms, guzzling huge defence budgets yet is unable to produce a simple CQB weapon such as a carbine! Communications systems remain antiquated.
Fifty per cent of the infantry is yet to be equipped with Individual Combat Kit (ICK).
The reason India does produce and launch technology intensive satellites is primarily due to the pragmatic functional approach adopted by ISRO. The fact that it does not produce a modern rifle or a carbine is due to the wrong model adopted by the public sector defence units, which are extremely inefficient, wasteful and unwise.
The ordnance factories and other defence sector public units are not only mired in corruption but also outdated and antediluvian in their management practices.
For example, the delay in production of the Scorpene submarine in Mazagon docks in Mumbai was primarily due to the time it took for DCNS France to upgrade and modernise its management practices.
Or for that matter to ensure the smooth production of Rafale in India by HAL, Dassault Aviation needs to conduct a gaps analysis to plug the quality loopholes. Unless HAL facilities are brought up to international standards, a modern fighter aircraft such as the Rafale cannot be built.
Another problem is that HAL itself is overburdened with production of diverse types of aircraft. The result is if it is assembling Russian SU-30, then the supply of the SU-30 spares to the Air Force suffers and vice-versa.
It would be prudent for New Delhi to create, back and fund two private sector aviation companies not only as a competition to HAL but also to allow the creation of an Indian equivalent of ‘Boeing’ or ‘Lockheed Martin’.
Despite the neglect in equipping the Army with young human resources, which are available in abundance, and lethal firepower and high degree of maneuverability, it is to the credit of this unique institution that it has managed to retain the integrity of the borders and at the same time, dominate the counter-insurgency grid that the external adversaries are determined to fan.
In effect, despite poor governance, the Indian Army with practically no modernisation of its artillery, air defence, Special Forces and an excellent 335 worth of Infantry battalions, manages to hold the external threat at bay as well as subdue the rising internal threats.
India has a young demographic profile with an extraordinary reservoir of brainpower to make this a distinct possibility.
However, with rapid advancement in defence technologies this is only possible if India stops ‘reinventing the wheel’ and enters into mutually profitable joint ventures with international partners with the aim to leapfrog the technological gap by kick-starting the defence sector at a higher threshold.
With their advanced technologies, defence companies in the West are hugely attracted to the vast Indian market. Similarly, India should be attracted to the best defence technologies available in the world to upgrade the military capabilities of the Indian armed forces. Whilst the synergy of interests between both exists, New Delhi has failed to leverage the same.
Therefore, the Indian Army’s combat arms are in a state of crises because of obsolete equipment that has not been replaced in the last sixty years.
The Navy is left with eight operational submarines against the stated requirement of thirty. Keeping in view the precarious position, one wonders what stopped New Delhi from ordering in a single stroke twelve submarines from the French and simultaneously opening a second submarine manufacturing line with another vendor.
The laborious and complicated process of vetting tenders and negotiations provided adequate data to replenish the dwindling submarine resources at one go. Once again, we start this time-consuming tedious process to appoint a second vendor.
The key question for India, which in recent times has flawlessly endeavored to reach Mars, therefore, is how to develop and manufacture a modern rifle, carbine or a pistol?
The answer lies in the promotion of joint ventures in the private sector with foreign companies which boast of knowhow in this field. The foreign companies will be willing to bring fairly sunrise technologies in case they are provided attractive shares of at least 49 per cent in the joint ventures.
If India can encourage its private sector to set up at least two such joint ventures, a fair amount of self-sufficiency to supply small arms to the military, para-military as well as the state police forces will be ensured.
Furthermore, if these joint ventures with the help of the Government of India are provided adequate incentives and funds for further research to continuously upgrade these technologies and weapons, a time will come when India will become exporter of these small arms to friendly countries.
This is possible because of India’s young, technically-savvy demographic profile, which the international companies want to exploit. New Delhi must intelligently learn to leverage this win-win situation.
Bharat Verma, a former Cavalry Officer is Editor, Indian Defence Review. He frequently appears on television as a commentator, and is the author of Fault Lines and The Indian Armed Forces
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Courtesy Indian Defence Review