The power of a nation lies in technological edge in almost all domains including defence Technology. The concerted and continuous development efforts will bring concomitant strategic buoyancy in economic growth and ward off the inimical influences.
It is a historically proven fact that the power of a nation lies in technological edge and to achieve that , the only possible way is concerted and continuous research and development efforts .The phenomenon is all pervasive encapsulating all the fields of cognitive competition, be it manufacturing, infrastructure, transport, health care, communications, cyber space, sports and all other possible fields which facilitate in improving the quality of life. Amongst all the technological fields, the innovative indulgence which matters the most for making up the national power and concomitant strategic buoyancy to support the economic growth and ward off the inimical influences, is the defence technology.
However ,India, despitebeing a repository of one of the largest technologically skilled manpower,has not optimized such an advantage and positive synergies. We lack the compatibleresearch and development (R&D) institutions in resilience with our intrinsic technical prowess as a nation. Whereas, Indianswith similar DNA and educational back drop are known to be contributing towardsdeveloping cutting edge technologies on the foreign shores.It obviously leads to a deduction that there is a lack of sensitivity and seriousness in harnessing the talent and providing them enabling environment for a result oriented R&D culture. As a result, India is the fifth largest weapon importer of the world and its armed forces are dependent on almost 70% weapon and equipment ex import.
It goes without much of a debate that such a situation has a serious strategic flip side as failure to achieve self sufficiency in the defence production has impacted the national security plus outflow of scares financial resources for import of military hardware. The matter deserves to be accorded utmost priority so as to transform India from a net importer to a net exporter of defence products. To do that , we need to crank up our research and development structures and processes which obviously have not delivered to the extent as enshrined in their mandate. Accordingly , an introspection of the current mechanism and brain storming for finding the pragmatic solutions would be in order.
As a first response we need to involve the private enterprise in the field of R&D in defence sector as well, as they have proven their capabilities in other science related fields and India is recognized all over the world as a technology work house.Whereas , the government continues to be the planner, financier, innovator and manufacturer of weapons and equipment with monopolist policies leaving little cushion for private sector in an unfair market situation. In consequence, Persisting failures to come up with cutting edge technologies and high quality products has resulted in strategic vulnerabilities in absence of accountability of institutions and individuals entrusted with providing with structural strength to the armed forces.
The major part of defence production in the western countries is done by the private companies. Hence, we should not unnecessarily get mired by the security concerns to an extent that it becomes a stumbling block in national growth.
In that, the defence R&D in Indian context has been in the domain of the public sector, with monopoly of Defence Research and Development Organization(DRDO) alongside ordinance factories and DPSUs. The private sector was not encouraged in the defence sector so far primarily due to security concerns. It is a known fact that the major part of defence production in the western countries is done by the private companies. Hence, we should not unnecessarily get mired by the security concerns to an extent that it becomes a stumbling block in national growth. Yes , checks and balances are required to provide appropriate security cover to our intellectual property. Besides this, the macro management of the DRDO and its affiliates is done through bureaucratic procedures by the officials who are neither technically oriented ,nor seem to be sensitive to the national cause.
The scientists also do not seem to be motivated enough barring few who have the passion and enthusiasm which is warranted in innovators and researchers. Most of them seem to be contented with stable and secure government job with time bound promotions and associated perks and privileges. It haseroded the sense of competition and recognition of meritorious achievements which is a must to bring the best out of such an enlightened fraternity. Moreover , looking at ’Sarkari’ culture and lack of enabling environment for intellectual growth and corresponding incentives,the DRDO/PSUs have not been the preferred choice of the engineering and science graduates from top notch universities.
The budgetary allocations have been liberal, albeit without any performance audit and accountability towards the armed forces who happen to be the consumers . The armed forces have little influence as they happen to be out of managerial hierarchy of the DRDO/PSUs and the bureaucrats who control them have little insight into technology as well as matters military. Since there are no competitors to challenge these public sector entities they are neither under pressure, nor seem to be worried to show results. As a result, while the DRDO, as a pattern, seem to be keen to take inputs from the armed forces for R&D projects , but once these are sanctioned, the projects continue for decades without fructification at times.
Creating competitive environment with its edifice of perform or perish is the way forward to infuse positive synergies amongst the R&D establishments.
Overall the public sector R&D establishments have not delivered ,except few land mark weapon platforms especially in the strategic domain, and that too with the assistance of foreign collaborators in the initial stages. There are obvious mismatches in the entire mechanism which needs to be reoriented to bring in more objectivity and enthusiasm in the system which is missing as of now.Creating competitive environment with its edifice of perform or perish is the way forward to infuse positive synergies amongst the R&D establishments.
There is a need to tap the talent in the private sector at all levels to include the start ups , medium and small enterprises, big industrial houses and the academic institutions.
To do above , there is a need to tap the talent in the private sector at all levels to include the start ups , medium and small enterprises and big industrial houses. The private industry has niche technological inputs with them for manufacturing their current line of products. Most of the big industrial houses have elaborate R&D establishments with dedicated scientists which can be utilized for research in the field of defence products also. In order to encourage the private sector , there is a need to create level playing field vis a vis government financed well entrenched public sector research establishments.
Looking at the sensitivity of the matter, the government is trying to bring in a paradigm shift in their ‘’Make in India’’ campaign by way of pragmatic approach to achieve a long term vision to enhance national power in all its manifestations. The team leaders have reset and reposition the national priorities to exploit the in-house leverages to boost the defence production and affiliated organizations .In this industrial matrix , the public sector would continue to provide core industrial inputs alongside selected private industries as competitors, thereby enhance the quantity as well as the quality content of the product and services. . Encouraging R&D in private sector will play a major role in facilitating the government objectives.
The government has initiated schemes wherein private companies would be compensated upto 80% of the R&D costs once they produce the prototype of the new technology equipment in case it meets the laid down qualitative requirements. Recently a RFP has been initiated by the government to produce a prototype of Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) wherein it is estimated that 3000 to 4000 crores may be the cost of a prototype. Similar schemes need to be launched at multiple level of technology thresholds, albeit with appropriate checks and balances lest it becomes a conduit of siphoning out government funds.
In western countries the major part of research is done through the academic institutions wherein the private industry as well as the government provides the funding for the research work. This model has been proved to be a success story , hence need to be implemented in our country also. In this model , the research problem is spelled out by the industry to number of technology institutions, who then give the task to the domain experts and the research scholars.
The research , accordingly , is done by number of scientists separately to seek multiple views and solutions. They are encouraged to interact with each other to share their research work by organizing conferences so as to widen the idea base. As a result,these universities come out with cutting edge technologies. The research scholars are granted higher degrees for such industrial research work as an incentive.This model may be adopted by the private industry who have been selected for strategic joint ventures with the foreign OEMs through tie ups with the foreign universities. The public sector R&D establishments may also like to outsource part of their research work to the academia instead of hiring scientists on permanent basis, thereby increase their research base and at the same time infuse competition.
Since the DRDO , OFB and DPSUs have well established laboratories and affiliated infrastructure for R&D , these may be made available to the private sector, university research scholars and even individual scientists under certain terms and conditions. The armed forces ranges and government test facilities may also be made available for trials and quality assurance of the equipment being developed by the private industry and the start ups.The DRDO, OFB and DPSUs may also share their R&D work and functional designs with the selected private companies who have essential infrastructure as their manufacturing partners.
The concept of GOCO(Government owned and corporate operated) may be tried out for certain government R&D establishments to optimize and encourage the private sector. The DRDO labs dealing with electronics, optical equipment, robotics & artificial intelligence, IT and communication etc may be outsourced to private sector as there is plenty of talent available for such dual use technologies in the country. The scientists from government laboratories in such an arrangement may be side stepped to the strategic domain products to utilize their experience and expertise instead of hiring fresh graduates who would take time to understand the nuances of the high tech strategic field.
Government may help selected universities in establishing R&D centres wherein individuals may be permitted to pursue research on varied subjects under guidance of scientists / university professors. These centres may employ retired armed forces officers and scientists from DRDO as adviser to the research scholars. Few scientists(NRIs) from foreign countries who have worked in the defence industry may also be considered as professors and advisors. These R&D centres in each of the universities may also be designated as nodes of excellence for certain specific scientific fields with requisite laboratories and test facilities for better focus.
Taking the idea of such R&D research centres further, establishing a national university exclusively for defence R&D may be considered by the government. To start with, It may well be part of the National Defence University (NDU) initially which is scheduled to come up in Gurgaon under supervision of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS).The systems and processes of this institution should be akin to international academic standards with full autonomy in its functioning, lest it goes DRDO way. Such an institution,if nurtured well, over period of time should become the hub centre of the research in the country and be the harbinger of cutting edge technologies.
Similarly , the big business houses may also establish such R&D nodes to encourage young scientists to pursue research in defence field, who later may be absorbed by the industry. The government my permit such facilities as part of corporate social responsibility schemes (CSR) for defence oriented research as it would serve the social as well as national cause. Besides this, the government may like to make it mandatory to invest a reasonable percentage of profit for the R&D by the big industrial houses who are keen to join the defence production.
The R&D is the key to self sufficiency for our military hardware as the foreign OEMs are unlike to part with their cutting edge technology as it would impact on their own businesses. While we should continue to acquire advanced technologies from foreign sources, but ultimately we have to develop our own capabilities in this field which has been neglected so far. It requires an integrated approach wherein the public as well as private sector has to pitch in to initiate a culture of R&D with government as a facilitator and not the controller. To do that, there is a need of creating enabling environment to woo the best possible talent from the top technology institutions within the country and abroad. Its time to take bold decisions and catch up with the lost ground in the field of defence technology in order to empower the nation.
(Views expressed are personal)
Author- Lt Gen Rameshwar Yadav, PVSM, AVSM,VSM (Retd)
Former Director General Infantry, Indian Army