Buying what with $3 billion?`

Narendra Modi is making it a habit of trying futilely to buy respect, soft attitude, or consideration — it isn’t clear what, by approving multi-billion dollar military hardware acquisitions either just before or, springing surprises, during his trips abroad as happened with his announcement in Paris of the purchase of some 2 squadrons or 36 Rafales. These countries will glad-hand Modi, and just as gladly take India’s money. With the US visit looming, the finalization of the $3 billion deal for two types of helicopters — 22 of the Apache for ground attack and 15 Chinooks for heavy lift was on the cards. With cabinet decision it’s settled.

Note that despite all the talk of ‘Make in India’ and indigenization, that as regards these government-to-government (G2G) deals that Washington in particular favours, there’s absolutely no question of any technology transfer. These are off-the-shelf buys where India forks out the money and the supplier state/Company pockets it. It may cut out the middlemen-commission agents and minimize the attendant corruption, true. But there’s also no offsets, no tech, no long term benefits, no nothing. And because it zeroes out the possibility of in-country production, the country is even more at the mercy of the supplier state for spares and servicing support, with the ever-present danger of the entire fleet or formation with such armaments and weapons platforms being grounded if policy differences grow between Delhi and the supplier state for any reason at all, as is bound to happen. In other words, there’s no guarantee that operations of these aircraft — Apaches and Chinooks as much as the Rafales, can be sustained at intense rates in, say, a conflict against Pakistan, where the interest of the US, for instance, would be in limiting and constraining the military force India can bring to bear. Obviously none of these factors have been scrutinized, and if pondered, given their due weightage.

Now, other supplier states, such as Russia, will ask for similar mode because along with money they also acquire political-diplomatic leverage in a neat package! Is this not known to GOI? Or does the govt believe that Modi’s charm will over-ride these aspects? Or, perhaps, Modi is convinced that buying goodwill with high-value arms transactions is the way for India to make a mark, get traction in foreign capitals, and advance the national interest. As history, however, shows such tactics/moves only reflect policy bankruptcy.

Worse, such G2G deals firm up the transactional bent of bilateral relations which many even in this govt have decried, because it fetches the country few benefits other than having impressive-on-paper orders of battle. This is one way to pushback full-scale indigenization and arms independence, empty the treasury, and obtain a hollow military capability. There are always repercussions.

Unfortunately for Modi, the Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington around the same time and the contrast couldn’t be starker. The Obama Admin is preparing an agreement to lay down rules of cyber warfare that originally contained many do’s but mostly don’ts that Beijing peremptorily rejected, because China is unwilling to accept a skewed arrangement benefitting the US. So the agreement will protect most of China’s interests, including its latitude to attack US economic facilities, etc. Xi too is pleading for lines of economic cooperation to be kept open, except he is also holding out a threat. Modi, on the other hand, goes thither as a supplicant asking for investment, FDI, without however preparing the ground in the country to receive it with administrative, labour and tax reforms foreign investors want. So, again, we’ll have pledges of investment amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars that eventuate in only a trickle and then of investment funds whose managers are bold enough to accept at face value the Indian PM’s promises. And oh, yes,we’ll get a televised eyeful of occasions where large gatherings of flag-waving, Modi-hurrahing NRIs shouting themselves hoarse let off patriotic steam, safely offshore!

This is not what many of us who early plonked for Modi as a hard nationalist and fervently desired his electoral success, hoped and, even less, expected. May be, we misread the man, that he is in fact just another ‘namoona’ from the Indian political mainstream, another version of Manmohan Singh — with no strategic vision, will, or many good ideas and a willing captive of the bureaucracy and the permanent establishment. What a disappointment!!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Buying what with $3 billion?`

  1. RK Anuj says:

    Kudos. You have surely come a long way.

  2. santhosh says:

    bharat sir, daily i go through your website reading your articles and opinions…..coming to modi , i never believed this person to be a reformer even though i voted for BJP just becoz we cant tolerate congress corruption in its 10-year long rule…..modi in his gujarat has neither done any police or administrative reform….education reform is less said the better it is in gujarat in particular and india , in general…he is the beneficiary of this corrupt system though i appreciate and take inspiration from his humble background….i was just watching MODI expecting something out of box solutions to our evils in india..HOME, DEFENCE, FOREIGN , EDUCATION ,COMMERCE, FINANCE all the ministries are headed by half knowledge politicians, who in their life long career never talked or written on education, economy or security or foreign affairs…..Generalist era in bureaucracy is over….it is high time to close the IAS cadre completely and modi through NITI AYOG meetings call CM’s and tell in no uncertain terms that state administration and governance should be looked after by state public service commission officers…..IFS exam should be held separately ….sir , iam a civil services aspirant…i agree with your view completely that we lack map reading habit…in civil services coaching , we r taught history without a map in the class and students at the end of the history course dont know why germany lost both world wars …..whole civil service preparation is a big joke of mugging and preparing 200 words for each topic and concept …it is time to think of administration in a different sense in tune with 21st century..UPSC shop should be closed

  3. archit says:

    An exellent and hard hitting to the point article. I would also add – the non-performance by DRDO, ADA, HAL and other such monstrosities that we have tolerated for ages also contributes to national weaknesses. The leaders who have to supplicate because of lack of indigenous capability could have done otherwise if we hadn’t needed the stuff in the first place.
    Accountability seems to been limited to sacking a few secretaries appointed by previous govts and installing bio-metric readers for recording time-in and out at ministries and not quality actual work done. Difficult to pin-point whose ideas and interests are actually playing out. He also been taking credit for old schemes and screwing those up also. Case in point – OROP implementation and the heavy handed media blanket after the howls of protest. This struck me as particularly idiotic since it will deject and demoralise the man behind the machine.
    Maybe the Make in India would also arguably be a concept propounded by many think tanks and strategists for a very long time, which was tom tommed by both this and previous govts as their own brainchild.

  4. Shaurya says:

    When I heard the news of the approval, the picture I had in mind was here comes Santa Claus with gifts for the US. Having said that, let us see what can Modi get from the US, that US can give and India desires?

    I would say – my top ask would be to “shift” some of the manufacturing done in China to India. Yes, I know we go in circles then on infrastructure, land, corruption, labor reforms et al… All in Modi’s court. The Indian people thought they will get a revolution through other means, not beating up joint secretaries to do their jobs. In fairness to Modi, he never promised a revolution, just a better working government.

  5. Dear Mr. Karnad:

    India will continue to bear the ignominy of being the world’s largest arms importer until the following steps are taken by the elected leadership of this country:
    * The defense-related laboratories and manufacturing units run by the government have to undergo a top-management purge and thereafter be held accountable for their quality-, deliverable-, and financials-related performance.
    * The armed forces need to be made accountable for the success of the various weapons-related programs that are presently being funded by the government. Instead of being merely a buyer, they need to be made an owner. If necessary, let these laboratories and manufacturing units come under the purview of the armed forces.
    * Beyond certain ranks in the army, air force, and navy, it should be forbidden for retired servicepersons to join private arms manufacturers. The umbilical cord between foreign weapons manufacturers and service persons needs to be severed.
    * The army and air force have to be made to understand that the spigot for imports is being closed irrevocably. Thereafter, the army and air force have to make do with what is being produced indigenously or go to the front without weapons. It is likely that they might choose the latter course, and, in that case, they should be exposed before the nation. I have deliberately not included the Indian Navy in this point.
    * And, yes, it should be unequivocally admitted to the armed forces that the present output from the laboratories and public sector undertakings is unsatisfactory in terms of timeliness, capability, and quality. But, that being the case, it is now incumbent upon the armed forces to roll up its sleeves and work with the scientists and public sector undertakings to sort out these problems.

    Unfortunately, given the ignorance of our hereditary members of parliament about foreign policy and defense, such thinking is wishful.

    On a slightly unrelated note, as long as the hagiography of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” is perpetrated on this nation, it will not progress.

    Thank you.

    • Shail says:

      “Thereafter, the army and air force have to make do with what is being produced indigenously or go to the front without weapons. It is likely that they might choose the latter course, and, in that case, they should be exposed before the nation.”

      Really Dude?????? How? by dying like 1962? are you by any chance related to Nehru or VK Krishna Menon? Let me guess…. you will never expose yourselves to stuff (read: real danger) which you profess others should do (without equipment?????). Are you sane? or just Another Chetan Bhagat who used his countries taxpayers largesse to do his IIT and IIM and writes idiotic comments from the comfort of his (foreign) air conditioned office who drives (foreign developed) expensive cars and uses (foreign developed) mobiles and computers to post his patriotic opinion on subject he knows nothing about.

      “I have deliberately not included the Indian Navy in this point.”
      Better PR of the Navy? P8i, Kilo Class battery busting submarines? New ships without weapons? MiG 29 K ? Indigenous carriers with american knowhow? all wpn and electronic systems – israeli?
      Do you have a holistic picture? Data? Analysis? or are you just another opiniated troll?

    • Archit says:
      This seems to be what you want the armed forces to become?

  6. mnas dhar says:

    Shocked to see the comments. I think Indians dont deserve an honest leader. The helicopter deal has been hanging fire for the past many years and the American manufacturing company Boeing had given an ultimatum of increasing the prices drastically if a decision was not taken. These are probably one of the most advances helicopters in the World today and are badly required by the army as well as the air force in the mountainous regions close to the China border as well as in Kargil and other places.
    If Modi doesnt make these decisions then be rest assured our armed forces will have to fight wars using tender documents. the maintenance and spare parts are part of the deal, the administration would have taken care of that part having experienced American behavior in the past.

    • mnas.dhar@ — the point that was sought to be made was simple enough. If the Indian PM goes around the world spreading largesse, like the Maharajas of yore buying this here that there without a well thought-out master procurement strategy, the military acquisitions will reflect drift more than purpose and, far from improving India’s defence preparedness, accentuate the ad hocism at the core of policy.

  7. archit says:

    Read the article guys. especially the last line
    “He said the current value of production orders or DAC cleared systems from the DRDO stable stands at 1.79 Lakhs Crores, which does not include strategic systems.”
    isnt that more than enough? (for the flamers and trolls above)

  8. archit says:

    and on another note….
    “The armed forces need to be made accountable for the success of the various weapons-related programs that are presently being funded by the government. ”

    are you responsible for the quality and performance of your TV, car, Cellphone, construction quality of your house other than testing it at the time of buying? do you buy stuff which doesnt meet your requirement in real life just to keep the shopkeeper/ manufacturer in gravy? one who doesnt deliver despite 60 yrs and billions worth of infrastructure , manpower budget?
    I think lets get real here

    • @archie — this is a disingenuous and fallacious analogy — TV set and customer, etc. The fact is without hands-on direction, supervision (through program oversight & management) by the military services, which is the norm in all countries with meaningful defence industries, synergy cannot be achieved. Without synergy we are faced with the situation that we are.

      • Dear Mr. Karnad:

        To buttress your point, let me state that the relationship between the armed forces and the national defense-related undertakings cannot be akin to that between a customer and supplier. To begin with, far too much money is poured into each of these entities from the same tax payer’s pocket for them not to liaise in a responsible manner with each other. And, we are not talking about cell phones and TV sets here; we are talking about strategic assets for the nation.

        The current crop of offerings from the national defense-related undertakings may not be up to the mark, but they certainly would not have been developed in a vacuum without any specifications from the armed forces. The only way to improve and salvage these programs is to put these weapons in use and collaboratively and iteratively improve them through user feedback.

        The armed forces do not seem to realize that they will always be a second-rate force unless they are supported by a domestic armaments industry. Perhaps, that is the issue; they are content with being a second-rate force, showing off their shiny toys in parades and recruitment advertisements and providing one-sided accounts of their performance in training engagements with the US or UK, instead of working with limited national resources for the future.

      • Archit says:

        I am led to believe they dont have any say whatsover and this is the Company Policy. It seems they have to take whats made whether it fits the bill or not. Like bullet proof jackets which arent, Sub batteries which explode, HAL built aircraft which crash regularly like coffins, Rifles which jam when fighting terrorists. I think its a National Shame and you are blaming them for some one elses fault. If this happened in my factory, i would sue the suppliers ass off and show him the bloody door. Is defence about defending or procuring? if procuring the wrong thing is counter productive dump the self righteous moralising sermons and move on and get the main job done. Give incentives to get the real scientists back. I dont understand how you can expect a guy trained for fighting to be a scientist or technology producer or developer or whatever you call it. Its a plainly silly concept. Both are different specialised jobs. Which operations guy gets into procurement and R&D. its a total waste, both jobs will get compromised. Also this constant bitching by guys like this Reluctantly Indian without offering any real solutions gets my goat. Cant we be civil here?

  9. Shail says:

    1. Are any QRs approved without collegiate approval which includes DRDO and the Ministry? ever? for any procurement? DPP says …………. (fill in the blanks : @Reluctantly Indian)

    2. Does DRDO accept Armed Forces oversight? or suggestions? is there any joint development where BEFORE the trial phase (i.e. Design and Development phase, DPR ) any armed forces involvement is ever accepted by DRDO or its brother orgs? Any internal time and progress review meetings where the concerned customers are privileged to attend and say — we are on the wrong track here? (fill in the blanks : @Reluctantly Indian)

    3. Who accepts the Categorisation of the Buy ( Indian, make, global etc?) ….(fill in the blanks : @Reluctantly Indian)

    4. Who negotiates the contracts? ….(fill in the blanks : @Reluctantly Indian)

    Once we get the (correct and Real ) answers to the QS above, we may ponder over who said what and can engage in a debate. Till then Ciao Boys

    Pl avoid asinine comments like this one ————–
    ” Perhaps, that is the issue; they are content with being a second-rate force, showing off their shiny toys in parades and recruitment advertisements and providing one-sided accounts of their performance in training engagements with the US or UK, instead of working with limited national resources for the future.”

    My suggestion
    Second is too high a grading. Maybe you should save us Indians by training the armed forces and show them “How its to be done” Put your money where your mouth is.

  10. Ravi says:

    Probably the wily Civil Servants (Babus who have no Nationalistic feelings and have only personal interest in their mind and who are unelected rulers of India) in the Defence Ministry pushed for the deal.The article by Shri Prabhu Chawla succinctly serves as a caution to Shri Narendra Modi ( Civil servants are subservient to the interests of Congress Party.I feel the public should be wary of Civil Servants (Bureaucrats) than of Politicians.A politician may lose his power if he loses in an election.But once a Bureaucrat gets inducted into the system,he gets automatic promotions,perks and also creates lucrative post retirement sinecures.Bureaucrats are the most cunning class of India.Meanwhile kindly see the illustrative list of Officers who are yet to submit their immovable property returns:
    Also see these links Sir:
    And these people lecture to the Public about probity,accountability,corruption-free governance in Public life.God alone can save India from these Bureaucrats (who have the image as repository of Knowledge,Walking Encyclopedia,etc) among the common public.
    A politician can be out of Power,can lose his clout if he loses an election.,but alas the Bureaucrat is always in Power and never loses his clout even if he retires.

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