Wrong man on watch and SPP

Image result for jaitley at military base -- pics

The Ministry of Defence is in desperately deep trouble for all sorts of reasons, including the most basic, namely, that the Government of India simply doesn’t have the financial resources to commit to large military acquisition and modernization programs. Especially at a time when the economic indices are slipping on all fronts from the GDP growth rate (down to 6.1%) to a stalled manufacturing sector. The general lethargy afflicting the economy means that, for want of funds, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has to nix the burgeoning demands of the Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley. One can see the dilemma Jaitley, holding clashing ministerial posts, finds himself in. He cannot create wealth out of stuttering economic progress and he can’t leave the requirements of the armed services hanging. And he can’t disappoint prime minister Narendra Modi for whom he is a harbinger of good times, and a mascot; Jaitley having crucially sided with Modi at the Goa meet when most of the BJP led by LK Advani was tilting towards Sushma Swaraj as the PM candidate heading into the 2014 elections.

Sure, Jaitley never was and is not now the man to run MOD. He has not a shred of interest nor intuitive feel for, or understanding of, the military or national security issues and cannot, for the life of him, decide between hard choices he is unable to make head or tail of. It was all very well for Finance Minister Jaitley to airily dismiss the indent for Rs 64,000 crores to raise and field the first of the mountain offensive corps (17 Corps). Quite another as Defence Minister to ignore the need for such a fighting formation in the face of a China challenge that far from abating, only intensifies. Like a cricket team that suddenly finds itself five wickets down, not many runs on the board, and relying on iffy tailend batsmen  to put up a respectable score, and a time frame of two years in which to revive the BJP team’s prospects, Captain Modi sent in a night watchman he trusted to ensure that there was no rout.

By nature, night watchmen are not expected to be other than cautious and to fiddle around at the edges, which is precisely what Jaitley has been doing at MOD after Manohar Parrikar’s return to Goa. He has a whole table load of issues to pronounce on but has taken no big decision. So unsure and uncomfortable is he in his charge in South Block, he did not want to even read out an anodyne speech MOD bureaucrats would no doubt have drafted for him for the upcoming annual Shangrila conference of defence ministers and security experts in Singapore — the Asian counterpart of the yearly Wehrkunde security conference held in Munich featuring defence ministers and other notables from NATO member states and from countries where NATO forces are involved, such as Afghanistan, whence President Abdul Ghani’s presence at the 2017 Munich Meet in February this year.

This may have been out of Jaitley’s justified fear that he’d have to face the media asking difficult questions, which would show up the Modi government’s pusillanimity in the foreign-military sphere. Such as, why India has not done much beyond talking of security cooperation with Asian littoral states, to actually taking substantive measures to contain China? Why Australia, despite its keenness in participating in the annual 2017 Malabar Exercise involving Indian, American, and Japanese navies to be conducted next month in the Bay of Bengal, has been barred from doing so, with Delhi insultingly limiting Canberra’s involvement to posting its naval observers on the decks of participating ships? Why India has been all but inactive in asserting its right of navigation in the hitherto free seas off Indo-China that Beijing has cordoned off as its own exclusive maritime domain in the South China Sea?  And why Vietnam — with Delhi not passing on the Brahmos cruise missiles to Hanoi, is veering away from India, and towards the US, to shore up its defences against China? Etc. One can intuit how Jaitley saw himself tripping up no matter what he said and potentially earning the ire of his boss. After all, Modi has routinely made much of his having enhanced the country’s international standing and status in his three years in office.

Now consider the long awaited  “strategic partnership policy” the MOD recently unveiled — mostly a formalization of the Dhirendra Singh Committee Report, on which the Modi regime has staked much in terms both of arms self-sufficiency and employment generation  — its ‘Make in India’ program.  It is a non-starter. For the simple reason that the major Indian industrial conglomerates that will be identified for their skilled manpower base, and industrial capacity and track record, are expected to approach established defence industrial majors in the West and Russia to produce technologically indate military hardware in four armament categories — conventional submarines, combat aircraft, helicopters, and armoured combat vehicles (tanks, ICVs, APCs). So far so silly. Why? Because other than Larsen & Toubro, Tata, and possibly Mahindra owing to its automotive infrastructure, each of them is limited in its own way and for different reasons and lack the requisite physical wherewithal and/or expertise to meet the bill as potential prime system integrators to become the Indian Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

Secondly, with the foreign suppliers unable to have (51% plus) controlling equity in the joint ventures with Indian partners, there is no incentive whatsoever for foreign defence industrial majors to transfer advanced cutting-edge technologies owing to concerns about IPR, and because they would not want to set up competitors in the business, etc. So, India will have a whole bunch Western companies clamouring to sell one or two generations old military hardware and sell run-down assembly lines. So, if this ‘Make in India’ approach is persisted with, the Indian military will become a repository of antique armaments. Such as the F-16. And the M-777 howitzer. But because some of the Indian strategic partners will be newcomers to the industry, not having ever produced a thing of military value, to wit Reliance Aerospace by the Ambanis, the outfit to be set by the Adani Family close to Modi, et al, they will happily settle for any crumbs thrown their way in terms of manufacturing tools and jigs discarded by a Boeing, Lockheed, Navatia of Spain, British Aerospace, or Saab of Sweden, etc. used to turn out obsolete weapons systems. And, inevitably these private sector companies, like their public sector counterparts, will be strung along by their foreign partners who will keep most of the high-value production for themselves and their home industries, sticking the Indian end of the JVs with base structures, compelled perennially to import the high-value items and tech as “black boxes” which, in turn, will be high revenue earners for the foreign company.

Combine the above two factors and we have a recipe for the establishment of a wasteful private sector analogue to the public sector mess of DPSUs — all keyed to licensed production of foreign items, a screw driver technology level the country has not progressed beyond since the fateful decision was taken by the Indira Gandhi government to manufacture the British Gnats, the Russian MiG-21s, and the British Jaguar, in the late Sixties and Seventies, rather than rely only on indigenously-designed armaments which was feasible given the opening made by the home-grown Marut HF-24 and the combat aircraft that would have naturally followed.

So, what exactly is the value of duplicating the public sector limitations in the private sector? This is the point I have been trying to make for many years now, and why I have been advocating since my days in the NSAB during the first years of the Vajpayee government the need for an an entirely novel solution: Integration of public and private sector defence industrial resources to productively combine the physical facilities of the public sector with the labour productivity, profit motive, and the sheer commercial drive to ingest technology and to create it of the private sector. This solution, as I have elucidated in official papers and in my books and writings, involves all the DPSU and Ordnance Board assets being divided into two nearly equal groups, capacity and capability-wise, and  L&T and Tata put in charge of these two competing defence industrial combines with the freedom to mesh their own skill-sets and competencies with those of the DPSU-Ordnance assets under their control, and to obtain technologies from abroad or to source them locally as they please, just so long as they are made aware of the weightage accorded to the indigenous technology content of their products when it comes to selecting items for bulk procurement. In this set-up the two Combines will be expected to compete for defence contracts, with the government willing to finance product development up to the prototype stage, and the runoff and selection conducted by a separate MOD agency. In this scheme, initiative, innovation and economic and industrial risk-taking will be rewarded with extra points when it comes to assessing the finished product. Moreover, the possible concern that this is another way to privatize valuable public assets is addressed by the fact that in this arrangement the grouped public sector companies far being sold to L&T and Tata, will fetch the government handsome rent for use of facilities and even royalty (which can be negotiated) for each major system rolling out of their assembly lines. In this context, Indian corporates will more willingly invest in niche capabilities not available in the groups they head, than in the SPP sort of scheme, where the returns on investment will be wholly dependent on the sort of technology foreign companies part with. I mean what’s the sale prospects for a JV trying to sell the late 1960s vintage F-16 to countries that can as easily and for the same or lesser price tag buy the Su-30? Will India ever stop being a sap?

Jaitley, who has made banal statements about ‘ Make in India’ policy promoting arms self sufficiency, does not seem to have even minimal appreciation of what’s involved, what it will take, and why going indigenous is at once the more onerous and more difficult option, but also one that is unavoidable and inescapable if India wants to get out of importing all its military equipment, and become a  genuine great power. Then again,  Jaitley is only the night watchman sent in to firm up the innings. Plainly, he doesn’t have the druthers  to risk an imaginative solution, because defence minister is a fulltime job and it is beyond him.

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.
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12 Responses to Wrong man on watch and SPP

  1. Apna says:

    Jetley as an unelected man even in modi wave should not even been in cabinet.
    That is mockery of democracy and insult to leoples verdict.

  2. MS says:

    Why do you want Australia in the drill? China does not want Australia included and Aussies won’t come to India’s aid in war with China. What are the gains then?

    Your solution to privatise PSU is good. It is the supply chain that BIG ones create through small firms in India that will help a great across indutries not just defence. Support and trust the small guys. It is a very challenging puzzle to solve, your solutions looks best at this time. It is another thing that there has to be a zeal to grow by innovation in the BIG ones.

  3. Prasad says:

    On day 85, in week 15. we continue to have a Part Time Defense Minister or / and a Part Time Finance Minister. Perhaps this Is the Minimum Government plus Maximum Governance promised to us.

    You are right. Mr.Jaitley is NOT suited to be the Defense Minister. He is either uncomfortable or plain uninterested in assuming the role of Defense Minister.

    Mr.Parrikar was a far better Defense Minister, though he talked too much. But he was a man of substance, even though he was a tad indiscreet and loquacious.

    Three years of lost opportunities and counting.

    If the LCA Tejas was mass produced and flying today, defense aviation industry, human resources, institutional experience, infrastructure and innovation would have only grown from strength to strength by 2022

  4. Atul says:

    Your solution of putting L&T and TATA in charge of two major defense industrial groups, covering all DPSUs and OFBs is quite intriguing. What will stop them from becoming behemoths hell-bent upon monopoly and screwdrive-giri? God forbid, if a future government extends you argument and decides to replace L&T and Tata with ADANI and AMBANI as the duopoly over Indian defense sector, that would be a perfect harakiri. Your solution is not workable as only catalyst that can work out in India is competition, even a controlled one. That way, the SP policy or even an RUR strategy will work. L&T vs Tata or Adani vs Ambani are no sure-shot panacea. Defense needs a long term sustained strategy.

    • What is the difference now,you only have Boeing,Gripen & Sukhoi competing for the supply chain of MMRCA DEALS,the mother of all millitary deals. L&T are already making NUCLEAR POWERED SUBMARINES,are they controlling the market ? We can always buy from Moscow, the point which he wants to make is that we (indians) need to CREATE our own indigenous defence industry,but you are very keen to buy things from americans,you can bow down to your colonial masters,but you cannot give money to an indian ? Just imagine what would happen if we will have our own indian manufacturers ready to supply spare parts in a real war scenario,when even the supply of rations to us was stopped by your favourite yankees, who said JAI JAWAN JAI KISAN ? He wanted to build our own defence industry & he was assassinated. Remember ? So my brother,before you want to become a VISHWAGURU,remove your doubts & fears about future,live in present & take head on these western & chinese colonialists & first of all, GET OUT OF MENTAL SLAVERY
      PLEASE DON’T MISUNDERSTAND ME, I AM YOUR INDIAN BROTHER.

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        ROFL. Pls, just reblogging allowed for you. 🙂

        But Jaitley ji has become Def Min for the second time, while remaining the Fin Min too. There are two part time ministries for much of the NDA-2 that too being coordinated by a deal maker flexi-nationalist personality. Never heard him bitterly rant against or get counted, for any course of action on the defence front.

        Had a Def Min, harried-nationalist process guy like Parrikar been put incharge of Fin Min that would have made things better for both the Def Min and the Fin Min. Though that would have put a bumboo across the spokes for, the wheeling-dealing internationalist-Indians (tum Modi priya, Madav sum bhai).

        We have had much horny experimentation in the economy and too much of enervated experimentation in the defence sector. Fin Min takes on projects bigger than what it can handle and Def Min shuns projects that are well below its competence levels. Nearly all the Indigenous projects could have been fast tracked at double the existing speed laying the ground a true MII MIC. Also nearly all the imports could have been slowed down to half their existing speeds or just nixed completely, without harming the forces.

      • And that is exactly what Parrikar was doing, he had accepted the requisition of HAL to increase their production capacity to upto 16 aircrafts per year & within 10 years,it will be fine for our needs for additional squadrons consisting of 160 fighter jets that were required initially to balance with PLA (Air Force) ,apart from your mellifluess ornamental phrases in the language which were quite stunning for me brother ( as you can see i am not even a rookie in oratory skills 😊) what Mr. Karnad wanted to address was the Danger Level Analysis & Real-Time Action that needs to be talken for starters. Second, OFB also gives contracts for making spare parts by local manufacturers,what is wrong in the indian manufacturers a new arena where they can compete,afterall, we have the iron ore deposits everywhere in India. I know the compulsions Mr. Modi has right now & trust me that is coming from a HARDCORE HINDU NATIONALIST,but he should & he CAN open the lid for indian indigenous manufacturers as well, so that the dream of RSS of Swadeshi is achieved, afterall that is what #IndiaFirst is all about, isn’t it ? 😞 Anyways, i had a very fruitful conversation with you.

  5. andy says:

    “because defence minister is a fulltime job and it is beyond him”

    This sums up the whole Jaitly as defence minister saga.A mediocre Finance minister ,who has earned the reputation of being a tinkerer rather than a harbringer of change in the finance ministry ,being alloted the additional responsibility of the defense ministry ,at a time when theres dire need of some quick and innovative action to bolster Indias defences against numerous external and internal threats is a regressive step indeed.Compared to Jaitly,Parrikar was a go getting RM and that’s saying a lot!Dont know what PM is thinking,whatever it is, its not right.

    Theres urgent need for a commited full time RM whose very presence will make the Pakis and Chinks nervous.Anyone for Subramaniam Swamy as RM?

    • Shaurya says:

      Sushma Swaraj! Understands Swadeshi, is a doer and the Pakis would be petrified by her Durga like big bindi and wide eyes. As it is Modi, likes to be get the Air India miles, hug and be in the limelight.

      She is independent enough to take on both Jaitley in the FM over budgets and even Modi to some degree.

  6. devraj says:

    Sir,on may month last week one of indian sukhoi 30mki crashed in north east.romours are there, it has been destroyed by chinese cyber warfare system by disturbing cockpit computer,even russian and usa cyber experts have express conern.if it is true then china can destroy most indian figher planes in war by this cyber weapon and lead india to big defeat.please reply.

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