The Arms of Others

Image result for pics of the Indian quick reaction missile tests

(Test firing of the indigenous QRSAM)

In the defence sector, India’s import fixation is taking a toll


As on some of his earlier foreign trips, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised Israel, the host country, rich contracts for military hardware, in this case for joint development of medium range and long range surface-to-air missiles (MRSAMs and LRSAMs), and for off-the-shelf purchase of the Israeli Spyder Quick Reaction SAM (QRSAM) for the army.

Why do these deals stick in the throat? The Modi government approved them earlier this year even though it knew the indigenous QRSAM, for instance, was on track and would be tested soon. Both its first test firing on June 4 and the second, pointedly, on July 3, the day Modi left for Israel, went off without a hitch. A third successful test-firing and this locally made missile would be ready for series production and induction. Acting Defence Minister Arun Jaitley praised DRDO for the successful tests, but didn’t take the next, logical, step — scrapping the contract for the Spyder that would have saved the country in excess of $2-3 billion, and given a fillip to the local armaments design and development efforts at the heart of Modi’s flagship Make in India programme.

There was no need to go to Israel for 500 units each of MRSAMs and LRSAMs either. The Akash short range missile is already operational with the Indian Air Force. True, this missile’s performance is deficient owing to a sub-par Russian radar seeker, but there’s little else wrong with it. So, a sensible solution would have been for the indigenous Akash project to be tasked with developing scaled-up medium and long range versions of the missile within the timeline given to the Israelis. A more narrowly defined deal with Tel Aviv to co-develop a radar-seeker for the Akash missiles could then have been signed at a fraction of the $5-7 billion cost of MRSAM-LRSAM.

The Israeli contracts to win goodwill are like the PM’s announcement in April 2015 in Paris to buy 36 Rafale combat aircraft. These are too few in number to have any sustained impact in war and too costly not to divert scarce funds from the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which is technologically the same as the 4.5 generation Rafale. But because it is an Indian design, it can spawn a whole bunch of air force and naval variants in the future.

India’s purchase of the Rafale prevented the French company, Dassault Avions, from closing down its combat aircraft development complex, because until then no country had bought this inordinately expensive fighter plane. The Indian contract will fetch France Rs 1,750 crore per Rafale, for a minimum payout by India of Rs 63,000 crore.

Incidentally, this is about the cost of raising 17 Corps, the army’s first large offensive mountain warfare formation which Jaitley, wearing his finance minister’s hat, had earlier rejected as unaffordable. Now the Chinese are acting up in the Doklam area and India, as ever, is bereft of forces to take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau.

And while in Washington, Modi promised US President Donald J. Trump consideration of the 1970s vintage F-16 fighter plane for assembly in India. Lockheed Martin will make billions of dollars from shifting the worn out F-16 production line to India. The F-16 has no realistic chance if the IAF has any say in the decision, but the Saab Gripen is likely to get in as the single engine aircraft choice of the IAF, again at the expense of the Tejas LCA.

Modi is not the first prime minister to be profligate with the country’s resources. In 1995-96, the Congress PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao, rescued the Sukhoi Bureau and manufacturing plant in Irkutsk from shuttering with a generous subvention of Rs 6,000 crore. In return, he did not contractually demand Intellectual Property Rights for the Su-30 technologies developed there, or that Sukhoi share the design work load with Indian aircraft designers in the Aeronautical Development Agency in Bangalore, who created the LCA, or that technology be fully transferred, including source codes, to Indian agencies, or anything else remotely to advance India’s defence industrial capability.

Between an imports-fixated Indian military and an Indian government that seems incapable of thinking straight, the country is fated to remain an arms dependency.


Published in the Indian Express, July 17, 2017,


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, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Arms of Others

  1. PD says:

    I would have thought that Mr Karnad, with extensive knowledge and high level contacts, in the country and abroad, would be aware that strategic decisions sometimes appear quixotic to an uninformed mind. Or does he really expect the PM or the RM to lay out the rationale for all procurement decisions in public domain? There is so much in government that does not meet the eye but that does not make the decisions made by the government, ipso facto, irrational. Having said so, let me also place on record that the non-implementation of the policies and guidelines on declassifying information by the government is largely responsible for all the kite flying that goes on. Were the government to follow the practice of declassifying files after the stipulated time, holding back only a few which may require longer holding back, much of the criticism will evaporate.
    But I am no pundit.

  2. Arijit says:

    Ask the question ” Why has the Indigenous arms industry has not been allowed to developed in India since 1947 ? ”

    1. We are a peace loving country and do not except to fight wars thinking as inculcated by M K Gandhi and Pdt J Nehru and the political class since 1947 ? such an argument is hogwash and pure unadulterated nonsense .

    2. Our Love affair with the Soviet Union and uncle Joseph Stalin ? No not true as the USSR had its own arms industry and so does Russia today .

    The main answer lies in the fact its the best way to make real money , by making huge deals in a closed institution and not many questions are asked ” for security reason ” everyone stands to gain…this was the culture we breed since 1947 . In the name of socialism we institutionalised corruption again.

    Only in recent times have we now started to think and talk revamping and jumping starting this Industry and nobody has been morally outraged ……yet …….

    • Apna says:

      More corruption has come in defence deal only after .id 80s when non soveit deals were made.
      Soveits were generous in giving most advanced weaponary to ibdua for then wirthless for russians tge jndian rupees which had to ve soent only in ibdia.
      The indian elites want dollar and pou d hence their trator attitude to indo soveit defence deal.
      I duans are really traitor and treacgerous lot especially their coolue like elites.
      What sociLism ? You still hVe 400 millions stRving pipulation and millions of farmer starving yearly.
      You talk of capitalusm ?
      Stupid traitors have sold india gor a few bobs.

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Why do you think countries like Russia with less than a third of our economic size have such a huge MIC. Russians were making 100+ aircrafts and helicopters about 3 years back. When I compare the economic sizes I am obviously comparing PPP basis but that is the only comparison basis that can rationally be used if the comparative benchmark is the indigenization of MIC. You pay indigenous money for indigenous capabilities, which is what an MIC is. If we have to pay forex then why must we make the stupid thing in India. Let the foreigners make it too. What is the point in this charade. Most of the Indian partners in the recent deals are the kind which have never made even a billing software for their own businesses. What will such companies learn from these ‘foreign collaborations’.

    Why could South Korea make a SpGH and we could not. How can Singaporeans think about supplying howitzers to us.

    Why does it take a mere 7 days for a committee meeting to be called to discuss importing rifles, immediately after the army declares that the Indian product has failed.

    How did China move ahead of us in MIC, in exactly the timeframe we had at our disposal.

    Why is the only difference between Pakistani Aviation manufacturing and Indian aviation manufacturing limited to them painting JF-17 and us painting Rafale.

    And even if we get to make in India an MIC why must it involve enslaving the whole country to the people who have left no stone unturned to undermine India. Do all countries have to enslave their people when they decide to make something for themselves.

    Personally I am very thankful to the Chinese for having supplied the Nukes to Pakis, else our nukes would never have been developed at all.

    What kind of information disclosure norms end up justifying all this stuff. And even if we get such a FOIA the question would still arise as to the kind of personality allows this or accepts such state of affairs.

    And the goddamned thing is that even today there is no acceptance of the fraud this constitutes on the country. Forget about the will to change all this.

    All we have jumlas like IDDM when infact the only real difference between pre-IDDM an IDDM enunciation is a 10% hike from ‘at least 30% indigenous content’ to ‘at least 40% indigenous content’. Whatever policies were made for the ‘at least 30% indigenous content’ now get available at ‘at least 40% indigenous content’. What the hell.

    And my perennial favourite – A plan to fund DRDO in the budgetary limits of Rs. 10 K to Rs. 15 K crores hiring only 6000-7500 engineers/designers with only 2-3 engineers per sub-project is a definite plan to keep India enslaved for next 50+ years at least. Even Thales (just one lousy company) has more in its kitty.

  4. Venkat says:

    I do not think the government has to,explain every decision and the agenda.
    No country will give only IP say for seekers. Let us be clear seeker is THE MOST important part of having a good missile !
    Coming to MIC, Indian private sector led by big family owned companies like Ambanis , Birlas, Adanis , Narayan Murthys , have never bothered to invest in manufacturing , mechanical or electronic or even software products . Only a few like TATAs , TVS, L&T, Godrej did, rest of the manufacturing is led by PSU or multi national companies (Robert Bosch, Suzuki, samsung, LG etc). Even today it is startups who are into drones , defence electronics. We do not even have full fledged mobile phone company !
    How can any country then develop an MIC ? Where is the money ?

    • Reasoned says:

      ” Where is the money ? ”
      Spent on importing arms and keeping foreign MIC buoyant .

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      You will find the money at exactly the place it was going to come from :
      1) when BJP was promising Rs. 16,50,00,00,00,000/- to Bihar even if BJP lost the elections or
      2) where Rs. 8,00,00,00,00,000/- was to be found even if BJP would have lost in J&K or
      3) from the place from where now the next 2 govts. will find USD 233,000,000,000/- in next 10 years solely for capex (futuristically speaking) or
      4) from where USD 12,000,000,000/- was to be found for LCA domestic privatization or
      5) from where India pays for importing of 13% of all weapons imports of this world (historically speaking) or

      But even if we work on the premise that there is no money to be found, still, how does that explain the fact that be it UPA or NDA, India increased its arms imports by 43 per cent, between 2007–11 and 2012–16
      What the hell was the common factor here with UPA and NDA.

      But again, do you see anything to suggest that we will not end up like the following ever again
      Any plans, any expeditures, any hirings or any wish lists even if contingent towards avoiding this. How do they plan to fight? With other guy’s arms? How do they plan to stand straight? On other guy’s legs?

      And BTW your last hope seems to have come true ie. about the naming of Kashmiri terrorists before targeting them. So in your case I would like you to keep hoping about an Indian MIC. May be you are the lucky chap who gets his hopes answered. Being lucky is certainly better than being the best :).

  5. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    While these GST and Notebandi were a few things the technocrats had thought of still I would not criticise any govt. over GST except again over the implementation and hyperbole both of which do not lend any credit to what we actually have on the platter before us. Given the state of governance in India, IMO this item of business deserves to be tolerated despite the warts and moles.

    Notebadli too is now matter of historical study. The multiplier effect on that would have worked wonders for MII and shows the potential capacity for direct generation of Indian capital. Even today if he general public sees some real intent backed up by money and time and human resources they will be more than happy to move over solely to digital cash. Do you know why an Chinese on a chinese street accepts the high handedness of the CPC. Because CPC has by its deeds, consistently given that chinese on chinese streets a chance to work on the things that chinese wants to work on. Notebandi was in essence a potential business proposition ultimately beaten up and misused as a settlement scheme by a small cabal of so called netas and investors. Modi ji is happy merely having escaped the brunt of the bad choices.

    But its not just these man-made methods that were mis-applied and/or ultimately frittered away.

    We have had good monsoons for almost all of Modi years. That alone would have added 1% of GDP or about 20 billion an year.

    Then there is the historical crude bonanza that was frittered away. MMS ji saw crude rise rapidly and without respite from 46 USD per barrel to a peak of 145 USD per barrel and even when he was out the crude was still at 105 USD levels. Net result the MMS years saw the public investment dry up in post-2012. Modi ji, saw the crude coming down from that point to around 46 USD of today. That should have added about a long term average of 1/3 of 60 Billion USD Per year of import bill (another 20 billion USD per year). Refer :

    During this time China tied up 400 billion USD worth of Oil imports from its next door neighbour Russia. While we have today begun importing crude from that far off land called USA completely ignoring Iran, sitting right next door. Coincidently US crude production has peaked in 2015 refer : and there crude reserves have gone from 19 billion barrels to 36 billion barrels (IOW no headroom for maneuvering). Some years back when Jaitley ji was asked as to the cash flow savings to Indian private oil companies, prompt came the reply – those who lost money during downturn have to be paid back in good times. He never gave any thought that perhaps he & his principal would require money when the going begins to get tough. Nobody is guaranteed such a long spell of good luck.

    Think of it like this. When a businessman runs his business he tries to maximize the leverage to the extent that he does not lose control of his business or his capital. It is or at least should be the same for Indian (speaking of it as a separate legal entity). India is a 7.5 trillion USD economy browbeaten by the so called international markets into a small 2 trillion USD denomination. Be that as it may the valuation of PPP come from the Indian trading with other Indians inside India. It has no reference to the outsiders views or opinions, except to the extent of the accounting translation entry of converting a real PPP to a notional dollar. The yearly inflows from all of so called FDI (roundtripped blackmoney + HNI-NRI real estate stocking + real FDI) all accounts for about a 100 billion USD. Even if we consider it all a debt to be paid off how does that justify that 100 billion tail wagging the 7.5 trillion dog. Our system today lives merely to support the so called financial opportunities for the tail-enders all in the name of ‘ease of business’. The true owner is sitting out completely uninterested by this system. What does the Indian saver gets – 4% to 8% average. What does the Indian asset investor gets – again 4% to 8% when averaged out over true life of the asset he tries to invest in. What do the so called FDI investors get – do check it out.

    On top of that a lot of this 100 billion USD is equity and not debt for example an NRI buying up a small house for his family back home or sending in money orders for his parents or dependent siblings – this money is not meant to go back, instead the NRI will more likely come back to India. The whole of gulf is floating with just such cases. Only the Nato based NRIs may not come back but even they have genuine needs for remittances. These people took the hit of the Rupee depreciation of UPA-2. Their small stock of capital which used to double up as emergency reserves and triple up as opportunity opening capital took the hit. And they are the ones who think Modi ji will change it for them. When the reality is that the mother nature and huge Indian population are the ones who are simply ignoring what they do not consider important for themselves. This non-HNI-NRI community too has to see what actually is happening on the ground their backs.

    For a system that does not respect the man who made/supports it and cocks a snook at the gods, I don’t know what future lies ahead.

  6. andy says:

    Dont know what to make of this.If the IAF must have used aircraft wouldn’t the multirole M2k be a better buy than the dated ground attack aircraft like the Jaguar?Wonder what the thinking is behind this move,unless its just to make up numbers.

    • Apna says:

      Old junk like f16 Nd british junk luke jaguar.
      Only treacherous india would even think about these when sge was offered t50 and nig 35 and sukhoi 35.
      Sgame on you india.go and do mass suicide.
      Better than living as slave of anglisaxons again.

      • andy says:

        Why not more SU30MKI?its cost effective and a versatile fighter plus its already there in the IAFs inventory along with the related ground support systems.

        Most right thinking folk on this forum advocate a Russian fighter for numerous reasons,so if someone thinks that they’ve come up with something new by advocating Russian military kit for the IAF they need to read Bharats past write ups on the subject along with the comments to get some perspective.

        Also it would be highly prudent to avoid calling Indians as a whole idiots,treacherous and advocating mass suicide for the entire country such silly comments are well tolerated on other forums like for eg.IDRW.Here it would be advisable to post some sensible comments otherwise its not going to easy going by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. Reasoned says:

    These were the same policies for which previous Government was criticized heavily by me and others . But now ,we’re told of secret gains that would usher in by imports , unknown benefits would be incurred by the same policies ,hidden clauses that would somehow ensure the viability of importing arms .We’re also told of exigency of importing arms ,shifting strategic paradigm – we’re told – requires the imports and the same old vapid cries of CBM .

  8. raja says:

    Shed some light on the NE situation. Its direction..?

  9. san man says:

    One of the best ways to develops arms is through Other People’s Money – that’s what the Israelis, Russians, Chinese, and Americans do – we should be creating an export-oriented arms industry which will compete against the other global competitors. Competing for the global export market will help force us to raise the bar qualitatively and on lowering costs, both of which will benefit our own domestic defense capability while also providing much-needed employment. As for the F-16, I’d much prefer the F-18 SuperHornet, which is an update on the older platform and still reasonably competitive today.

    • Fine. But we will still have to pay through our noses for the really dated F-16/F-18, however, updated, and that’s the problem, when the Tejas is right there to invest in and elevate as the star export item which will happen only when IAF takes full ownership in terms of inducting this aircraft and its inevitable variants in large and growing numbers.

      • Raj_ryder says:

        F18ef is a new 4++ aircraft designed in the nineties. The f16 on the other hand is on it last legs. One way or the other if the IAF doesnt indeginiouse it will remain a second tier force. Tejas has a weight to thrust problem which can be rectified over time. It needs to be developed hand in hand with the airforce as is done in every country but india. Every platform and weapons system matures overtime. But for some reason the IAF wants a fully developed platform(and keeps changing parameters) when that is inherently impossible. Case in point being the JF17 which is a modified mig21 and the PAF with the chinese are building on it. The block III JF17 is more advanced than its predecessor. Thats how every airforce plays it except the IAF.

      • Venkat says:

        We should not wait for Mk1A or 2. Buy it in squadron quantities keep improving it based on user experience. We are test flying it for last 16 years, by now we should have accumulated a few years of squadron service atleast to get its maintenance and reliability characteristics, even if it were not armed sufficiently . Armed versions could follow gradually . Guess this is nit embedded in IAF genes.

      • Assembly of BMW in India means we have built a domestic automobile Industry? Or Indian auto companies designing & making competitive Indian cars makes the industry?

  10. GhalibKabir says:

    Bharat, I agree the local QRSAM and also the likes of Akash should be pushed and supported. But is not imperative to ensure there is no shoddy manufacturing such as the CAG pointing out firing failures upwards of 20% in Akash tests and the use of recycled parts in Nirbhay?

    similarly, Again we are seeing HAL backsliding on Tejas Mk1A schedule… as much one might love local production to grow… It is very disheartening to see the self goal of screwing ourselves happen over and over…the list is endless…SSK technology indigenization, SSN construction quickening, local towed active sonar production etc… resources and import lobby aside…aren’t PSUs, Govts letting everybody down through shoddy workmanship & tardiness overall?

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