On the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Israel a column of mine published July 1, 2017 in BloomberyQuint and posted on this blog (https://bharatkarnad.com/2017/07/01/modi-in-israel-need-for-more-equitable-defence-collaboration/ ) had argued for a more fair and equitable arrangement with Israel in collaborating on weapons development, and against contracts that left the low-value work for DRDO to do, while the high-value stuff — the engine, and seeker were exclusively for the Israelis to produce.
On July 17 a piece of mine published in the Indian Express (and posted here — https://bharatkarnad.com/2017/07/17/the-arms-of-others/#comments ) made the case for India needing to extract benefits from investing heavily in developing Israeli medium range SAM (MRSAM), Long-range SAM (LRSAM) and buying Israeli Spyder QRSAM (Quick Response SAM), the last at the expense of the indigenous QRSAM successfully tested the very day Modi reached Tel Aviv. These deals I stated fetched the country nothing by way of any real technology transfer or even Intellectual Property Rights on MRSAM-LRSAM technologies developed with Indian money [and thereby — and I didn’t say it in that article repeating the mistake India made when Narasimha Rao in 1996 saved the Su-30 design unit and production line in Irkutsk from closure by injecting Rs 6,000 crores in it without asking for anything substantive in return to help the Indian combat aviation sector that was then designing the Tejas LCA]. I suggested in it that as the weakness of the Indian tactical missile programs has been the target seeker technology, it would be more cost-efficient to buy whole — on a one-shot basis — just the seeker technology with complete transfer of both know-why and know-how, rather than spend billions of US dollars to unnecessarily buy the entire systems without the TOT on the critical seeker tech. Moreover, I also decried the GOI’s tendency to almost reflexively buy/import military goods at great cost when there were indigenous projects ready to take wing, and needed only the govt to show some confidence in them.
It is good to note — for a change — the reversing by the new defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of the contract for the Israeli Spike anti-tank guided missile, a move that will save $500 million for 8,000 and more of these munitions with all-weather and night-firing capability on the basis of her confidence that DRDO was well on its way to producing a like-item inside of 3-4 years. Emboldened, Minister Sitharaman should axe the MRSAM and LRSAM contracts as well, and have MOD negotiate with Israeli mil-electronics firms for just and ONLY the missile seeker tech in toto. With enough money in hand even the most sensitive tech is now available.
This is a major decision and Sitharaman will be well advised to go in for another “innovation” — a detailed contract between MOD/army for delivery by DRDO of this missile in the contracted time-frame, with the specific ATGM DRDO project head along with the DRDO chief, Dr S. Christopher, signing this document and thus making them legally responsible for on-time outcome. The fear of being hauled up in case of failure has to, however, be counter-balanced with the incentive, say, of a large cash award for on-time delivery and for meeting performance parameters to motivate the main designers and engineers. This carrot and stick policy is what needs to be made the norm for all DRDO programs, because DRDO has for too long promised too much and then failed to deliver, and in the process completely lost the military users’ trust and confidence. Trust and confidence repeatedly undermined and eroded over the years can only be restored if DRDO establishes its reputation as a reliable supplier of new and novel weapons or weapon enhancement technologies, ideally, before the armed forces espy a need for them..