There are two significant national security failures of longstanding that need correction. Hopefully, 2022 will be the year that practical solutions begin to get implemented.
China has occupied some 1,000 sq miles of strategically important Indian territory in the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh. The Narendra Modi government’s response, other than talking about China needing to restore the “status quo ante”, has been underwhelming. India’s China policy needs a massive course correction to institutionalise a strictly reciprocal — tit for tat — approach. India needs to strategically arm Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines as Beijing has done Pakistan.
Chinese market access has to be restricted to the same level Indian exporters face in China, and the flow of Chinese automobiles, mobile telephony goods, and light manufactures ought to be shut down. If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre wants India to replace China as the ‘workshop’ of the world, it should begin at home by jettisoning the still suffocating regulatory and bureaucratic controls.
The hardline policy has to be complemented with appropriate military force structuring. While the Indian Army may be able to mount a passable defence with massed forces to match China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presence on the disputed border, it lacks the capacity to snatch back lost territory.
Such capability can be obtained by three offensive mountain corps (OMCs) for sustained proactive or aggressive action, and become financially viable only if the army’s three armoured strike corps — good only for the minor front against Pakistan — are reconfigured into a single composite corps for any Pakistan contingency. The remaining two strike corps need to be converted for mountain use with light tanks for high altitude operations.
These two formations, along with the Panagarh-based OMC (XVII Corps), will provide the means for the army to punch/counterpunch the PLA hard, and together with the existing defensively arrayed mountain divisions constitute a formidable fighting force able to blunt the PLA’s edge across the Himalayas, and limit Chinese influence in the extended region. Such repurposing of the armoured-cum-mechanised forces, if made part of the ongoing military reorganisation, that includes theaterisation, will minimise resistance to it within the army.
The other failure is regarding the aatmanirbhar (self-sufficiency) policy marked by confused thinking. Will the country be genuinely self-sufficient in arms if foreign supplier companies ‘make’ — in reality merely assemble — their products in India? This is exactly the ‘screwdrivering’ level of manufacturing technology the defence public sector units (DPSUs), such as HAL, Mazgaon Dockyard, et al, and the ordnance factories, have been mired in for the last 60 years.
They are habituated to license-manufacture contracts requiring them to just unpack the imported Completely Knocked-Down kits and Semi-Knocked-Down kits, and to screwdriver the various components and assemblies together to obtain weapons systems. Even here the advanced technologies pertaining to the weapons payload, propulsion, situational awareness, avionics, complex fire control systems, communications, etc. are transferred only as ‘black boxes’.
This process is labelled ‘indigenous production’, and the resulting ‘Made in India’ warships, submarines, and combat aircraft are boasted of as having 80 percent indigenous content, when this proportion is by weight, not value, as most high-end technologies that cost a bomb are imported whole, and account for 70 percent or more of the total contract value.
Further, these ‘screwdrivered’ DPSU-Ordnance Factory projects characterised by sloth, sleaze, corruption, bad work ethos, and low labour productivity and quality control rarely come in on time, or within cost. Worse, there is minimal technology ingestion, little reverse engineering, and no technology innovation and creation worth the name. This is the vicious arms dependency cycle the Department of Defence Production (DPP) in the defence ministry, the military and the DPSU-dominated defence industry now perpetuate in the guise of aatmnirbharta!
The stranglehold of the DPSUs in defence-related production is a liability. No government to-date has shown the political will, and economic common sense to integrate the highly-accomplished private sector into the national effort by allowing them to compete with the DPSUs for major military procurement deals. Consequently, accomplished firms with skilled workforce survive on sub-contracts from these DPSUs.
Consider the Tejas light combat aircraft. HAL’s annual production capacity is 16 aircraft; a second assembly line will double it, but won’t prevent the stretching of the induction period of the 83 Tejas the Indian Air Force has indented for, and to meet the potential demand for it abroad. The solution is multiple Tejas production lines requiring the DRDO to transfer source codes to several private sector companies for them to produce this aircraft and its variants in bulk for the IAF and for exports. Besides enabling the nascent Indian aerospace industry to take-off, it will create high-paying jobs, and generate revenues to amortise the vast investments made in this sector.
But who takes the long view in New Delhi?
Published in Moneycontrol.com, Dec 31, 2021, at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/two-national-security-problems-india-must-address-in-2022-7886621.html