Western doctrine, Russian arms - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 11 August 2008

Western doctrine, Russian arms

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Aug 08

India’s new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2008), unveiled by Defence Minister AK Antony on 1st August, is remarkable only for its lack of movement beyond an equally insipid predecessor, DPP-2006. Typically, Mr Antony pronounced the new policy a perfectly timed triumph, which would go a long way towards removing the exercise of all judgement from decisions related towards defence. Mr Antony genuinely believes that national security decision-making can be reduced to a series of checklists, which can be followed blindly to avoid controversy and debate.

True, DPP-2008 makes changes in the offset policy, notably the permission for offset banking, which will be welcomed by foreign vendors. But the really far-reaching changes that were hoped for, to vitalise India’s indigenous defence capability, simply did not happen.

DPP-2008, like its predecessor, lays down procedures for the capital procurement of defence equipment (Rs 48,000 crores in 2008-09) under three broad heads. The “Buy” procedure, on which most attention is focused, lays down rules for off-the-shelf purchases of defence items from foreign arms vendors. A variation of this, the “Buy and Make” procedure, stipulates rules for buying equipment as well as the blueprints for manufacturing it in India. The third heading, called the “Make” procedure, lays down how India’s domestic defence production establishments --- the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), eight defence PSUs, 40 ordnance factories, some 12 major private industrial houses and 500-odd SMEs --- will produce arms and equipment for India’s defence. The new policy glosses over this section.

It is not difficult to see why. Media reports centre almost exclusively on big-ticket purchases of fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers from foreign vendors. Political mud slinging centres on kickbacks supposedly paid by foreign vendors. And almost every significant foreign purchase gets scrutinised by the CVC. Unsurprisingly, the MoD too focuses entirely on sailing through this “Buy” minefield without blowing a hole in its side.

This unwarranted focus on “Buy” procedures is superficially reinforced by an axiom of defence economics which is: the cheapest way to obtain defence equipment is to buy it off the shelf, a slightly more expensive way is to buy the technology and build it, while the most expensive and risky method is to go in for development.

But this is true only from the shallowest perspective. The real cost of military equipment adds up in far deeper and long-lived ways than the price paid at the time of purchase.

Perhaps the most crippling cost of buying, rather than developing, arms is the doctrinal cost. Every major military power first considers its own reality --- its geography, its likely enemies and their capabilities, its allies, and the capabilities of its own soldiers --- and then frames a doctrine for how it will fight. This is even more important for a country like India, which has multiple geographies, several potential enemies, no local allies, a relatively poorly educated peasant-based soldiery, a high tolerance for casualties, and a very short time window in which to impose a military solution. India’s military equipment must be tailored to those realities.

But it is not. Instead of a well-considered analysis of India’s geography, India’s strategic environment and India’s psyche, the foundation of our planning rests on an unviable hybrid. Our defence doctrine is born of western experience; we are equipped with Russian bloc equipment. Neither of them suits our circumstances.

Take our doctrine first. India’s defensive formations in the plains from southern J&K to northern Rajasthan are based on a discredited World War II Maginot Line-type concept of linear defence based on ditch-cum-bunds (DCBs) constructed along the border. Our desert defences use the western concept of strong points, interlinked with minefields. The plan for our strike corps to take the battle into Pakistan is supposedly the brainchild of General K Sundarji; in fact its intellectual genesis is the 1982 concept of AirLand Battle, spelled out in the US Army’s Field Manual FM 100-5.

To implement this alien doctrine, India has an equally alien military machine. Much of our heavy equipment (tanks, combat aircraft, battleships) comes from Russia. These were carefully designed for a specific operation: a quick sweep across Western Europe, with superiority in numbers making up for a relative inferiority in equipment quality. Russian tanks, guns and radars are designed to function in that battlefield; cold weather, little dust, no need for extensive repair and operating with immense superiority of force. None of these conditions apply to India.

Untangling this dangerous knot must start with designing our own equipment. No international vendor will do this for India. The first step must be the laying down of targets for indigenous design and production. It is nobody’s case that the services be forced into accepting equipment that does not meet standards. But, over the last half century, the military has become used to buying products off the shelf, while judging indigenous products far more stringently. 

All this requires a different kind of discipline; the discipline of development. The military must clearly frame its equipment needs to suit our actual operational environment. It must fund R&D at least partly from its ample budget and specify a minimum order quantity that will allow the developer, whether in the public sector or private, to recover his costs. And finally, when a product is delivered, it must be evaluated with a sense of ownership and the confidence that the developer will provide continuous improvements to suit the actual conditions in which the equipment is deployed. 


  1. The last line is brilliant!

    Why cant the MoD instruct/compel the army on how much it should spend on imports and how much to invest in the country.. They should bring a re-investment/offset policy for each of the 3 services. x% of budget must go into local R&D. If they dont follow that, the next budget must make sure they receive less - or reduce human resouorces - fire people responsible

    Atleast you can afford to pay our local R&D establishment better salaries with this money. DRDO has be managed by IIM and ISB passouts. Project deadline have to be met, not matter how many extra man hours it takes. Squeeze their ball to get the work done in time.If we start tightening some screws, and with little grace from Uncle Sam, we should be good.

  2. In a nutshell Fund more the scam scheme of DRDO. Buy half baked products no matter what, it is swadeshi afterall.

    Oh Please order more Arjuns, even if the Arjun... that baby of bastardised concepts... fathered by a generation of defence glossies... and deliverd by the incompetent midwives of the DRDO your words Ajai.

    Some more gems from you:

    So when our Indian scientists believe they can import seventeen kinds of sub-systems... slap them together... and produce a world class tank, they are not even going to get off the starting blocks. Have you ever been in a T-72? The subsystems are so tighty packed together.... lego like... that you can barely get a finger in between them. The result: at 1000 metres on level ground, you can barely see the T-72. In the case of the Arjun... you can play hide-and-seek inside the tank in between the phoren sub-systems. The result: when you lay your tank gun on an Arjun 1000 metres away... you really have to make a decision: which part of the tank shall I hit? It looms like the now extinct World Trade Centre... and so... like the World Trade Centre... it is doomed to extinction.

  3. Sir,
    All I can say about your post is - its brilliant. If you are aware of the Porter's five forces model that gives guidelines for developing business strategy - Same is the case while developing the military doctrine for the country wherein you needto assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of your own setup along with your opponents. And as in business where procurement strategy is derived from the business strategy ...the defence procurement policy is the child of military doctrine.

  4. very nice article.

    hope our leaders see the light before it is too late for us to recover.

  5. I whole heartedly concur with your assessment of the procurement guidelines. I do believe that we need to learn from history but have the foresight to look to the future. Indian defence procurement remains stagnant regardless of the economic and political gains of the last 10 years. When Indian decision makers think swadeshi or any other mantra for defence development, they are trapped by the knowledge and strategies of other major military nations.

  6. To Anon2,

    Wester guns have enough accuracy to hit a T72 or Arjun. The actual problem is T72's ammunitions packed all around the person riding it. Getting hit is a certainty - but surviving the hit is only possible on an Arjun. Look at the latest snaps of T72 on livefist posted by Shiv.

    Those arguing against local design and development pray tell me how long you plan to spend money to foreign companies and declare yourself to be dumb and incapable?

    Looks like the fastest way to lose your confidence and stay that way - perpetually. Currently India is doing good thanks the IT wave and the billions sent back home. Isnt it prudent to capitalize on surplus and become self sufficient?

  7. In a nutshell Fund more the scam scheme of DRDO. Buy half baked products no matter what, it is swadeshi afterall.

    Ajai, congratulations, you have a fan in Buraidiah of Pakistan, who is now a regular poster on this blog.

    He has copied every anti DRDO post by you on every forum on internet and now he cannot take the fact that you are supporting indigenisation which is an excellent strategy, lolz!!

    Sorry buraidiah, life is hard babe.

  8. To Anonymouse...
    who said.."The result: when you lay your tank gun on an Arjun 1000 metres away... you really have to make a decision: which part of the tank shall I hit?"

    My dear Anti-Arjun friend..YOU can not come closer to Arjun, say less than 2000 mts..YOU will be killed..you know why ? B-coz Arjun has very good accuracy around same range and that too on the move(Assuming you are still able to walk after taking a hit from ALH+ATGM).
    So do not take the pain to decide ..which part of the Arjun you wish to hit..better save yourself.



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