None so blind as those who will not see - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 7 January 2013

None so blind as those who will not see

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Jan 13

Thanks to the defence ministry’s (MoD’s) outdated belief that it must fill the order book of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), India’s military remains handicapped in night fighting against all its likely adversaries. Even jehadis infiltrating across the Line of Control into J&K have been found to have better night vision devices (NVDs) than the lavishly funded Indian Army that is tasked to intercept them. Worryingly, this disadvantage could continue. The reason: the MoD is set to tailor its future requirements of NVDs to what BEL can supply, rather than to what the army badly needs.

In a proposed MoD tender for 45,000 NVDs, an initial buy that would expand into contracts worth thousands of crore rupees, BEL is asking MoD officials to water down the specifications of the “third generation” NVDs that the army badly wants. While the army wants NVDs with a “Figure of Merit” (or FOM) rating of 1700 plus, BEL wants the specifications set at FOM 1400 plus. That is because BEL does not have the ability to deliver FOM 1700 plus NVDs in the quantities that the army wants.

Peering through an NVD with FOM 1400 plus, a soldier can see clearly at dusk or dawn, and enjoy acceptable vision with a quarter moon or brighter. FOM 1600 plus permits clear vision even in starlight, i.e. on a clear night with no moon. But the army wants FOM 1700 plus, which would allow soldiers to see clearly in pitch darkness, like on heavily clouded, moonless nights, or at night in a thick jungle. This, the army rightly points out, are the conditions that it often operates in.

In response to this demand, two Indian companies --- BEL and Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (Tata Power SED) --- both confirmed to the MoD’s Services Capital Acquisition Plan Categorisation Committee (SCAPCC) that they could supply the army with NVDs with a rating of FOM 1700 plus. On BEL’s part that was apparently a bluff because now, with procurement being finalised, MoD officials are getting quiet requests from BEL to dilute the specifications so that it can remain in the race.

BEL’s apparent inability to supply NVDs with FOM 1700 plus comes despite the MoD having twice splashed taxpayer money on foreign night vision technology for the Bangalore-headquartered defence public sector undertaking (DPSU). In the 1990s, Dutch company Delft provided “second generation” technology, setting up a joint venture with BEL before walking out of the JV. As recently as 2010-11, the MoD handed more than Rs 100 crore to French company, Photonis, to give BEL “supergen” technology rated at FOM 1250 plus. Once again BEL failed to absorb this technology; it did not enhance its own technological capabilities in night vision; and it did not evolve the received technology into more advanced versions.

Today the MoD no longer has the option of spending more public money on a newer generation of technology for BEL. That is because state-of-the-art night vision technology is closely guarded. The United States government, which controls the world’s most advanced night vision technology that is developed by world leading companies like ITT and L-3, seldom allows the export of night vision technology better than FOM 1250 plus. Where Washington does permit export, e.g. for night vision goggles for Pakistan Army units that are fighting Taliban groups in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border, there is strict End User Monitoring (EUM), in which US military officials physically inspect the equipment to ascertain that it has not been supplied onwards to some undesirable party. For a prickly New Delhi, EUM would be completely unacceptable.

Even BEL’s earlier supplier, Photonis, would now probably be unable to supply BEL with advanced night vision technology, since American companies are making a strong play for buying the French company, thereby making it subject to US export control laws. Reuters has reported that Photonis is on sale and US banker, Rothschild, which has enduring links with American defence companies, is advising on the sale.

Given BEL’s increasingly constrained situation, the army brass has strongly backed Tata Power SED for supplying the army with its next generation of night vision equipment. Senior generals who handle procurement say they are pleased at the way the Tata company has partnered with German company, Harder Digital, which will transfer technology to Tata Power SED for manufacturing and maintaining “third generation” FOM 1700 plus night vision equipment in India. The German government --- which has thrown off traditional restraints in emerging as a strong defence technology partner for India --- has already permitted Tata Power SED to import into India NVDs with a specification of FOM 1700 plus. Making the arrangement even more attractive, Berlin is not demanding End User Monitoring. The German authorities have indicated they would be content with an End User Certificate from New Delhi, certifying that the Indian military would not supply the NVDs onwards.

Tata Power SED has written to the MoD, detailing its readiness to supply the army with NVDs of the latest generation. Given that public tenders issued recently by Pakistan, and even Bangladesh, indicate that these countries are procuring “third generation” NVDs, it is difficult for South Block to dilute the specifications to cater for BEL’s lack of capability. For decades, while the MoD’s wayward child has fronted the import of foreign technology and sub-systems, passing them off as “indigenous”, the defence ministry (MoD) has continued to feed the DPSU with orders, ensuring healthy profit at the cost of defence readiness and self-reliance. But a changing MoD and a more assertive army may be unwilling to allow that any longer. 


  1. Ajai ji, can you plz explain a small thing for me? How have we managed to protect our INDEPENDENCE for 65 years from 1947?

    But to be honest to BEL, they have not been able to deliver the best in all sections, especially, NVD because of the sanctions imposed on India after the nuclear tests of 1998. Also the constant brickering it receives from Times of India/Indian Express has played its part too...Also not sure, if China has been able to adopt this technology. Supporters of these organizations(must be union leader or a quota system scientist) like Mr.Abhimaan of your previous post will like us to believe that....

  2. When it comes to recruitment these psu's ask for candidates topping in GATE or other competitive exams. But when time comes to deliver they remain at the end of the line. Seems these psu's(HAL,BEL,ADA,etc) all are run by crooks. The 2 possibilities are that either the employees r good for nothing or these psu's r made for looting public money legally.

  3. This has happened for far too long.
    How long will it make sense.
    We are ready to pay to the private players anywhere in the world,but we do not encourage our own private sector even when they are capable to deliver the products.
    It high time to realize that it is no longer viable to protect PSUs at the cost of the exchequer and national interests.

    Give them autonomy,the correct incentives and freedom to perform in an open market.

  4. Why does anyone think Greeks, Romans and pre-Islamic Arab traders, even the Chinese came to India? Not to give us technology, but to learn our technology, culture and buy our spices! This shows, India during old days had something to offer to the world, and that the world came seeking it from near and far. What changed? Indians stopped development, got involved in internal politics (caste system), denied education to future generations, partly due to the fact that India did not have any worthy adversaries. India was the only SuperPower then. Now the situation has reversed. Indians have to go abroad to learn science and technology, which we are doing. However what hasn't changed is the obsession with local-level internal politics, with total disregard to external events. Lack of scientific awareness among those in Power. Implementation of efficient best practices and systems, instead indulging in caste politics and quota raj. The whole world knows Indians have nothing significant to offer worthy a technological partnership. If I can get that, then why do our "PhD" Scientists expect anyone to give us ToT on a golden platter? I can totally understand the elected representatives, elected by the dim-witted population of Indians are only as good, hence don't expect them to make sensible decisions but don't understand the "Councillors" and "Experts" not giving correct advice. Which only means, we have traitors within. Traitors not to the nation, but to the professional ethics. If the future generation of Indians read the history books, then these very scientist, experts and Councillors will appear as cunning, scheming, villainous characters depicted in our history books as evil minister to a good King. The focus of Indians has to change, we have to be true to ourselves in the pursuit of excellence and not favors and doles from govt. I admire the Japanese culture and mentality in this regard, where they commit hara-kiri for failing in their duty. That supreme sense of being responsible for our actions, is what makes one superior, unlike the "Theek hai", "Chalta hai" attitude of Indians. Frankly most Indians have forgotten what it takes to become great, "Self-Sacrifice". Mahatma, Netaji, Kalam, did not become Great by "Chalta hai". Despite living examples like APJ Kalam, Indian scientists still don't realize what they are missing. "The fire in the belly". Instead they take the easy route "Short-cut Fataa-fat".


  5. Very informative read. Ajai sir, as a common man, is there any way we can fight this injustice.

    -David Benjamin

  6. modus operandi... of ravi rishi's... natarjan's of beml... some thing was happening with tatra trucks... just to find... which sipox is... in between... and who's who... in this deal replacing... ravi rishi & natarajan... in bel...

  7. Indian Public Sector units cannot deliver. If BEL cannot deliver FOM of 1700, it needs to be scrapped. SED is the way forward. RIP.....correction.. Suffer in Hell Pissus.

  8. If the germans were ready to offer the tech, shouldnt India have put out a tender to for the manufacturing partner?? Or is it that the germans were never asked for until tata grp thought of it?

  9. BEL, HAL, OFB and BEML are few of the worst performing mass-manufacturers in India.

    Unfortunately, people confuse research labs like DRDO with mass-manufacturers like HAL, BEL, OFB etc. to be of the same mould. DRDO conducts research and presents designs to HAL (for Tejas), to BEL (for missiles and avionics) and OFB
    (for INSAS rifles).

    DRDO being a research lab has shown great results. But the same has NOT been seen from the mass-manufacturers.

    We have already seen how HAL has messed up the Tejas project. Squabbles between ADA and HAL are already out in the public domain.

    It also turns out that BEML imported inferior TATRA trucks, on which DRDO was forced to design a few platforms.

    BEL has also started behaving like HAL. It also has a near-monopoly on any thing electronic being delivered to the armed forces. Like BEML vis-a-vis TATRA trucks, as well as HAL, BEL too has become an import monopoly. All they do is import foreign chips, components etc. and assemble the goods after sticking the BEL sticker. This company must be rapped on the buttocks !


  10. "None so blind as those who will not see"

    Like during Cheer Haran....

    and the result _ Total destruction of Kauravas

  11. A good article. PSUs are becoming a front for costly single vendor junk from dubious foreign parties. TATRA scam seems to have had no effect on stupidity of MoD.

  12. traitor...good ur no longer in army nahin to teri aukath sabko pata chal jati...teri nasl kya hain sabko pata hain..

  13. Look at the irony...
    One of our country's major defence blog- "Broadsword" started out on an article regarding THE SAME ISSUE on 29th Aug 2006.


    Today more than SIX years later we are stuck with the same issue.

  14. Great article, Colonel. I'd recommend one tiny change in the title though, since it is a question of not seeing, but rather not wanting to see. I'd therefore recommend retitling it to "None so blind as those who do not want to not see".

    The MOD's incestuous relationship with its own industrial units including BEL, HAL, BEML etc. has led to a vicious cycle of promoting mediocrity, imports and corruption, and it is the nation that pays. Government's business is to govern and not run industries or indeed get into anything that is not a part of its core objectives. The rest of the Government gradually absorbed this wisdom following the hard knocks of 1989-90, but the Defence Ministry is a sacred cow and is making full use of that status to screw the country over. With defence officials like these, who needs enemies? Once again the Jaichands and Mir Jafars rule....

  15. Application of stringent specifications along with the free and fair competition shall be the only solution. We can not tolerate a situation, wherein the pakisanis are able to see clearly and we are left blind.

  16. @Abhiman: Thanks Dude, this time you have hit the bulls eye....Loved reading your comments....I admire anyone which calls a 'spade' a 'spade'...

  17. There is nothing more humiliating than a group of Pakistan solders coming into India and chopping the head off. There is no need to buy and spend all this money on military equipment when such disrespect can be casted down to Indians and it's solders. It's humiliating to be an Indian and wake up to hear this. The army cant even protect its soilders and people. So fuck this Indian pride of being or becoming a world class army. If you response to beheading and blatant violation to local treat is a STERN response through. Diplomatic channels in say fuck all this money and equipment for the armed forces and divert it to something else like education

  18. Ajai Ji,

    I would like to ask you a question-

    What happened to Tejendra, the guy who had offered Rs 14 crore to Gen VK Singh. Last we heard was that the HC had upheld the Gen VK Singh's allegation and Tejendra did indeed offer them money.

    Has this been hushed up as well or is Tejendra and Ravi Rishi being investigated?

  19. In foggy condition at LOC... poonch sector... two of our soldiers was... brutally mutilated and murdered... will 1700 plus NVD's... could have given them a warning... and others a chance to challenge them... sould bel's incompetence... steal more lives... of our soldiers gaurding... India's borders... ???...

  20. Has the recent beheading of soldier due to less capable NVDs as it was fog when incident took place?

  21. Ajai, if you love the pakistanis so much why dont you leave India and go live there? As it is some of your statements, calling hindu organizations fascist, always trying to be a Govt lackey in all but name, show that you are a craven supporter of power. Its good that you left the Indian army, people like you without character, would have rotted it further from within.

  22. Chod dijiye Col.Shukla ji yeh sab anyways as you suggested we just wanted to talk and not retaliate why spend money on NVG let us spend money on getting tea and samosas for the talks.

    Ofcourse you dont owe any explanation to any of us or anyone for that matter and you are entitled to your views in smoking the peace pipe(like the WKKs) but would as repeat readers of your blog we would still like to know why we should talk to the pakis despite so many provocations.

    Points like
    1. Indian side was being aggressive and triggered it will cut no ice as we know the wimps(peace lovers) sitting high in the political command chain and our ARMy's reluctance(which doesnt move without orders in triplicate from the babu) put together wouldnt have been the underlying reason for this ghastly act

    2. I have followed you for years and you seem to have a latent dislike for the infantry arm of the army and is that the reason for armoured corp people like you having a view that opposes the infantry dominated top-brass?

  23. we need to privatize our defence procurment since there is huge cost & delays in PSU for deployment in the armed forces.

  24. Is it any wonder that the TATAs, Mahindras, Reliance etc who have large idle Capital are seriously looking at the Defence sector for business but end up Capitalizing the World stage when they find the Indian System is a parasite onto itself.
    We will continue to have Indian capital flowing back as ''FDI'' though the Mauritius route and a vibrant black underground economy if we persist with the myopic ''JUGAAD policies'' of immediate but incomplete first aid like appeasement of the working class.


  26. Coming from an ex-army person I respect your views and follow your blogs avidly. However I must say that the current article seems to be written in haste. If one reads the last sentences of the first and last paragraph, their contradictory nature leaves the reader a bit confused (like listening to the politicians these days). I hope you would continue writing well researched work but with a bit more care.

  27. India is proud of HAL. HAL is a strategic PSU dedicated to the security of the nation. Content published against HAL is completely incorrect. It is strongly condemned.

  28. Col. Ajai, how come nothing is being talked about TATRA Scam anymore? It is being heard that TATRA owners, Vectra Group is still participating in all tenders. They have also been shortlisted for a another trial of telehandlers, skid loaders etc? So does this mean that you commit a crime, and till you are not proven guilty, even though there is credible evidence of corruption, one can continue to participate in tenders of MoD? Could you please throw some light on this? BEL, BEML, ECIL etc are all the same in using the government machinery and abusing it at the same time.


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