Filling in Mr Parrikar’s silence - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 22 June 2015

Filling in Mr Parrikar’s silence

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd June 15

Few tears will be shed, especially in the corridors of power, given his frequent gaffes, if Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar makes good his threat not to talk to the media for the next six months. Speaking less will give Mr Parrikar more time to think and to grasp fundamental defence issues that still elude him. Seven months after his appointment --- when he boasted that swift action was his specialty and that, as an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) graduate, he would quickly master technology-related issues --- the new defence minister remains the new defence minister.

Alarmingly for someone who Prime Minister Narendra Modi has anointed a central pillar of the “Make in India” policy, Mr Parrikar has evinced neither the will nor the domain expertise needed to transform a military culture of buying foreign weaponry into one that promotes indigenous arms. This lack of leadership was painfully exposed this fortnight, when the army rejected the plan to develop its next tank in the country, instead inviting international companies to design a tank for India and supervising its construction. This would waste 30 years of Indian toil in designing and building the Arjun tank, an experience that must be harnessed into a more capable, next-generation tank. The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is already working on such a tank --- dubbed the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) --- which the defence ministry told parliament in 2010 would be ready by 2020. Yet the army has scuppered this project with Mr Parrikar watching helplessly from the side-lines.

The reason is obvious. Mr Parrikar and his bureaucrats prefer to buy than to build, since the latter involves active government leadership in coordinating the accumulation of diverse capabilities that go into a weapons platform. In building the Arjun tank, for example, the DRDO started with little expertise and with a technologically primitive domestic industry. As it painstakingly learned how to design a tank, many of the sub-systems --- such as the engine, transmission, fire control and night-vision systems --- remain imported. Meanwhile, Indian companies built others --- such as the armour, gun, ammunition and suspension system --- labouring alongside the DRDO to master these new technologies. An eco-system now exists for tank production in India, even though the government failed to support these so-called “Tier-1” and “Tier-2” vendors (systems and sub-system suppliers) morally, technologically and financially. Meanwhile, the army did all it could to scuttle the Arjun’s evolution instead of partnering the DRDO.  After the Arjun outperformed the army’s Russian T-90 tank in comparative trials in Rajasthan in 2010, the generals adopted a new tack. Complaining that the 60-tonne Arjun was too heavy, they demanded an improved Arjun Mark II. Incredibly, the additional capabilities demanded added up to another 5 tonnes.

Mr Parrikar is failing the country and Mr Modi’s vision of “Make in India”, by standing by while the army scuttles the Arjun’s successor. He must exercise leadership by calling in the army, the DRDO and captains of industry, both public and private, and telling them flatly that the days of importing Russian armoured vehicles is over, and that a family of Indian tanks, infantry combat vehicles, reconnaissance vehicles and missile carriers will take their place. He must ensure they hammer out time-lines and financing and allocate responsibility for who will build what and by when. Such decisions require the exercise of subjective judgment by decision-makers, not the time-consuming, timid “out” of competitive tendering. Private industry must be given ownership of intellectual property (IP) they develop and, crucially, assured profits from mass-producing the components and sub-systems they develop. Liberal taxation regimes must be uniformly applied across industry. Untenable notions of “national security”, long misused by the public sector to keep out private sector competition, must be thrown overboard. Messrs Tata, Godrej and Mahindra, and chief executives of the other private firms, are as good Indians as the heads of public sector behemoths.

This meeting must be inaugurated with the ceremonial burning of the “Defence Procurement Procedure”, which could be retrospectively renamed “The Book of Reasons to Do Nothing.” To Mr Parrikar’s credit, he has declared that a lack of trust was impeding his ministry’s functioning. The procurement manual embodies mistrust, with its preoccupation on procedures rather than outcomes. With the DPP out of the way, a “Manual of Standards” must be introduced to specify uniform parts that could be used across various defence platforms. The Russian military uses the same bolt to fasten wheels onto trucks, tanks and helicopters; and the same air blower is fitted in ships, aircraft and land systems. This makes for cheaper volume manufacture and eases logistics and stocking.

This big-picture combat vehicle project must encompass futuristic versions of all the military’s current fleet, drawing in projects like the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle proposal that have meander along for years like lost and forlorn cows. Each type must be overseen by a project manager, with unreasonable delay penalised with sacking. Mr Parrikar himself --- being an IIT graduate! --- should chair six-monthly or annual review meetings to monitor progress.

The minister must evolve a similar big-picture approach to untangle the army’s biggest current problem --- the shortage of battlefield fire support, like artillery. Mr Parrikar’s currently solution is to expedite several individual procurements, each of a different gun type --- including a 155 millimetre towed gun; mounted gun system; ultra-light howitzer; and two self-propelled gun types. Even though several indigenous initiatives are under way --- including a successful Ordnance Factory Board gun; a DRDO-led project called the Advance Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG); and more than one Indian private sector solution, Mr Parrikar has failed to coordinate and synergise those by taking a step back and re-evaluating fire support de novo. Such a step could also factor in new equipment like the improved Pinaka rocket launcher; cruise missiles and the Prahar missile, all of which would enhance fire support to the frontline soldier. India could add another deadly dimension to its battlefield fire support by asking Washington for the A-10 Thunderbolt II (nicknamed Warthog) aircraft --- a proven battlefield beast that the United States Army custom-built to pour fire onto enemy frontlines, even in the face of retaliatory ground fire. With the US close to retiring its Warthogs, we could evaluate the benefits of acquiring this legendary aircraft at throwaway prices under the “Excess Defense Items” category.

Such a holistic approach would benefit not just the indigenising of systems, but also import, where it is inescapable. Our large military requirements make for enormous buyers’ leverage, which the ministry fritters away in piecemeal purchases. The navy needs sonars and torpedoes for multiple types of surface and submarine vessels, but all these are imported separately, linked with individual warship contracts. Instead, our requirement of hundred-odd sonars and several hundred torpedoes could easily be processed as separate contracts, with global vendors strong-armed into building in India for the global market.

This is equally true for air force procurements. If the ministry views the big picture of our fighter requirements, rather than as individual “procurement cases”, major indigenisation of sub-systems and systems could be obtained from bundling the development and production of the Tejas light fighter, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, Multi-Role Transport Aircraft and a host of helicopters are that the military requires.

All this, of course, requires Mr Parrikar to take a step back and look afresh at the unimaginative way we do our procurement. Hopefully, his silence will now give him the time.


  1. If the ARJUN is not based on a common platform, DRDO must think in those lines. If it is so, ARMY should base its future on that platform.

  2. Sir,

    You are absolutely correct but many will not agree with you ! You have pointed almost everything but I want to mention few more,

    a) 155 mm howitzer : What is the latest on 814 mounted artillery guns ? Seven months passed the decision was taken to make 814 no 155 Howitzers ! Are we still " testing " those guns? And how many types of new 155 mm Howitzer we need ? a) 155/45 Bore Dhanush is in use though in limited quantity ? b) DRDO. 155/52 bore is almost on completion. c) M 777 : 155/39 bore light one is on order d) Old 155/39 bore Bofors is still in use. e) TATA, LNT or Bharat forge will produce 814 no 155mm mounted guns. Definitely it will create a logistical nightmare. By the way US. uses only two types of 155mm. Paladin and M 777 !
    b) There is no news on Tejas MK 1 , SP 2. Is it delivered ? Now we are after Gripen. Once the Gripen is in then it will be end of Tejas.
    c) Still our Jawans are fighting with Insas. But long before it was decided that we are going to buy and then make new assault rifles !

    Is there any news on that front ?

    We are taking decisions ! But there is no implementations. At-least till date.


  3. In defense, areas where private and public sector can play needs to be demarcated. There is indeed a matter of compromising national security and intellectual property if Private sector is allowed access to every aspect of defense. Private companies are there solely to make profits and not for any other consideration. They may for the right price sell technologies developed by DRDO with taxpayers money or technology acquired by GOI from foreign OEMs, to third parties for the right price. This may lead to technologies falling in the hand of China or even Pakistan. Indian Pvt Cos lack proper security infrastructure which may lead to hackers from China or any 3rd country stealing data and blue prints without much effort.
    Where the Pvt sector can and should be involved is in development of sub systems or where they have some new innovation (we can use the DARPA model here).
    Defense needs to involve MSMEs instead of huge monopolistic behemoths like Tatas, Reliance or Mahendras. The Govt can act as VC to help scientists and other technocrats start their own venture with Govt assistance.
    And, our current setup of DRDO, OFBs, HAL etc is working excellently. The same need to be strengthened instead of weakening them in the name of "level playing field" for Pvt Cos where taxpayers' money will flow into the coffers of few businessmen.

    1. "our current setup of DRDO, OFBs, HAL etc is working excellently." there you lose all authenticity, sentinel.

  4. Attaboy. Manual of Standards. This is what we told the IAF 5 years back. Your eg of the blower etc has explained it. But will the top brass want it. They are more interested in buying "foreen" so that the next Ambassador to Norway can be theirs. Sad that you have taken five years to write about it. Hope you continue to press for it.

  5. Bit harsh on the man eh broadsword, but with respect to the arjun I agree. The RnD effort and ecosystem for that tank must not, and cannot be allowed to disappear.

  6. If a guy decides, people say it is wrong decision.
    If he does not, say he is indecisive .
    Either way say he has screwed up.
    If he speaks, find fault by reading between the lines.
    If he does not, call him dumbo.

    Looking back a lot of what UPA has done laid a foundation to modern arms industry in india.
    Navy took advantage by having scorpion submarine, aircraft carriers etc built in india,
    IAF goofed up ignoring LCA too long , then crying for Mk2
    Army is biggest culprit. Messed up arjun, made artillery modernisation a non-starter, even rifles selection is in a mess.
    Can't blame please.iticins & MOD always.
    I hope it becomes a must for every army chief to have held a 3 year tenure as a R&D manger at a DRDO lab.

  7. @Parthasarathi,

    Insas has been wrongly demonized by a combo of paid "presstitute" media and corrupt military at the behest of corrupt politicians who want over expensive arms imports to flow at the cost of beggaring this nation.
    Insas is derived from highly successful AK47, FNFAL and Galil. The new Insas, Excalibur, Trichy etc. Assault rifles are far more lethal and effective. There is no need for any imported assault rifles.
    Initially no rifle or any weapon system is perfect. M16, Galil and AK47 faced several issues. Did their military dump them in favor of foreign rifles? The answer is no. They ironed out the glitches and perfected the system. Same is the story with Tavor assault rifles, which we've imported in large number.

  8. Mr. Parrikar's comments have only devalued his office, Modi's Government and India. Here in the west Modi's government is seen as childish with Mr. Parrikar's acting as a the lead bafoon!!!

    How could this happen. A country whose government was always seen to be sensible is now the joke. I bet the Pakistani's are laughing and loving the self wounds India is inflecting on itself.

  9. I think it's time for someone like me to go to Russia, setup a tank factory and then propose to army for tanks. Maybe another way to hold your nose. I hate to see some jokers in the army not building national capability but try to be a happy shopper overseas (ofcouse with the taxpayer's money, which is not theirs to spend). Rise up bozos, are all you foreign equipment lovers in need of a mental asylum??

  10. Wow! very personal - whats cooking between Parrikar and you... I know you may not publish this but still - where were you for the last 10 years when Mr.Clean completely took the defence department to garbage... I still expected better from Parrikar but your writing is very harsh and again very personal... may be he still needs time - and definitely feel like you are going overboard.

    On the points you have mentioned - there cannot be two opinions on it - so enough said...

  11. I completely agree with the recommendations of the editor.

    1. Perhaps, In the absence of officers available for development of such detailed Manual of Standards, maybe some 'trusted' Think tank organizations (there are many local and mostly foreign ones that are just intelligence collection fronts for western governments and military product vendors) can be employed for the development of the same which can then be reviewed and approved by the Integrated Defence Staff as these standards must be implemented armed forces wide and not limited to a particular service.

    2. Also, Time has come for Indian Armed forces to cultivate its JCOs and NCOs and raise them to a higher standard of capability operationally and staff. Too many mundane and simple responsibilities are assigned to the officer corps. The services already have a shortfall of officers, on top of which they are being assigned these new staff like workloads as India is developing its Military Industrial Complex.The officers from commissioning onwards are overburdened and with the future requirements will be burdened even more as Process and documentation systems grow. All this with their usual tasks mundane task will lead to a some quality depreciation somewhere.

    Meanwhile simple tasks that can be handled by NCOs are assigned to a Junior officer, so the Mid officers take on responsibilities of the junior officer and senior officers take on the responsibilities of Mid level officers. This also affects their mindset.

    Gone are the days that NCOs were pre matriculate farm boys, they are aware, educated and must be empowered. JCOs can leverage their experience and come in handy for all admin task. normally given to Junior officers, freeing up Junior officers for higher level staff assignments.

    This will also help prepare the Indian soldier to prepare himself to fight in the information age. Serious NCO Professional development is a must for any modern fighting force.

  12. Instead of criticizing the RM whose only fault is he has been too kind to the services. It appears the Army is adopting the stupid ways of the IAF. The RM must hold all the service chiefs by their ears like school children who have not done their home work. He has to lay the boundary condition that indigenous stuff will be bought even if they are 'inferior' just like in China. This must go on for the next 20 years, then only things will improve.

  13. Today Pakistan is exporting its fighters JF 17 which is said to be superior to many of the fighters due to its cheap price and maneuverability. It is also building mini subs and also designed a battery which can allow subs to remain underwater for more than 24 hours. Parrikker must tell his import lobby Brass who all follow the west to step down and use only Indian made arms if they want to lead the Army or Airforce.

  14. This was a good read Ajai sir. I hope Mr. Parrikar is following your work.

    Tanuj, Noida

  15. we need high tech jobs in india and not provide the same to foreign countries.

    who pays defence force to buy weapon systems? its the tax payers.

    no offence to you o but Do we need the defence force personal if they are hell bent on imports

    why do not we import defence force, pay minimal when we are not at war. this will save billions in india.
    which could be used for research or civic facilities.

    I feel armed force should recruit business analyst to understand present and future requirements.

    Having fancy functionality is not acceptable for system design.

  16. Somehow over the last 10 posts you have conveyed an impression that you are more motivated by something rather than trying to be objective in your analysis. I hope I am wrong.

  17. I feel these kind of articles should be sent to the person concerned,instead of publishing on a blog which might not be even accessed by the relevant person/s.If the approach of the writer is correct in every manner,then the scheme inherent therein should be relentlessly pursued till the person concerned accepts this.

  18. To : captainjohn samuhanand

    Kindly note that Pakistan is not exporting JF 17. I don't know what is your source but Pakistan have no say whatsoever in JF 17 export ! Not believing me ! Just watch

    Video : From Taiwanese TV. some TV. anchor wanted to interview the Pakistani pilot of JF 17. He was also interested to show him the aircraft. But Chinese plain cloth polices just push that anchor out !! No interview was granted. This video is recent, from Paris air show.
    Pakistan have no say in export. They are just assembling JF 17 from CKD. kit supplied by China. But the plane in the airshow was Pakistani as China do not use them !
    But if any export order is achieved ( first customer is Burma not Lankan) then off-course the aircrafts will be supplied from Pakistan. As Pakistan is the only place where it is assembled. It does not mean Pakistan is exporting.


  19. Wow broadsword! What have you achieved by writing this article? It serves no purpose. I wasted 4 minutes of my time reading your silly article. How is this kind of journalism different that mid day or TOI?

  20. it does not matter who exports/makes the JF-17. Pakistan has 58% workshare and 50%profits. Just as with K-8, they have 30% share and 30%profits from it. If you look at the Jf-17, its pretty decent aircraft, with BVR. looks very much like the F-16, have a look at the video:

    What you should be asking is what has india achieved. Can the LCA fly at over 10KM with 4tonne load? just compare how LCA looks with JF-17. Oh, for each Rafael, PAF can buy 5 JF-17s. Upgrade them at will.

  21. Me Shukla, loved your first paragraph... Still chuckling

  22. Mr Shuckla,

    I have no doubt that Mr Parrikar or indeed EVERY Indian wants what you want - a truly robust domestic defense industry that will serve our needs and lessen our dependence on foreign imports.

    However, your oversimplification and vague generalizations of what Parrikar must do and how obvious it all seems is just empty blather of an arm-chair general with no real experience or insight into the various complexities of running a massive monolith and labyrinthine bureaucracy and industrial complex like the MoD.

    Making bold claims like "let force the Army to use Arjun tanks" and "lets not entertain any foreign alternatives" and so on is all very nice rhetoric - but only a fool would ignore his own Army commanders and Generals who say to him - "We can't guarantee the security of the nation with Arjun tanks" or statements to that effect . Is he expected to soldier on deaf and dumb to the voices of the professionals, what ever their alleged motivations ?

    National Security is not so cut and dry.

    Seriously Mr Shuckla, why not join a political party and become a Rajya Sabha member and influence policy if you think the solutions are so obvious and easy. IF you succeed you will be famous, if you fail - nobody will remember.

  23. @Anon 13:16

    There is something seriously wrong with an army (in our case, created by the British to enslave Indians) which says it can't defend the nation with Indian arms and can only do so with foreign arms and foreign troops(Nepalis).

    If the "British" Indian Army cannot defend the nation with Indian tanks and weapon systems that have proven to be better than their export version, they need to be disbanded and declared traitors. Restructuring of Indian Army is well over due. It had to be done right after 1947, which Anglophile Nehru avoided at all costs.

    If Mr.Parrikar and Modi sarkar were indeed serious about "make in India", Army wouldn't have dared to issue this RFI flouting all traditions and norms.


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