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|May 31, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ Colonel (retd) Anil Athale
Yesterday, Colonel (retd) Anil Athale defined some of the problems plaguing the Indian defence system. Today, he suggests some remedies.
The armed forces are an instrument of a State's power; it helps a State sustain its independence and achieve foreign policy goals. Soldiers are not the glorified chowkidars of a nation's territory.
Technology plays a vital role in helping build a State's power. This recognition is the first step towards any reform. It should be clearly understood that being alive to technology is an attitude of the mind. Technological change is a continuing and unending process -- it is not a product or weapons-oriented one-time measure. If we value our freedom, then we have to run this technology race at all times.
To imbibe this, the conservative-minded armed forces would need to make a special effort. By the very nature of their jobs, soldiers the world over are suspicious of new technology and sceptical of innovation. But it needs to be remembered that the armies, navies and air forces that refused to move with times have met with defeat on the battlefield.
To give R&D its due, the generalist-scientist or science manager should become part of apex decision-making bodies like the Cabinet Committee on Security or the security advisory board. Technology forecasting needs to become part of India's long-term threat assessment and planning strategy.
The British were one of the first nations to understand the importance of fulfilling the equipment needs of their armed forces by integrating science and technology into each solution. During the Second World War, scientists like P M S Blackett were part of Britain's operational directorates. Thus, science and technology were as much a provider of solutions as were strategy and tactics. In our case, India needs to implement the use of science and technology at the service headquarters and command/fleet levels.
DRDO's permanent staff should be kept at a minimum level, mainly as science managers, with a large number of contract appointments on a project-by-project basis. To ensure enough manpower on this front, we must encourage movement from universities, industry and other national laboratories. Innovators who can churn new ideas and inventions are not common to humanity. This is why DRDO ought to organise project-based teams on contract.
Our IITs and engineering colleges boast of some of the best and brightest talent in the world. After all, the Intel chip was designed by an Indian, as was the powerful carbon dioxide laser! The graduate students of our elite institutions should be given the opportunity to visit and interact with the soldiers and gain firsthand knowledge of their problems. Then, we must give these young men the freedom to formulate their solutions. These could even become part of their graduate degree projects! Thus, with minimum to no expense, India would get fresh ideas on new technologies, year after year!
Breaking the barrier between the public and private sector
It is ridiculous to re-invent the wheel. But that is what the DRDO has been doing all these years. When an engine or a new mechanical system is needed, our defence establishment begins by studying design books, completely ignoring the vast experience built up by the private sector in the same field. No wonder we have been faltering in the field of defence preparedness for the last 40 years.
For a long time, the inefficiencies of our defence research have been hidden under the cloak of secrecy! It is sheer nonsense to treat defence technology as something exclusive. Virtually all technology has dual use. By denying themselves the opportunity to exploit the knowledge and expertise available in the civil field, the DRDO has shot itself and the nation in the foot!
Our wrong policies and faulty structures have made sure we export brains and import hardware. The nation's independence is seriously jeopardised due to this kind of import dependency. In addition, the country is deprived of the economic benefits that we could avail from our huge (Rs 16,000 crores) defence expenditure. Our hike in defence expenditure creates new job opportunities in Sweden or the Russian federation.
The question (wrongly posed) is not that of a choice between 'guns and butter.' The choice, if truth be told, is between imported and indigenous weapons and equipment. Any economist would tell you that when an economy is in a position of providing less than full employment, increase in defence spending automatically spurs economic growth, provided the spending is within the country and not used for importing equipment.
These are crucial decisions and ought to be taken if we are to survive as an independent nation and head towards a better future in the 21st century.
The Rediff Specials
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