The author’s prime argument is that the enthusiasm shown in making our procedures far more efficient and attractive for the private sector to foray into defence equipment manufacturing, is not replicated when it comes to providing the impetus even in areas where there is proven expertise with Indian companies. Among the examples he quotes are the multiple models of 155 mm guns that our industry has produced in the past, without the government having placed an order as yet.
Brig Gokhale recommends the creation of a National Defence Manufacturing Commission (NDMC) as an apex body under the PMO to perform the roles of a planning and executive body for the development of the armament industry.
IMPERATIVES OF PLUCKING THE LOW HANGING FRUIT
TO BOOST DEFENCE MANUFACTURING
At a time when the Indian industry is faced with the specter of a falling rates in the index of industrial production, stagnancy in the index of employment and very little increase in the off take of industrial goods the defence manufacturing industry is on the cusp of delivering a number of world class weapons, bulk of them in land systems. The prototypes of some of these were displayed in the Defexpo 2016. While some of these have been developed based on indigenous design, others were developed with technology provided by the foreign JV partners.
In accordance with the stipulations of the DPP 2016, these indigenously designed and manufactured weapon systems are eligible to be procured under the Buy (Indian) and ‘Buy Indian- Designed Developed and Manufactured’ (Buy Indian-IDDM)) categories, these constitute an opportunity akin to low hanging fruits, available to be plucked quickly in the near term.
Procurement of these weapon systems will make up the equipment voids of defence forces and improve their battle worthiness, it will accelerate rate of growth of defence manufacturing, avoid imports by providing indigenous alternatives, reduce outgo of foreign exchange and build opportunities for defence exports.
However, the irony is that the MoD and other ministries seem to be giving inadequate attention to exploiting the development of indigenous weapon systems to boost the manufacturing sector. Nor are they able to reassure the private sector developers that their developmental efforts will not go waste. If such drift in decision making continues, private sector participation in defence will contract instead of expanding in spite of the liberal reforms announced. Some of the major weapon systems presenting themselves as low hanging fruit which need urgent attention of the MoD are as follows.
- Artillery Guns. The army has been facing a critical void of 155 mm Guns, the DRDO and the government owned DGOF took no action to produce a follow on for the 155 mm Bofors Guns acquired in 1986. It was only in 2012 that the DGOF produced a prototype of the 155 mm 45 Caliber towed Gun – ‘Dhanush’. An order to supply 145 Dhanush guns to the army has been placed on the OFB.
- However by 2015 three Indian Private Companies i.e., Bharat Forge, L&T and Tata Power Strategic Engineering, all of them with established credentials in manufacturing, had developed with or without foreign collaboration 155 mm 52 Caliber Towed Guns. Moreover, two of these companies have also produced the 155mm 52 Caliber Mounted Guns and one of them a 155mm 52 Caliber Tracked Self Propelled Gun. These guns can meet the requirements of the Artillery modernisation plan.
- The total requirement of the army, over a ten year period, for all the various variants of the 155mm 52 Caliber Guns is nearly 3000 In addition, matching ammunition, fire control systems, High Mobility Vehicles (HMVs)
for towing and carriage of ammunition are also required. Considering the large numbers, there is a scope for dividing the manufacturing in between two to three production agencies. There is a need to commence the procurement process as soon as possible as also plan for the possibility of exports after production commences.
- Bi Modular Charge System (BMCS). Induction of indigenous 155 mm Guns will entail procurement of a mind boggling quantum of the BMCS which constitutes the propellant to propel the shells to the target. A private sector company “Solar Industries India Ltd” is likely to develop a state of the art plant to manufacture the BMCS besides various types of rocket propellants. Procurement from the private sector needs to be expedited as Ordnance Factory (OF) Nalanda will alone not be capable to satisfy the demand of BMCS.
- There is a large annual requirement of all classes of HMVs as platforms for various combat and logistic applications. Three Indian companies from the private sector had displayed their vehicles in the Defexpo 2016. Orders have been recently placed on Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland to provide the heavy category of HMVs, however the quantity ordered is far less than that required to meet the needs of the defence forces. Besides meeting the domestic demand, export of these vehicles need to be encouraged to achieve economy of scales.
Looking Beyond the Low Hanging Fruit
A number of projects under the ‘Make’ and ‘Buy Indian -IDDM category also need to be taken up. In fact the timely and successful culmination of these will dramatically improve the confidence of the defence forces and industry. The major projects are discussed below.
Pre DPP 2016 Projects
There are two projects as per the ‘Make’ category of DPP 2013. The Tactical Communication System (TCS) and the Battle Management System (BMS), though both of them have been given the go ahead in 2014 and 2015 respectively, with two development agencies each having been nominated for them, the projects have been overly delayed mainly due to procedural interpretations. These procedural road blocks need to be quickly resolved. These projects have maximum spin off and participation for the nation’s software technology and electronics industry.
Post DPP 2016 Projects
The following important projects have already been proposed by the army, these projects need to be henceforth progressed as per the ‘Make I sub category’ and ‘Buy (Indian-IDDM)’ category.
- Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) versus Futuristic Main Battle Tank (FMBT): Firstly the army needs to clarify between the need for two terminologies i.e. FRCV and FMBT, secondly the global RFI issued unilaterally by the Army for a design competition for a FRCV needs to be stayed and the procurement process refloated de novo in accordance with the provisions of DPP 2016.
- Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV): Two Indian consortiums in the private sector led by Tata Motors and L&T besides the DRDO along with the OF Medak have already claimed to have developed a prototype and submitted their response to the RFI, besides a clutch of other consortia have also expressed interest in developing this system. A total of about 2600 FICV are needed to be procured. The FICV procurement procedure needs to be expeditiously processed by nominating the ‘Development Agencies’ in accordance with the ‘Make’ category procurement in DPP 2016.
Naval and Air Systems
As far as naval and air systems go, the situation is different. Firstly, all systems which have been developed or nearing completion or development have been developed in Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs). The MoD has already prevailed upon the IAF to accept the LCA Tejas and the combat derivatives of the Advanced Light helicopter (ALH). The Navy has acquired a formidable reputation of being known as a ‘builder’s navy’, naval shipyards have built all types of warships from small Patrol Craft to Destroyers. A few private shipyards i.e., L&T Shipyard, Pipavav Shipyard (now Reliance Defence) and Bharati Shipyard (now Bharati Defence) have also demonstrated the capability of producing naval craft.
The combined experience and capability of these shipyards is the low hanging fruit, ready to be plucked by building naval craft for export, a beginning has already been made by exporting light naval craft made in Indian shipyards to friendly nations. The export drive needs to be nurtured and reinforced by the Government by suitable economic and diplomatic strategies.
Need for a Defence Technology & Manufacturing Management Authority
From some of the cases discussed above, the lack of an overarching authority to act as a planner, facilitator, coordinator, and executor for aligning the interest of the indigenous manufacturing industry with that of the armed forces becomes evident. Ministries and other governmental organisations as also the defence services seem to be working with a silo mentality. It leads to under utilisation of indigenous R&D and manufacturing capabilities as also of the ToT and offsets. In such a situation, windows of opportunity asp are lost due to lack of direction and quick decision making.
In 2012 the CII and the Boston Consulting Group in a study had recommended measures to create a vibrant domestic defence industry, while many of the recommendations of this study have already been implemented in DPP 2016, as also through the various reforms announced for the defence manufacturing sector in the last two years, the setting up of a National Defence Manufacturing Commission (NDMC) an apex body under the PMO has not yet been considered by the government.
The report had visualised the NDMC would function as a planning and executive body for the development of the armament industry through five year plans, with definitive road maps to progressively enhance self reliance in weapon systems. Going a step further and considering that we are a technology deficient nation, it may be more appropriate to group ‘Technology’ with Manufacturing and term it as the National Defence Technology & Manufacturing Commission.
Brig Sunil Gokhale (Retd)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)