“If Data is the New Oil, Technology is the New Oil Refinery.
Let us create the New Eco-System!”
A resurgent India has embarked on a three-front national development strategy. The First Front is ‘Make in India’, as a precursor to ‘Made in India’, the Second Front is Atmanirbhar Bharat as a call for self-reliance, and the Third Front is ‘Start-up India’ to champion the agile ignited young minds into entrepreneur ventures. All these coming up concurrently have created an enormous technology and innovation bandwidth and excitement in India, which has technology reverberations worldwide.
Our Nation is known for its prowess comprising strategic thinkers and technology wizards spread globally. The white-collared tech-enabled professionals and skilled, innovative tech workforce at the grassroots, all this with vibrant captains of Indian industry and a strong political will to do, has ushered an era in technology development. It has given the world two major game-changing concepts – Jugaad, which means a resourceful approach to problem-solving and Atmanirbharta which means self-reliance. These initiatives, visibly seen in the just concluded Defence Expo 2022, epitomise that India has made a mark in the technology world. No wonder India is making long strides in defence equipment exports.
What has been seen over the past few years of Atmanirbharta and Make in India (MII) drive is that the consciousness for self-reliance is increased manifold. A lot has happened in terms of global technological dominance. The ‘Gati Shakti’ – multifaceted National Master Plan, roll out of 5G, e-Governance initiatives under Digital India, UDAN-RCS (Regional Connectivity Scheme), BharatNet, BHIM UPI, Ayushman Bharat and of course UIDAI Aadhar are some other big tickets programmes has promoted ease of living in India. These ‘Local for Global’ outreach programmes and many more have created positive ripples globally, although the impact is yet to be felt in the Armed Forces Information and Decision Support System. Obviously, some dots need to be connected to create net-centric enabled Armed Forces.
As one of the emerging global power centres of technology, the moot question is how does India attain “Technology Sovereignty”? We are ranked the 17th technologically advanced nation and third largest military expending country globally. How do we leverage our technological might to reverse the rankings as a first step? How have the USA, China, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Israel, South Korea, and Singapore, to name the top few, attained technological advancement?
These are case studies on – National Vision, Mission, Methods, strong Political Will, Whole of Nation approach and Consistent Responsible Behavior – driven by purpose and a well-articulated Technology Strategy to create homegrown solutions and recipes. The challenges and opportunities met by each have been enmeshed constructively in legislations and governance models to exploit research and development and empower the nations. To name some USPs, the USA has the Defence Production Act of 1950, China went into the 100 years marathon starting in 1949, and Israel stood out innovatively as the Startup Nation. However, all created an ESG ecosystem to gain a technological edge as a critical determinant of their capacity building and capability development for macroeconomic dividends.
Systems Thinking Atmanirbharta Through Technology Strategy
Atmanirbharta is a complex and wicked problem. It comprises technology strategy, revamping of the manufacturing sector, logistics, and MRO. It also includes life cycle sustenance support systems like the services sector, road-rail infrastructure development, industrial corridor infrastructure, effective policies for ease of doing business, exports, political will, and deep financial pockets.
Above all, it requires a well-orchestrated programme with tremendous synergy with stakeholders comprising academia, government, and industry as a whole nation approach. The demographic dividend of youth bulge with 50 per cent population between 25-35 years, so unique to India, has created euphoria for mega opportunities in a wide range of portfolios. All this requires systems thinking approach to create the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ through a clear concept of self-reliance, designing a well-thought-through technology strategy and a mission-oriented approach to the indigenisation of equipment, its export, and life cycle sustenance support. Systems thinking. It is a holistic analysis approach that focuses on how a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. The intent is to be an acknowledged world leader in the manufacturing sector while retaining supremacy in the services and agriculture sectors.
A total of 451 MoUs signed over the three days of DefExpo 2022 worth Rupees one lac fifty-three thousand crores is a benchmark never seen before in 75 years of Azadi (independence). Notwithstanding the immense euphoria of the defence industry, space-based and other start-ups showcased at the mega event, it is an opportune moment to think through and tighten nuts and bolts and articulate a focused technology strategy for “Technological Sovereignty”.
Globally, that management art, science and best practices emanated from the defence sector– so did the internet, the world wide web, and NextGen technologies. The reason is simple. Armed Forces have a broad threat spectrum comprising internal security, low-intensity conflict, terrorism, out-of-area contingencies and a limited to full-scale war – all governed by VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Add to these disruptions, and VUCAD (disruption/diversity) today has the contours of a Grey Zone – a hybrid/invisible war transcending time and space.
The best road to self-reliance is creating our unique model, which gives homegrown indigenous solutions. It requires a well-articulated “National Technology Strategy” (NTS). There is a need to put in place a number of focused programs comprising project structures, policies, and systems (task, team, time) for achieving well-defined technology milestones. Some thoughts on plausible critical determinants of the “National Technology Framework” (NTF) for NTS are analysed below:
National Technology Framework (NTF)
A number of initiatives have been taken under the National Technology Development Board to create technology innovation hubs and Centres of Excellence (CoE) in identified technologies. Each Ministry has a few CsoE. There are Technology Innovation Hubs at IIsT, the Defence Industry, Academia, CoEs of DRDO, CoEs of MeiTy (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology), CoEs of DST, CoEs of ISRO and a host of others in public and private sectors. These efforts need to be vectored and drawn into a cogent National Technology Framework to articulate a National Technology Strategy with a clear technology forecast, technology development work time action plan with well-defined deliverable milestones and end state of each technology vertical.
As in the Preamble to the Constitution of India, the preamble to the National Technology Strategy must enunciate: “We the People of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India to a Technological Sovereign Global Power”. This baseline document can be prepared from the Defence Technology Strategy, which must drive the national effort.
Ministry of Technology & Innovation
DST needs upgradation to a Ministry of Technology and Innovation. Science and technology-related basic research could form part of the Ministry. Today, a number of R&D organisations within the government and private sector exist, employing subject matter experts (SMEs) and deploying vast amounts of funds on R &D. These resources can be optimised through a three-pronged strategy:
- National Technology Act (NTA): Create an NTA legislation and control regime to synergise the efforts of these R and D synergies with the concept of ‘One Technology One Team’ (OTOT). R and D efforts must become a meaningful engagement through agencies complementing and not competing with each other. For example, all agencies dealing with quantum computing (QC) need to register with an appropriate vertical under the Technology Development Board to create synergies and jointness among SMEs based on area-specific research and development.
- Government, Academia, Public, and Private Partnership: Build synergies between academia, public sector, private industry, startups, R and D organisations and government institutions like CoE, STPI and others, dealing with technology development where technologies are incubated and churned out as prototype use cases.
- National Technology Broadcast: Akin to the national budget broadcast every year in February, we need to have a technology forecast and development strategy in May every year prior to the National Technology Day on 11th May.
Inter-Ministerial Technology Synergies
Obliviously the above actions need agile structures and policies to enable and implement a tight-knit Technology Strategy in India. A number of facilities in various ministries could be revamped to create a focused technology landscape of ‘One Technology One Program’ (OTOP). Further, India has a healthy mix of skilled, qualified youth and an extremely experienced retired fraternity. The youth bulge, a demographic dividend, and an appropriately qualified retired fraternity can be harnessed through multi-layered initiatives of taping skill development and technologies. These tech-focused start-ups with amoeba organisational structures would help bring in technology development and proliferate niche technologies in the continuum of time. An inter-ministerial structure under the PMO or Ministry of Technology and Innovation could articulate and drive the Technology Strategy of India.
Corporate Professional Responsibility (CPR)
R&D and technology development is a painstaking exercise of design and redesign. In any case, this is the need of the disruptive times – think big, start small, fail fast, recover faster – be first, be agile. This, an exercise requiring huge funds to go through iterations of trials and errors, interspersed with failure cycles, is an arduous journey to fruition. There is, therefore, a requirement for significant funds to develop and sustain niche disruptive technologies. In the interest of the Atmanirbharta, the government would do well to institutionalise a fund titled “Corporate Professional Responsibility” (CPR), “Technology Development Fund” under the Companies Act 2013 for technology development as a national initiative. This fund, in effect, would be akin to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fund- approximately two per cent of the company’s turnovers and profit margins.
The technology incubation centres, hubs, and start-ups need to be funded by CPR based on industrial houses and guided by identified subject matter experts. How else do nations build their technology muscles? Let us evolve CPR-based technology development on our model. India was the lead in legislating CSR and has drawn benefits in the nation’s social fabric. Let us peek into the development of niche technologies through a budget and business lens – CPR is an idea, and the time for which is long overdue.
Consolidation of Demographic Dividend
Atmanirbharta and ‘Make in India’ must transcend to ‘Made in India’ and lead to meaningful value addition to the technology might, sub-assemblies – assemblies – products and production line, exports and economy by dealing with the complete life cycle. Towards this end, the industrial corridors pan India need to be developed with the thought of ‘Made in India’. It calls for redesigning the higher education sector by revamping technology institutions to harness skill development and produce job-ready engineers. Job readiness would also imply training on project management, quality control, IPR and patents, positive, responsible attitudes, and aptitudes to compete with global standards by producing quality products. The skill levels need to be certified for enhanced workforce effectiveness and create certified welding professionals etc., akin to CFPs/CAs. Youth need to be motivated to learn foreign language skills which could be introduced at secondary school levels and beyond for better global impact. It calls for a dynamic think–act–rethink deployment of NEP 2020.
Surpassing Global Standards
There is a need to define and surpass global manufacturing standards. Japanese embraced the 5S manufacturing principles to define global benchmarks Seiri (sort), Seiso (shine), Seiton (set), Seiketsu (standardise), and Shitsuki (sustain). America adopted these and went beyond to create a formidable brand value in defence equipment and others. India must adopt a strict quality regime driven by technology and innovation to develop and surpass global best standards and best practices. It calls for legislation through National Technology Act, National Production Act and stringent project management standards to meet global competitiveness.
Indian defence forces are always in combat thanks to external and internal security commitments. Hence, indigenous defence equipment is tried and tested under trying operational conditions. The Akash Weapon System, Brahmos, Pinaka and ATAGS by Bharat Forge are the vanguards of Indian export. To be a global first choice in defence equipment exports, high technology standards, life cycle support, and stringent international compliances will be a compulsion and not an option as we embark on the ‘Made in India’ journey. India has created a COVID vaccine pull globally; we must also repeat the dose in other technologies.
The Low-Hanging Technology Fruits
What if we take the lead in low-hanging fruits in unmanned autonomous systems (drones and robots), which have a global market of over $50bn in the next five years? Renewable energies, EV, ICT hardware and software, software-defined networks and allied equipment, emerging technology stacks AI, AR, VR, meta, IoT, Big Data Analytics, Blockchain and chip manufacturing, to name a few megatrends. To that extent, a user-friendly export policy for local producers, including MSMEs and global recipients, would need to be redrawn. Industrial corridors must become the critical determinants of India’s capability development and capacity building. International competition must look towards the Indian manufacturing industry as a high-quality entity.
India a Womb to Tomb MRO Global Hub
The womb-to-tomb life cycle of equipment is a resource-intensive journey requiring maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO) of equipment, technology upgrades to beat obsolescence, and end-of-life management. It is a cost and effort-prohibitive exercise. Indian Armed Forces are past masters at MRO activities of three generations of equipment – legacy Gen X&Y, contemporary Gen Z, and state-of-the-art Gen Alpha. Given the youth bulge and the export potential of the MII defence equipment, an established MRO life cycle support is a huge opportunity to be harnessed and exploited globally. India is the land of technology, innovation, and jugaad– a potential ‘MRO Global Hub’. For example, MRO Global Hub by TATA Advanced Systems for all commercial aircraft while Adani Group with HAL establishes a combat aircraft and UAS; Bharat Forge as MRO hub for guns; Mahindra Defence for combat vehicles; L & T MRO hub for missile systems and several others. .
The Indian MRO Equipment Mega Workshop
The concept of MRO Hub can be extended to an MRO mega workshop where a multi-equipment MRO capability under one roof is facilitated. Envision a multi-speciality hospital as a multi-speciality and multi-skill workshop cum asset warehouse, where OEMs, MSMEs and subject matter experts such as R&D, design and development experts, consultants, advisors and hands-on tradesmen undertake repair, overhaul, technology upgrade, product improvement, reverse engineering and innovative major and minor interventions of all possible electronics equipment, weapons, white electronics, equipment assemblies/sub-assemblies, supply baby components.
It would be akin to a round-the-clock technology expo or DefExpo with a display of state-of-the-art equipment and sustenance support activities under one roof. In addition to being a huge employment opportunity, it would be a show window of Atmanirbhar Bharat on repair, overhaul, reverse engineering, 3D printing, and various MRO solutions. It is a unique proposition with significant economic development and technological growth potential.
The New Tech World Order is defined by Four Ds – Data, Digitisation, Digitalisation and Disruption. While these have fueled digital transformation globally, giving rise to a large number of dual-use technologies which are drivers of automation and autonomous applications, their disruption is transforming technologies at an unprecedented pace and transforming business concepts, models, processes and practices. Moreover, while oil is being touted as the ‘New Oil’, ‘Technology is the New Oil Refinery’.
Atmanirbharta and MII is an excellent strategic intent. In the backdrop of a solid tech base provided by ISRO, DRDO, Technology and innovation centres of industries and PSUs, Startups and T Hubs, the time is ripe to strengthen the Industrial Fabric of India, with global ambitions, through a well-thought-through technology strategy and the myriad of focused initiatives enunciated in this paper. The tech sojourn must become an illustrious lasting tech journey. Let us do it!
Lt Gen (Dr) Anil Kapoor AVSM, VSM (Retd)