How can India become self-sufficient in Defence Sector ?
A stronger defense is an investment in peace
Since time immemorial, India has been a witness to many invasions and attacks by foreign elements. Today, defense determines, not only how a nation can protect itself during wars but also the amount of sphere of influence it can exert both regionally and globally. It is therefore, crucial that India must always be self-sufficient in defending itself by building a robust defense sector.
In its recent past, as an independent nation, India has been involved in wars with Pakistan and China. While it won the wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999, it faced a defeat in 1962 against China. India has therefore learnt many lessons with these wars which emphasize the need to build a strong defense force. The 21st century defense sector however, is an altogether different. With growing threats of terrorism, cyber attacks and hostility in many parts of the world, defense sector needs to be ahead of these threats. India also shares a vast border with many countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and China. The ever volatile situations in Kashmir and in parts of the North East are also a source of threat to peace and security. Apart from these, India also faces many homegrown terror elements ranging from Naxalites, Maoists and other terror networks like Indian Mujahideen. Many of these groups are also supported by foreign hostile neighbours.
All these threats and rising incidences of skirmishes on the border with China(Doklam incident) make it necessary that India be ready to tackle them. Also, as India advances economically, it is equally vulnerable to cyber threats like hacking, denial of service and ransomwares which can slowdown as well potentially lockdown many vital services.
Building a modernized defense sector requires self sufficiency in technology, research and infrastructure. Also, India needs to be aware of the latest developments happening around globally which pose new challenges as well provide new opportunities to upgrade itself. One of the challenges India has faced in becoming self-sufficiency in defense is technology. It took more than three decades before India successfully built its first fighter aircraft 'Tejas'. Delays in clearances, procurement and production have also hampered the capabilities of the three forces. Many of the aircrafts like MiGs and helicopters like Cheetah and Chetak have been found to be obsolete for operations. Apart from these, corruption, bureaucratic culture, lack of coordination and delays in finalizing of defense deals have been a bane in building a cutting edge defense sector. There have also been instances of administrative issues like poor food being served, work culture due to buddy system and disparity in gender balance in the forces. Human resource capital is an essential element of any modern defense sector.
How can then India build a strong defense force? India needs to invest in human capital, research and technology. Apart from DRDO, CSIR and IITs, India needs good research facilities and institutions that can contribute in generating state of the art research. The various public sector undertakings also have been lagging in modernizing both equipment and building sophisticated weapons on their own. Thus India is the largest arms importer, spending annually more than 3.6 billion dollars, more than combined imports of China and Pakistan. Except for missilery like Brahmos and communication systems, the contribution of defense PSUs has not been able to build self reliance in defense production. The answer therefore lies in reform, private sector entry and consequentially, competitiveness. The new defense procurement policy (DPP-2016) is a step in right direction which is aligned with the Make In India objective stressing on indigenization and manufacturing locally. It is said that as a thumb rule, it takes 7 to 10 years from realization to procurement of defence equipments. This has to be brought down by increasing coordination and reducing red tapism as well as promoting local manufacturing. Budget-2018 has talked about Defense manufacturing corridors and recently the government has announced one to be started in Uttar Pradesh. There is a need to develop local manufacturing and maintenance abilities on an urgent basis so that India doesn't have to rely on either used weaponry or equipment or get outdated equipments. For example, Russia will charge 125 crore for repairing the damaged nuclear submarine INS chakra. Developing local manufacturing can help India save its import bills and spend on welfare projects too.
Apart from these, there is also a need to reform the forces. Around the world, armies are now focused on creating a lean but technologically sound and ready force. The Shekatkar committee recommendations have highlighted the importance of creating such a force and the same are being implemented. Coordination among the three forces is another issue and this must be improved by a unified command which can have oversight of the overall security scenario of the country. It is also necessary that the defense forces engage with the civilian population to win their trust, especially in areas like Kashmir and the North-East where there has been backlash against AFSPA Act. Cases which involve excessive high handedness, use of unnecessary force and violation of human rights by the army must be dealt promptly, as noted by the Supreme Court. Development is therefore vital to check any influence of hostile neighbors in these regions. Integrated checkposts and developing infrastructure to promote employment must be taken up in these areas which are largely underdeveloped due to difficult terrain and other reasons.
Finally, defense sector must also focus on the wars of future which will be fought not at the battlefields but remotely from elsewhere. Use of drones, cyberspace, artificial intelligence are the future of defense sector. Many countries like Isreal, UK, US and even China have been spending heavily in these sectors. India too must catch up and promote collaboration between the forces, the industry and the academia so that not only India has defensive but offensive capabilities as well. Today, wars are not as common as the use of deterrence and India has to develop the balancing act of using it to its advantage.
The future battles will not only require valor and heroism, they will also need state of the art reconnaissance abilities, superior cyber security and modern weaponry. India has to live with two of its hostile neighbors as well as with many others who play the China card to their advantage. A robust defense procurement policy with indigenized manufacturing abilities boosted by cutting edge research and development is the need of the hour. This will go a long way in India's outreach as global player in security and peace.
- RITESH KUMAR