The Arms Of Others

In the defence sector, India’s import fixation is taking a toll

Written by Bharat Karnad | Updated: July 17, 2017 12:15 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indian PM Narendra Modi, Israel, Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Narendra Modi Israel, India News, Indian Express, Indian Express News PM Narendra Modi and Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu (PTI Photo)

As on some of his earlier foreign trips, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised Israel, the host country, rich contracts for military hardware, in this case for joint development of medium range and long range surface-to-air missiles (MRSAMs and LRSAMs), and for off-the-shelf purchase of the Israeli Spyder Quick Reaction SAM (QRSAM) for the army.

Why do these deals stick in the throat? The Modi government approved them earlier this year even though it knew the indigenous QRSAM, for instance, was on track and would be tested soon. Both its first test firing on June 4 and the second, pointedly, on July 3, the day Modi left for Israel, went off without a hitch. A third successful test-firing and this locally made missile would be ready for series production and induction. Acting Defence Minister Arun Jaitley praised DRDO for the successful tests, but didn’t take the next, logical, step — scrapping the contract for the Spyder that would have saved the country in excess of $2-3 billion, and given a fillip to the local armaments design and development efforts at the heart of Modi’s flagship Make in India programme.

There was no need to go to Israel for 500 units each of MRSAMs and LRSAMs either. The Akash short range missile is already operational with the Indian Air Force. True, this missile’s performance is deficient owing to a sub-par Russian radar seeker, but there’s little else wrong with it. So, a sensible solution would have been for the indigenous Akash project to be tasked with developing scaled-up medium and long range versions of the missile within the timeline given to the Israelis. A more narrowly defined deal with Tel Aviv to co-develop a radar-seeker for the Akash missiles could then have been signed at a fraction of the $5-7 billion cost of MRSAM-LRSAM.

The Israeli contracts to win goodwill are like the PM’s announcement in April 2015 in Paris to buy 36 Rafale combat aircraft. These are too few in number to have any sustained impact in war and too costly not to divert scarce funds from the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which is technologically the same as the 4.5 generation Rafale. But because it is an Indian design, it can spawn a whole bunch of air force and naval variants in the future.

India’s purchase of the Rafale prevented the French company, Dassault Avions, from closing down its combat aircraft development complex, because until then no country had bought this inordinately expensive fighter plane. The Indian contract will fetch France Rs 1,750 crore per Rafale, for a minimum payout by India of Rs 63,000 crore.

Incidentally, this is about the cost of raising 17 Corps, the army’s first large offensive mountain warfare formation which Jaitley, wearing his finance minister’s hat, had earlier rejected as unaffordable. Now the Chinese are acting up in the Doklam area and India, as ever, is bereft of forces to take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau.

And while in Washington, Modi promised US President Donald J. Trump consideration of the 1970s vintage F-16 fighter plane for assembly in India. Lockheed Martin will make billions of dollars from shifting the worn out F-16 production line to India. The F-16 has no realistic chance if the IAF has any say in the decision, but the Saab Gripen is likely to get in as the single engine aircraft choice of the IAF, again at the expense of the Tejas LCA.

Modi is not the first prime minister to be profligate with the country’s resources. In 1995-96, the Congress PM, P.V. Narasimha Rao, rescued the Sukhoi Bureau and manufacturing plant in Irkutsk from shuttering with a generous subvention of Rs 6,000 crore. In return, he did not contractually demand Intellectual Property Rights for the Su-30 technologies developed there, or that Sukhoi share the design work load with Indian aircraft designers in the Aeronautical Development Agency in Bangalore, who created the LCA, or that technology be fully transferred, including source codes, to Indian agencies, or anything else remotely to advance India’s defence industrial capability.

Between an imports-fixated Indian military and an Indian government that seems incapable of thinking straight, the country is fated to remain an arms dependency. Karnad is professor for National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and author most recently of ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)

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  1. R
    Jul 19, 2017 at 3:27 am
    Indigenous development/production can still go on while these type of imports are done to counter aggressive China and its pawn porkistan to needle India. If it is part of Make in India project, we will be just adding Israeli prowess to already developing Indian defense technology. Probably the author is making his opinion in isolation without taking in to account China and its clever aggressive plans. One thing is sure, it is Modi and his government, so every rupee spent will be used for defense related issues and not to fill Swiss bank accounts as was done by Sonia and her friends! That is matter of great satisfaction for Indians. By the way what happened to fast breede thorium reactors? Was the conspiracy theory around thorium true or just a story written by some lunatics?
    1. R
      Ramesh Nittoor
      Jul 18, 2017 at 6:07 am
      Specific objections Mr. Bharat Karnad has raised in Israeli missiles, French fighter, F-16, would surely be true, else he nor Indian Express will write these against decisions made by PM Modi himself. Mr. Karnad has a re tion about being a hawk, but these are verifiable assertions. India makes more steel than US and before this decade ends shall probably be making more cars than Japan. Israel is population is only about 85 lakhs, much smaller than even Bengaluru. Perhaps India fears, that if they do not purchase, China will. The earlier story of Israel collaboration on Awacs first with China, and later cancelling it in favor of India comes into mind. The technology policy on defense has a deep impact in the trajectory of Indian development, and indigenous capabilities spawned over decades ahead. This money on defense imports, if spent on education and research in universities, can transform India, and defend her far better.
      1. I
        Jul 18, 2017 at 3:44 pm
        I think that if the entire F-16 body and wing frame production chain comes to India, it will be a definite plus as it will help us master this part technology cycle. The Russians do not import anything, they have closed the technology cycle among themselves, but I think that India is lacking in this as the local industry's production specifications finds little encouragement from the armed forces. But we to start somewhere. I don't think Chinese arms are any better than ours. They have not been battle tested anywhere, and head to head India can match China in many areas. But the armed forces should be a little forgiving and the universities should be producing engineers and scientists not so much at the cutting edge but who can master the technology as it existed in 1960s or 70s. This should be good enough for us. I cannot understand why in such a traditional area of armaments as in artillery, where we produced s during WWII for the Empire, we have to import from the Americans.
      2. P
        P M
        Jul 18, 2017 at 5:40 am
        You keep on doing good work. We shall reward you even a padmavihushana but please do let us continue with imports !
        1. R
          Ramesh Nittoor
          Jul 18, 2017 at 6:24 am
          Good humor! But on a serious note here --- These are not easy decisions, be it policy formulation or specific procurement decision. Thousands of highly qualified technical and operational people would be involved in figuring all aspects of the decision making process, which would have to pass through several gates. Expect that, this article by Mr. Karnad, would be examined seriously, and if has merit, shall sway outcomes. But doing so is in a politically affordable manner is not easy! Think national interest shall prevail, this has been the track record of PM Modi so far.
        2. M
          Jul 18, 2017 at 4:08 am
          Brahmins are just paying back Israeli ILLUMINATI for it was they who decided BUTCHER Modi would be PM.
          1. J
            Jul 18, 2017 at 4:59 am
            They decided your birth too.
          2. H
            Jul 18, 2017 at 4:02 am
            India's defense Industry simply is not up to par with advance county's technologies. The main reason is it's civil service type structure. It takes long from prototypes to production. India government , both NDA UPA, had realized that and so are bypassing them.
            1. S
              Syed Shah
              Jul 18, 2017 at 2:05 am
              Israel will be held responsible is any Pakistani dies from its weapons. Israel has just created a new enemy for itself, and one that will not take it lying down. Israel is responsible for their own disaster for selling weapons to Pakistan's enemy.
              1. H
                Jul 18, 2017 at 4:04 am
                LOL. Pakistanis are not tough like Arabs. After all they are descendent of timid people, who converted to Islam to save their lives.
              2. U
                Jul 18, 2017 at 12:54 am
                Arm race is going to speed up in coming years, India spending huge amounts of its citizen-tax money on this race and on other side to keep equation balance Pakistan will be given weapons by USA (even China) as gift. When will india understand that ARM race will deprive its citizen with so many developments and infrastucture work which be would enough to reduce poverty to great extent.
                1. R
                  Jul 17, 2017 at 10:30 pm
                  The author does not understand rhe real reason behind giving contracts to Israel. DIK HEADED BRAHMINS have tried for 70 years using DIK AS THEIR BRAHMIN BRAIN BY APPOINTING THEMSELVES AS HEADS OF ALL DEFENSE ESTABLISHMENTS. What one got after 70 years is only DUDs.
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