Rebooting Defence Manufacturing- Need do for a Collaborative Strategy

Issues Details: 
Vol 12 Issue 4. Sep - Oct 2018
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
The time has come for India to conjointly harness defence industrial capabilities in its public and private sectors
Lt Gen NB Singh (Retd)
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Consolidation of defence industrial capabilities in the face of shoestring budgets is an ongoing endeavour across all nations with large militaries.Lt Gen NB Singh (Retd) former DG EME analyses whythe time has come for India to conjointly harness defence industrial capabilities in its public and private sectors to suggest a ‘mixed strategy’ that would propel the ‘Make in India’ initiative and lead to providing high quality weapon systems to its Armed Forces.

In the 42nd report of the Standing Committee of the Parliament,the Indian Army has stated that 68% of its war fighting equipment is Obsolete and the Army faces a 10 to 12 % deficit leaving the capital budget short by Rs 80 billion. Simultaneously, there have been several media reports on the glacial pace of activity in the Make in India initiative, highlighting the fact that Indian still remains amongst the top five defence spenders in the world. SIPRI had previously ranked India as the world`s largest importer, because its domestic defence manufacturing industry remains curtailed by red tape, a reliance on state owned defence companies and procurement delays.What then is the way out to put defence production intothe overdrive?

This articleendeavors to put forth a pragmatic course of action to resolve the issue of obsolescence in the Army’s inventory, rev up indigenous defence production, generate substantial jobs and fill in vital gaps in the country’s Technology Security.

The current state of technological obsolescence in the Army’s equipment should not activate some knee jerk responses leading to impulsive mega procurements as was done post Kargil. Instead, it would be prudent to take stock of the current state of operational readiness of the Armed Forces as a whole in the face of imminent threats and evolve an equipping strategy that is not replacement oriented but aims to fix operational capability gaps in the short term, and concomitantly createsan opportunity to put Make in India in the overdrive.

Traditionally, acquisition of defence hardware has been misconstrued as a procurement exercise not only by the acquisition community in the MoD but also Service HQs. Consequently, most acquisitions have been attribute centric (also referred to as state of the art in the military) with hardly any focus on mission engineering and functional need analysis.

Acquisitions are to be taken up as a capability development effort and not merely a procurement process. This orientation in the past,would have created the need to put a Defence Technology Strategy and a Defence Industrial Strategy in place to support the Make in India programme. The extreme focus on the correct procedure has infact led to evolution of the DPP, a procedure oriented document unlike the flexible and facilitative Defence Acquisition Guidelines followed by certain countries.In my opinion, every defence acquisition should end up creating the following capabilities:-

  • An operational capability for war fighting.
  • A resuscitation capability to keep this operational capability, mission capable thru life.
  • A technological capability aimed at creating eco systems for design and development of complex systems like an AFV, aircraft or warship and filling up existingtechnology gaps in the country’s Technology Security.

We should aspire to be self reliant in areas of military technology deemed essential for mission success. This means possessing minimum capabilities i.e. baseline defence engineering know how and know what-is- to-be-done, needed to design, develop, manufacture and maintain critical defence equipment and sensors.It needs to be understood that today’s weapon platforms are capital intensive, complex systems hardwired with multi disciplinary technologies and are likely to be retained in service for 30-40 years at theleast.Hence, it is extremely important to maintain a long term knowledge cache and vital system engineering knowhow to prevent a drift towards hollowness and allow insertion of new technologies to fill in equipmentcapability gaps.

It is important to remember that a tank, gun, or a helicopter derives its performance capability through a host of sub-systems and it is important to develop sub system houses within the country to enable a continuous supply of ‘state of the art’ sub-systems to enable a platform’s capability to be sustained and upgraded. If this approach had been adopted, the design and development of systems like the FICV, assault rifle, gun systems, next generation missiles, aircraft, helicopters, etcwould have been greatly facilitated. Currently, the capability to integrate complex systems remains primarily with the public sector, though some capabilities have come up in the private sector in the current decade, which could become extinct if not incubated or consolidated around a core work load. As an example, today the principal suppliers of AFVs are the OFB and BEML. Some capability has also come up in L&T as a sequel to the 155mm SP gun order. Will it be advisable to create additional suppliers for AFVs through the FICV route? How will these multiple production lines be sustained in the long run with diminishing markets and a defence budget under stress? There is great capability in the industry to deliver world class sub systems, LRUs and components related to armaments, ammunition, power packs, HVAC, sights, controls, hull and turret fabrication, etc and this too needs to be sustained through a well considered strategic approach.

I would therefore propose a mixed strategy to respond to the current challenge. Before unfolding the elements of the Mixed Strategy,a word about military capability.It denotes a combat capability not limited to manpower alone but is an integrated and agile combination of well trained personnel, mission capable equipment, infrastructure, information systems, organizational structures and processes that can create a military effect in arange of operational contingencies. Equipment capability development flows out of Capability Development Plans which are evolved based on future requirements of war fighting, lessons learnt in combat, exercises and deployment in field where relevant operational issues and trends are identified and operational needs spelt out, which also  includes the need for technological upgrades to existing inventory where required.

Hence, System Effectiveness rather mere possession of state of the art attributes becomes more relevant. The country needs to graduate from attribute centric procurement to capability centric acquisition and every new acquisition should be preceded by a comprehensive mission engineering exercise. If adopted in right earnest, it will be possible to provide contemporary equipmentcapabilitiesto a host of inservice military systems through the incremental technology insertion approach leaving adequate resources for acquisition of force multipliers.

Mixed Acquisition Strategy

This strategy takes a ‘systems’ view of equipment capability and focuses on four initiatives to develop operational capabilities; the incremental technology insertion approach for certain weapon systems,design and development of new systems, technology incubation centers and development of underpinning technologies.The principal aim is to provide the desired operational capability to the armed forces,as also to fill the technology capability gaps in the country`s Technology Security in an affordable manner. It alsoaims to create a pipeline for supply of next generation indigenous sub systems through innovation and creativity by the SMEs. Details are:-

(a)     Equipment Capability Enhancement Programmes. Several platforms in the current inventory , can be brought to contemporary levels of equipment capability through incremental technology insertion and subsystem level upgrades, say a power pack, running gear, electric drives, power supplies, fire control, sighting and networking systems. There is no need to go in for total system replacement of the 68% inventory considered obsolete by the Army. The M1, Leopard, T-72, BMP, Bradley, ANTPQ 36/37, Kornet-E, BTR, BRDM(developed in the 70s and 80s) are still going strong as a consequence of such technology insertion(we have already discarded a few of these). In our context, a single powerpack upgrade programof ICV BMP-2,under the aegis of the Directorate of Indigenization has led to creation of several subsystem houses within the country in the field of engine, transmission, final drives, cooling pack and electrics; the systems engineeringbeing totally indigenous!!! Imagine the network of SMEs that will get activated, if several comprehensive upgrade programmes involving mobility, survivability, fire power, situational awareness, accuracy, range, etc are activated for the inventory considered obsolete by the Army. It will also help manage the risk in case of delays in new acquisitions. Upgrade programsthrough the incremental technology insertion route are an affordable way to creating a string of indigenous sub system houses and ramp up innovation and creativity in our SMEs. These SMEs could then form the backbone for all futuristic projects on development of complex systems.

(b)     Development ofComplex Systems.Projects like the FICV, FRCV,  assault rifles, guns and missiles, PGMs, helicopters, UAVs, marine systems, etc. are sure to generate enormous amount of research, engineering and industrial activity within the country, if panned out with an untrammeled vision and unity of purpose. Let me amplify the same by using the FICV project as an example. 

This project has to be strictly a Make in India project with mission capabilities needed in our operating environment particularly in the high altitude areas of the Himalayas and at least 50 % indigenous content at the prototype stage. Else it is likely to end up as an unaffordable system designed for Northern Europe and assembled in India by OFB/ private players.

From the Technology Tree, it is evident that this program needs the support of a System Integrator, 3-5 system houses,20-30 sub-system houses and hundreds of component manufacturers, many of whom arealready available within the country in terms ofskills and competencies. What is needed is a consolidation of their capabilities in a mission mode.

(a)     Competitive Prototyping.One approach being talked about is that three entities (OFB and two private players) are to be given the go ahead to design and develop three prototypes, primarily through Govt funding.The proposal has been repeatedly stymied as some vendors are feeling aggrieved at being left out. Similar sabotage is possible at each stage of the project, where competing outfits could conspire to kill the project, if they find the going not to their liking. Lately, there are reports that all competing vendors(6-8) may be allowed to field prototypes for test and evaluation (T&E) under Make II procedure, making the initiative a NO GO from start.  In all likelihood, these agencies will be tying up with foreign OEMs to supplement their efforts, entailing substantial pay outs.Competitive prototyping of indigenous systems, that too 6-8prototypesis absurd and reflective of the procurement mindset. It will kill initiative and zeal, as vendors who lose out finally,will never have the inclination to participate in any future programs, having seen their efforts of several years not coming to fruition. Already, some vendors having created world class industrial infrastructure for ammunition, guns, marine and land systems are distressed due to absence of orders.Manufacturing several prototypes and subjecting these to T&E is a luxury India cannot afford.Collaboration rather than competition amongst domestic players makes more sense as it aligns the efforts of all competing organizations into a coherent whole. It is the only way, an enduring capability for design and development of complex systems can be created and sustained within the country. This is precisely what has been done by all developed countries as also both our neighbours.

(b)     Collaborative Prototyping. This approachcould be differentiating. It is based on the understanding that the whole matters more than any individual part.Itaims at consolidation and collaboration between public and private sector capabilities as has been done in the Dhanush programme (Desi Bofors),wherein since 2008 the knowledge base of the Army (EME), OFB and the private sector has been coordinated and consolidated in a spirit of collaboration leading to a perfect reinforcement fit. The user, Artillery fully backed this initiative since 2012 and this changed the tempo of the project.Similarly, in the case of Arjun ARRV, cooperation between EME, CVRDE, BEML and the private sector has led to development of a world class system. Both these initiatives have created several indigenous subsystem houses.Having been associated with these projects, I am convinced that collaboration rather than competition is the surest way to turbo charge Make in India and move ahead.


In the FICV project an innovative approach can be adopted, where in designs of all participating vendorscan be subjected to a comprehensive and transparent design review ab initioand the best design selected for prototyping. Competing vendors can then be asked to develop the prototype jointly as per a specified work share i.e. developthe armament module, mobility module, crew module,survivability and situational awareness systems, missile system, ammunition, etc alongwith the required interfaces. Final system integration would obviously be done by the vendor whose design is selected as the best. A fair portion of the funding could come from the Govt. Most vendors would be satisfied at being a part of this national effort and getting a share of the cake, thus eliminating dissonance and entropy.

The project should be steered by a DARPA like Special Force(SF) to allay fears of the classic Govt control and red tape,that results in time and cost overruns. The SF has to be led and staffed by subject matter expertsand systems engineers with the mandate to seek agile solutions, allow space for innovation, follow best practices and is insulated from the frequent requirements drift of the user.On its part the Govt must empower the SF to deliver, keep the approval process simple and decision making speedy akin to Delhi Metro. The work culture of the SF has to be mission centered; determined, diligent, attentive to detail with a glint of ruthlessness.

Post T&E, integration of the full system to sustain an induction rate of 150-200 systems per year could gradually commence. Full system readiness (FSR) has to be achieved in 5 years with an indigenous content of near 100 %.This single initiative will substantiallyreduce the development cost of this flagship program,shorten time frames, saving tax payers money. It has the potential togeneratea manufacturing activity ofapprox. 5000crs annually for 10-15 yrs and 100,000crs through life.  Besides, consolidation will end up creating a single national design and systems engineering capability for AFVs along with a distributed industrial ecosystem whose capabilities can be tapped by the IAF and IN too.  Imagine the hectic pace of activities that will get generated if 3 to 4 such collaborative programs for development of complex systems like a tank, ship, aircraft, UGV, UAV for the three services are rolled out, inan atmosphere of trust, transparency, openness and information sharing  between the  Services, public and private sector keeping Nation first.Most countries whose complex systems are on offer for manufacture in India today, have developed and evaluated only one type of  prototype, putting the entire weight of the Govt, scientific community and the industry behind the project, creating or consolidating a defence industrial eco system in the stride ,e.g.F16, Stryker, Namer, Challenger, T 14 Armata, K9 Thunder.

Technology Incubation and Innovation Centres.In order to bridge the Technology Gap in breakthrough, leap ahead and generation next technologies, there is a need to work on creating a culture of innovation and creativity in our academic institutions. This is one way, a continuous availability of next generation sub systems can be assured for technology insertion in systems that are graduating towards obsolescence and bridging the capability gap. For this, the need to create breakout technologies incubation centers at our institutions of higher learning is a way forward. These could be established in IITs, NITs, and IIITs region wise for various disciplines of technology like power systems, propulsion systems, Tech Intelligence, AI, PGMs, computer vision, BMS,nanotechnologies, advanced materials, and spearheaded by a joint group of academicians and ex-armed forces engineers on contract. Programsakin to the 100 and 1000 Talents Plan of the Chinese and similar efforts by the Israelis can be run parallely for optimum risk management.To imbibe the culture of innovation in science and technology, it may be of significant practical consequence to designate selected Govt schoolsand colleges pan India as Engineering Academies.One of the reasons of Israel’s spectacular achievements in the field of defence technologies is the focus on human resource.  The Armed Forces on their part could selectively gift obsolete and unserviceable systems and equipment for study, strip and rebuild with better technology insertion to these institutions and help drive the innovation culture.

Underpinning Technologies

Technologies that are required by the country for security and sovereignty reasons should continue to be developed under the aegis of Govt institutions like DRDO, BARC, ISRO, Govt Labs and PSUs.

Inorder to develop world class capabilities& emerge as a major innovator of defence technologies as well civilian end use technologies like cyber weapons, cryptography, laser weapons, NBC, AI pods, SATA, the science and engineering skill base of our R&D establishments has to be upscaled.

In conclusion, I will end on the note that the Make in India initiative has to be taken up as a strategic capability building initiative whichnot only provides the desired operational capability to the Armed Forces,but concomitantly enhances the country’s Technology Security, establishes a defence manufacturing ecosystem comprising Design Centers, SIs, System Houses, sub system houses and thousands of component manufacturers with an innovative work culture.


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