Saturday, 16 February 2013

Our bigger defence scandal - Arjun and INSAS story

This post refers to Shekhar Gupta’s editorial “Our bigger defence scandal”(IE Feb 16). I fully agree with his call for greater private sector participation in defence production, an increase in the FDI allowed in this sector will be a welcome decision. However he has mentioned only a partial story about the Arjun Tank. The fact of today is that this tank is indeed among the best in its class and has outperformed the T72 and T90s of the Indian Army in field trials. The delay is a story of difficult development under sanctions and technology denial and also of the ever changing requirements specs of the Army. The army now claims that the tank is too heavy for its requirements so it is buying thousands of foreign T90 tanks that had poor performance in the desert heat in Indian conditions.  How come the requirement to keep the tank under a certain weight was not conveyed at the outset of the program why suddenly now these excuses are being made? Also if the tank is too heavy for our bridge infrastructure to cope with then how does the Army plan to move its Agni V and Agni VI launchers which would be much heavier. While the Army continues to bad mouth the Arjun tank it continued with its T90 purchases in spite of several issues in its trials.It has been reported that Army is also blocking further trials of Arjun in Punjab to allow the T90 purchases to go through unhindered.

A similar story is about the INSAS service rifle of the Indian army after inducting the rifle in large numbers (around 300,000) now the army is realizing that there are design flaws in the rifle and will spend Rs 10,000 crores to buy a foreign weapon. Why were these flaws not found and corrected during the prototype stage? How can such a colossal waste in case of Arjun and INSAS in particular be allowed to go unchallenged in our country? There are clearly vested interests involved. Every serious military power in the world has indigenous weapons manufacturing. No country can hope to import its way to national security as we have found in every war we were forced to fight, every time the supplier countries threatened to pull the plug on us if it did not serve their strategic interests. Failure of Arjun and INSAS are failure of India's defence ambitions.

In conclusion I would say that public sector units can perform if allowed to be run professionally and in Indian context allowed to compete and collaborate freely with private sector.  After all the Soviet and Chinese defence production was all in public sector. We can even follow the example of Singapore where the government via Temasec owns a majority stake in ST Engineering but allows it to operate like a private company staying hands off from management of the company. We need a stronger indigenous defence sector public, private or joint and perhaps we need more foreign investment in local industries but we cannot continue to rely on imports to satisfy our defence needs.

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