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Domestic firepower

Editorial |

Whether a “live” demonstration of the Army’s firepower will serve as the requisite incentive is a matter for debate, the importance of the proposed “shows” at the Artillery School and Centre and the Infantry School is that they seek to involve leaders of the academic fraternity in the design and development of hi-tech indigenous weaponry. They serve as one step beyond dovetailing private industry into the defence production effort. Hopefully, the initiative of the still-fledgling Army Design Bureau will facilitate a pooling of various talents that will, eventually, lead to India becoming a major arms producer: a more welcome “tag” than being one of the world’s largest importers of military hardware though the story of Indian-made weaponry began centuries ago, it failed to keep itself abreast of technology development ~ as exemplified by the producers of the “zam zamah”, made famous in Kipling’s “Kim”, being reduced to having to import howitzers resulting in a scandal that persists for over two decades. According to some reports, the Army has identified as many as 170 “problem areas” in its modernisation drive, and the induction of “grey matter” into the remedial effort needs a degree of appreciation. It is not a happy reflection on the functioning of the Ordnance Factory Board and its 40-odd factories that a deficit of “brain-power” is felt. For far too long the OFB and the public sector undertakings of the defence ministry have operated under monopolistic conditions, there has been  internal stagnation and the limited induction of technology has been linked with licensed production in India of equipment of imported design. The Army and the Air Force have traditionally been quite happy with “got-abroad goodies” ~ in contrast with the Navy that has had its own design bureau for several years, with the result that a fair number of home-built war ships now traverse the seven seas.

Import-substitution and self-reliance have not been “pushed” hard enough in the other Services, hence applause is due to the efforts of the Army Design Bureau. It will, however, take more than a design bureau to ensure that “make in India” becomes more than a slogan as far as defence production goes. It was recently admitted that a decision on a second production-line for fighter aircraft (in addition to the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) was being stalled because no policy had   been formally approved for the manufacture of fighters in the private sector. There is clearly need for a “mission mode” to be adopted to address identified shortages in the armed services. The soldiers deserve the best equipment the nation can afford to provide them, they will not quibble over who produces it. Will a separate ministry for defence production prove the spur?