While Parrikar will certainly clear long pending acquisition proposals faster, the larger strategic aim of his tenure must be to harmonize India’s defence spend with the ‘Make in India’ programme.
The appointment of Manohar Parikkar as Union Defence Minister could not have come sooner. A ‘part time’ minister for Defence as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has sometimes been called in the course of the last six months would have found it difficult to do justice to a portfolio that must establish India as a net provider of security in its immediate region and beyond.
Now someone with Parrikar’s unimpeachable integrity is obviously useful to oversee all the muscle that India’s military seeks to acquire to match up to it’s ever expanding brief. But that brief is not only about meeting the projected requirements of the military in a timely and above board manner but also about engendering a domestic military industrial complex that is worthy of a country with significant strategic goals.
So while Parrikar will certainly clear long pending acquisition proposals faster, the larger strategic aim of his tenure must be to harmonize India’s defence spend with the ‘Make in India’ programme. After all if ‘Make in India’ has to be more than a jobs program it must focus heavily on the military and aerospace sectors which continue to be at the top of the technological value food chain of what we call ‘industry’.
Moreover if ‘Make in India’ is accompanied with ‘export from India’, it would sit rather well with India’s stated objective of becoming a net security provider in the IOR as well as balancing the ‘iron friendship’ of our neighbours by exporting weapons to their other neighbours such as Vietnam and Afghanistan for instance.
For that Parrikar will have to show the political will to break down the sharp polarization that takes place in India between ‘users’ (i.e the military), ‘developers’ (i.e DRDO), ‘producers’(mostly DPSUs) and ‘buyers’ (MoD bureaucrats).
In the import raj of the UPA’s ‘ten’ factionalism within different wings of the same team became commonplace and this should not be tolerated by Parrikar as he looks to fix the MoD. Yes while the easing of FDI in defence norms is all well and good, Indian military exports will be mostly of those systems to which intellectual property (IP) is owned domestically such as the Akash surface to air missile (SAM), sonars (already being exported), radars and a range of communication equipment.
Indeed, it is important to understand that license producing foreign designs in India will never be as useful as building domestically developed weapons.
To aid that process, Parrikar will also have to get the Indian military to actually commit large orders to indigenously developed weapons, some of which like the Arjun Main Battle Tank(MBT) despite all the bad press, have outclassed foreign designs such as the T-90 in comparative trials.
In fact the best way to leverage ‘FDI in defence’ would be to attract key sub-system manufacturers to set up shop in India via the promise of both large domestic orders as well as exports for indigenous platforms that use these sub-systems. An example would be getting GE to build low bypass military turbofans in India for an extended HAL Tejas production run which includes export to Africa and Latin America.
But for that the Indian military must be encouraged to see itself as an ‘owner’ of indigenous programmes rather than as a mere user with a ‘set of requirements’. Requirements which it must be said are often completely unrealistic (betraying brochuritis) and acceded to by a DRDO with equally unrealistic deadlines only so that import can be staved off for as long as possible.
The DPSUs don’t care whether they license produce foreign designs or DRDO developed ones and MoD bureaucrats one way or the other remain overlords of this delightful landscape. Parrikar has to put a stop to this ‘passing the parcel’ game and bring accountability to the system by ensuring that collective responsibility is not a mere euphemism.