DRDO’s Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) is for the Army
For India, the need to be strategically secure against two often hostile neighbours is urgent. It would be critical if India were not a nuclear power in counter balance to Pakistan and China
by Gautam Mukherjee
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has had five permanent members since soon after the Second World War. India, then just emerging into independence was a poor third-world country with a population of under 350 million. China, fortunate enough to join the UNSC, in 1950, courtesy India’s first refusal of the invitation, was then, equally poor, but accounted for a fifth of humanity.
America, Britain, France, Russia (then the USSR), came to dominate global politics as the victors of WWII. They developed massive armament industries on the foundation of their war machines. China started later, but today they all produce a wide array of conventional and nuclear weapons and systems.
These weapons and systems, fuelled by their R&D capabilities and UNSC economies, make them the world’s foremost military powers. They exert great influence and earn billions by way of exports to the other, mostly non-nuclear militaries of the world.
For India, the need to be strategically secure against two often hostile neighbours is urgent. It would be critical if India were not a nuclear power in counter balance to Pakistan and China.
But as it stands, India will have to procure a proportion of state-of-the-art weaponry from abroad for decades to come. This despite technology transfers and offsets agreements obtained, mainly because of a lack of strong military R&D in-country. Still, the Make in India defence manufacturing initiative is beginning to show results.
Mere GDP growth, and excellence in other fields, cannot put any new aspirant to the UNSC, in the same league. This is because of the yawning strategic vulnerability of not controlling the means of its defence.
Still, India does excel in areas where we were forced to develop our own know-how because of embargo placed on technology imports. That is how we have developed nuclear weapons capacity and indigenous satellite launching skills for example. We have also entirely developed some types of our own missiles, and worked in collaboration with Russia and Israel on others. The Inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are an area that has a very short list of global manufacturers. India is on it because we learned to launch heavier payloads at ISRO, and married it to home- grown developments in missile and nuclear weapons technology.
India now aspires to become a full-fledged permanent member of the UNSC with veto powers. It is the fastest growing major economy in the world, ranked 6th largest, and trending towards fifth. It has a $2.5 trillion economy expected to grow to $10 trillion in little over a decade.
But there is much work to be done with regard to India’s broader armaments industry. The Modi government has effected a major policy shift, but has had only five years towards its implementation. Given a second term in office this project should go forward with great vigour.
At present, even if India were to be admitted to the UNSC to balance out the influence of a sometimes obstructionist China, it cannot have the same clout.
Even without sanctions and embargo, importing weapons is more expensive, and there is usually a technology barrier when it comes to the latest and the best. Cutting-edge weaponry is constantly being developed by the majors, and a similar capacity is essential for India in due course.
Tiny Israel has demonstrated the truth of this by developing into a major defence supplier to India. Starting in 1948, it produces superior armaments from its highly advanced defence and start-up industry. This was demonstrated recently by the IAF’s precision strikes on the JeM terrorist training centre at Balakot.
There are other challenges too. Hacking into the world’s software systems is a major Chinese skill. This form of espionage can also disable or cause malfunctions in weapons and delivery systems. Almost every major country including India is therefore hard at work developing its own cyber warfare capacities.
Almost every piece of military equipment, and much that is used in the civilian world is now highly dependent on its software. Apart from predatory intrusions, the original authors of such software can monitor the uses its systems are being put to, long after the sale. Indeed, they possess the means to override and suspend capabilities on a one-way basis without permission. The hardware, however formidable, is now helpless without its software brain.
India has recently slipped into the second largest importer of armaments slot after almost a decade at the top of this sorry list. It has now been overtaken by Saudi Arabia, buying billions in arms from the US.
In two years, India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), not previously known for its dynamism, has built six air defence and anti-tank missile projects worth over rupees one lakh crores. Such items were either imported before the relentless efforts of the Modi government, or the country was unable to afford them altogether.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) too is on the brink, at last, of delivering squadrons of its new, improved, Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to the Armed Forces. Other countries, such as Malaysia, have shown interest in it too.
The Modi government and its Defence Ministry has also backed the DRDO’s indigenous missile building systems. It has been asked to redesign its missiles to take into account the updated needs of the armed forces. Most such projects have languished for decades as the political dispensation favoured imports. But now, the Make in India policy thrust is changing things.
There are two separate projects for Short Range Surface to Air Missiles (SR-SAMs) for the Army and Navy under implementation. The Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) is for the Army. The Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) for the Army has a version for helicopter launches from the air, and another for armoured vehicles from the ground.
Fortunately the trend is towards substituting state- of-the-art with its equivalent, and not a misguided attempt at producing inferior weapons at home. We will shortly be producing AK -203 machine guns at a green-field facility at Amethi in collaboration with the Russians. But meanwhile, India will import 72, 400 SIG 716 assault rifles of 7.62 mm calibre (from Sig Sauer of the US). These will have an effective range of 500 m and yet weigh less than 3 kg. each. These are expected to be delivered by February 2020.
India will also import 93, 895 carbines of 5.56 mm calibre from America on a fast-track basis. These rush orders will be followed by 5.5 lakh assault rifles and 3.5 lakh carbines on a “Make in India” program.
Similar indigenous efforts and collaborations to produce field guns and howitzers, helicopters, drones, navy vessels of different kinds including patrol boats, stealth frigates and submarines, even indigenous aircraft carriers are moving apace. A robust Made in India military profile is now firmly on the cards.
This weaponry is being supported by a massive thrust to develop modern infrastructure and logistical ability. Parts of India that are of great strategic significance but lacked proper connectivity are being rapidly accessed. This will help military deployment and peoples’ movement as much as the economy.
No country that will be in the top three by 2030, with a nearly $10 trillion economy, can afford to do less.