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Cecil Victor. June 9. 2015. Dependence By Other Means


 Cecil Victor. Editorial. IX. VI. XV






Cecil Victor-fnbworld By Cecil Victor



Dassault Rafale-fnbworld-cecil victor


The placement of orders for 36 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft on a government-to-government (G2G) contract has deeply dented the hull of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship project “Make in India”. With the uncertainties over the future of the rest of the aircraft (126 minus 36=90) required by the Indian Air Force to fill the gap left by the delay in the Tejas light combat aircraft project and the depletion of the MiG-21 fleet (and other aircraft of western origin) due to crashes and obsolescence one cannot but be chary of the prospect that India is heading for overdependence for its military requirements on foreign governments.

 f414 engine-fnbworld

The extent of this dependence is seen in the manner in which the Tejas aircraft has come to rely for its survival on American engines.  One reason why the French company Dassault’s product was chosen was that it incorporated in its engine a technology known as ‘single crystal’ turbine blades which are admirably strong in the high pressure, high temperature conditions within the compressor chamber of fighter aircraft engines. India has been having trouble with the Kaveri engine that was produced indigenously to power the homemade Tejas light combat aircraft. The Kaveri engine was afflicted with a tendency to “spit” compressor blades thereby causing immense damage to the entire engine. That was one of the reasons why it had to be replaced with the American c in the prototype stage and with the  more powerful F414 for the serial production stage. The failure to deal with the compressor blade problem in the Kaveri engine for the Light Combat Aircraft  has resulted in overdependence on the Americans for one of the most crucial components for the “indigenous” fighter aircraft.


India has placed orders for 99 of the General Electric F414 engines for the Mk-2 version of the Tejas aircraft and there is talk that the Kaveri engine is to be scrapped but the core named Kabini will be developed for use in unmanned aerial vehicles. The economic cost of shedding the project can easily be calculated by math geeks but the nation will be paying a high political cost for overdependence on the Americans for crucial military equipment. The chance to retrieve the full potential of the Tejas light combat aircraft through the Rafale contract with the French has been further delayed indefinitely.

 Manohar Parikkar-fnbworld-cecil victor

Defence Minister Parrikar has sung praises for the concept of G2G and has promised to channalise more Indian imports from abroad through the Foreign Military Sales route. None of the major imports from the US so far –the G-17 Globemaster, the Super Hercules and the Poseidon maritime surveillance and strike aircraft  - have been under the “Make in India” format and are bereft of any technology transfer. To this can be added the Rafale. India’s decision to lay the foundations of a viable military industrial complex began with licenced production of foreign aircraft, tanks, guns and ships. The intention was to first attain a modicum of ‘self-reliance’ where impromptu embargo on supplies would not significantly affect India’s defence preparedness and sovereignty of action in other fields like the use of the atom because the knowhow was available. From that level India was supposed to build on the acquired technologies in the Defence Public Sector Undertakings, laboratories and factories.


When Dr V.S Arunachalam was Scientific Advisor to the Minister of Defence he gave coinage to the word “leapfrog” technology to reach a level of ‘self-sufficiency’ in military wherewithal. It was during his tenure that the risky concurrent development of indigenous tanks and engines and aircraft and engines was begun. At least one defence analyst had warned that this manner of attaining self-reliance by building a chassis/airframe without proven and high-powered engines was fraught with the possibility that if the indigenous engines failed to produce the desired thrust-to-weight ratio the whole project would force the nation into a state of dependence on foreign supplies once again. That is exactly what has happened.


The very projects that were meant to lead the country through licenced production and competence building and “leapfrogging” technologies to a state of self-sufficiency, where no foreign arms manufacturer could put commercial or political pressure on the government of the day, became the Trojan horses for the induction of foreigners into our very lucrative military bazaar. The very political party that milked the presence of middlemen and agents in the Bofors deal for all its political worth is preparing to legitimise the presence of these agents in the contract system.


The G2G in relation with the US has its own dangerous pitfalls. The transactions are covered by American laws – the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (BECA)-- are the tools of an imperialist nation to safeguard the wherewithal of its military strength from being misappropriated. Close American allies have signed these agreements without demur as is natural among birds of one feather. But India, a leader of that ‘disgusting collective’ known as the “Non Aligned Group”? It is no secret that even where its close allies have signed these documents friends like Australia and Britain have had the sensitive equipment on weapons platforms supplied by the Americans under these laws covered with  tamperproof black boxes to ensure that the technology does not proliferate!


Here is something Indians ought to chew upon. In the early 80s a US National Science Foundation study gained currency. It had calculated that buyer nations subsidized the research and development and productionisation of weapons platforms in developed economies by as much as 15 to 20 per cent of weapons systems of arms producing nations. In their eagerness not to reinvent the wheel, foreign buyers tend to pay inflated rates to the original equipment manufacturers. At the prevailing prices of the early 80s it was calculated that for every Rs 1000 crore of military equipment India was subsidizing foreign laboratories with between Rs 150 crore to Rs 200 crore. In the 80s, by this calculus, India had subsidized foreign laboratories to the tune of between Rs 6,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore over a period of a decade. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute the Indian armed forces placed orders worth nearly Rs 84,000 crore from 2011 up to 2014-15. The subsidy for foreign defence laboratories would work out to between Rs 12,600 to Rs 16,800 crore. Given that Rs 12,600 crore went unspent last fiscal year there was clearly enough to help finance defence research and development both in the public sector as well as in selected private sector defence related laboratories. Not that they would immediately produce the desireable results in terms of viable weapons systems but the concept of public-private participation could have received a much-needed boost. It has, in warship building for the Indian Navy. 



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