By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 21 Nov: A very interesting debate was hosted today on the second day of Valley of Words Literature & Arts Festival on a very contemporary and hot topic related to Self reliance in defence for India. The topic was titled, “Can India be Self Reliant in Defence?” The speakers were Admiral Arun Prakash, Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar, Sanjay Prasad (IAS) and Lt Gen Sanjiv Langer, who anchored the debate. As the first speaker Admiral Prakash lamented the fact that in the 70 years post-independence, India continued to remain heavily dependent on imports of even basic warfare machinery such as rifles, machine guns, etc. While the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) remained engaged mainly to technical demonstrations of products, there was no focus on actual production of the products including the arsenal. He felt that India required a long term strategic plan in order to deal with future challenges in the sector of defence and security of India. He noted that a long term vision and strategy encompassing next 50 years and its effective implementation were required if India was to achieve Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ a self- reliant India. Prakash in fact suggested a multi-pronged course of action towards achieving this. He said that India has to completely break up from its past as far as its defence strategy and planning is concerned. A 50 year perspective plan was required to be charted out and put under the charge of a professional minister rather than a politician. India ought to launch its R&D mission for weapons including the robotics etc. He also emphasised on greater need for synergy between Public Sector Undertakings and the private sector in the defence sector for manufacturing. He further advocated complete organic overhaul of DRDO and mandatory involvement of armed forces in designing and production of weaponry by the DRDO.
Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar, a highly experienced fighter pilot having flown over 55 different types of aircrafts and who had been actively involved in the development of India’s light combat aircraft Tejas, mainly restricted himself to what India had achieved towards self-reliance in defence. He felt that India had achieved a lot towards indigenisation in the naval sector like indigenisation of naval ships, submarines as well as in the deterrent air power such as different types of missile systems. India’s achievements in some sectors was most pride worthy. India had managed to indigenously develop successful advance missile systems such as Agni, Astra Air to Air Missile and even anti radiation missiles and Brahmos. He observed that Astra Air to Air missiles had been successfully developed and tested on Sukhoi-30 fighter aircrafts. Tejas was another major success story as far as Light combat aircraft was concerned. It had even been successfully tested on naval ship INS Vikrmaditya. Now LCA Mark-2 was under development. There were notable successes also in respect of Light Combat Helicopters and Light Utility Helicopters. They were under the process of being certified and orders were awaited from the armed forces for production. Many components which were initially getting imported were now being produced indigenously such as actuators and computerised parts. A symbiotic relationship had to be fostered between Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and even with DRDO and the private sector. He disclosed that many new projects of indigenisation were also in pipeline. He, however, expressed concern that many equipment developed indigenously and handed over to private sector couldn’t still be manufactured by the private companies because of small quantities of orders from the armed forces which rendered the production financially unviable. While the PSU had financial support from the government, private companies could only succeed if financially viable. He suggested India ought to look for export of defence supplies to other countries and private sector was required to be permitted and even actively encouraged to manufacture and export defence equipment. He cited an example when there was a display of Tejas abroad in a function attended by then MEA Sushma Swaraj and observed that there was no preceding publicity activity before the event about the Tejas and therefore it did not attract due attention at the show. India knew very little about export of defence supplies and needed to catch up on the lines of China which was now exporting defence equipment to smaller countries at a large scale. This would boost not only the capabilities of India’s armed forces but also boost economy, make private sector self-reliant and generate employment. He agreed with Admiral Prakash’s recommendation that India needed to plan for next 25 to 50 years in advance.
Senior IAS officer Sanjay Prasad who had served in Ministry of Defence in the past was of the view that India was on course towards greater self-reliance in defence. Agreeing with what Air Marshal Rajkumar had stated, he said that India had achieved a lot towards self-reliance in naval and missile sectors. Underlining the significance of self-reliance he cited history of India’s occupation by foreign forces. He said that in the medieval times, foreign armies landed in India with light weight and better swords and better horses and therefore were successful in defeating Indian forces. He said that there was no need to be very pessimistic in respect of future of India’s defence sector and noted that greater self-reliance in defence sector would have a multiplier effect on economy and strategic strength of India. He praised the current Government of India for taking major steps towards self-reliance in defence sector. He added that no import policy in respect of many defence supplies would further boost its own manufacturing in the long term and lead the country towards resourcefulness. Summing up the debate, Lt Gen Sanjiv Langer thanked the speakers for bringing up a wide spectrum of issues during the debate. He expressed hope that the government would pay greater attention towards all the paraphernalia including the policies, setting up R&D facilities and finance etc required to make India self-sufficient in the defence sector.