India’s defense sector is in dire need of reform


Fury over India’s latest arms buying scandal – this time over the Rafale deal should have led to calls for further indigenization of the country’s military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, we don’t prefer it. All we prefer is to be political around the same thing. Why is there always a cloud of corruption surrounding our agreements with foreign countries? We must also remember that the problem is not just with foreign suppliers, but in a defense market where the domestic industry produces low-quality weapons at high cost.

Excluding foreign sellers only reduces the number of players and outsources the problem; it does not stop corruption. As a rising power, India has an interest in buying technology rather than stealing it. It is better to invite the world to participate in its ascension than to keep the world outside and suspicious. There is great transparency in the development of the country in this regard. India does not make everyone suspect at all. India does not hesitate to sacrifice its secrecy either. What is needed is reforming our supply system rather than winnowing the market.

Whenever India purchases weapons from foreign suppliers, it not only develops a military capability, but also establishes relationships with other key countries that facilitate its rise. Despite this, he always asks the question whether he knows that economic efficiency in the market and prices do not hold up when it comes to weapons. Weapons of the same category made by different manufacturers are not easily compared, especially at the higher rungs of the technological ladder. There are too few sellers and even fewer buyers to create a truly competitive market.

In addition, the value of a particular weapon system in the context of a national security strategy is difficult to calculate. As defense experts say, figuring out whether missiles or attack aircraft are of greater use is not that easy. The Indian defense market faces these challenges and more. Apart from adopting their political positions, our leaders seem disconnected from national objectives when they speak of armed forces. We expect our services to define their perception of threats and prepare for their wars.

To top it off, we have our service rivalries. It is only in times of crisis that they seem to unite. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of military expertise in the political and bureaucratic class. Oddly enough, our country has a science adviser in the defense ministry who is also the head of military laboratories, which means he is supposed to evaluate his own work. Moreover, these dysfunctions persist behind the trope of secrecy.

Closed organizations generally do not innovate; it’s no wonder that only three percent of DRDO scientists and engineers have a doctorate. Opening up the process of military research and arms procurement in public view would reduce the potential for corruption, and it would not be worse than the current process of glacial acquisition. Indian defense is in dire need of reform, but the recommendations of several high-level committees – including those headed by Arun Singh, Naresh Chandra and the irreplaceable K. Subrahmanyam (Kargil review) – remain ignored by several governments. Talking about corruption alone will not help. The sooner our netas understand this, the better.


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