India Intelligence Report

   Super-Advanced Weapons Systems in Pipeline


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that India would be soon begin production of super-advanced weapons systems using remote-controlled sensors, robotics, and propulsion systems and develop new precision-guided munitions and unmanned vehicles. Highlighting a new set of reforms in the pipeline, he said that his Government is considering outsourcing research, industrialization, and applications to the private sector. He said this would help Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) “to focus on development of technology.”

Given the growing shortage of scientists, he said “Apart from fiscal incentives, we are willing to consider mobility between such institutions and academia as well from research institutions to production and marketing sectors.” He also said he was concerned about the flight of scientific talent from technology departments. 

Inaugurating the new DRDO headquarters, Singh praised the DRDO for its growing confidence in addressing technologies so far denied to India by developed nations because of perceived dual-use potential and other sanctions. He emphasized the need for such weapons systems in a growing insecure world with trans-national non-state actors, unconventional forces, and non-military threats. 

Singh made it a point to highlight that the DRDO needs to accelerate development of weapons systems. Delays in development escalate costs and leave the country behind in defense preparedness. To overcome these hurdles, Singh encouraged DRDO to enter in partnerships and collaborate with domestic and international institutions. While expressing support from his Government for export of products, he also counseled that DRDO spin-off technologies for commercial applications.

DRDO has experienced large delays in many key weapons requirements including main-battle tank Arjun, surface-to-air missile that can track and target multiple targets Akash, and anti-tank Nag missiles. The first supersonic test flight of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas was conceived 20 years ago but the first supersonic flight happened only recently. The Agni-III 3000 kilometer range missile has not been tested since August 2004 and the only authoritative statement was release yesterday saying that it was technically ready for launch and that “not many technical issues” need to be solved. 

While constructive feedback is necessary for consistent advancement of products and technologies, harsh criticisms of the DRDO alone for delays and non-implementation of projects is unfair. Ever since the Bofors scandal, defense procurement and development was in suspended animation mode. A series of ineffective, unimaginative, and incompetent Governments and Defense Ministers ran the Army aground sparking the Punjab and Kashmir insurgency movements sponsored by Pakistan. There were also large gaps in fundamental technologies. 

For example, missile and aviation testing needs large data crunching ability and with the ban on supercomputer sale to India, the country had to develop its own supercomputers to meet the demand. Unfortunately, once they were developed and the supercomputer Cray was approved for export to India, the politicians and bureaucrats decided to stop the further development of India’s Param Supercomputer. Add to this, the problem of pay, motivation, lack of requirement to perform, poor business habits, declining educational quality levels, and poor infrastructure and one will be surprised that the DRDO even got to where it has today. Even now, the Scorpene deal is being threatened because of allegations of illegal practices in process.

Therefore, a lack of sound technology and defense strategy from India’s political class and bureaucrats are also good reasons why there have been such inordinate delays in development. India needs to learn from such errors of judgment, identify the gaps in decision-making, and protect itself from itself in the future.