The right way to arm
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Any move to reconsider the air force's Avro replacement decision will damage the private sector's chances of participating in defence manufacture.
Energising an indigenous private defence industry requires three fundamental steps. Tae Ming Cheung, an authority on the rise of the Chinese aviation industry, has characterised them as creative adaptation followed by innovation of three types: incremental, architectural and, finally, disruptive. The Chinese are almost at the last stage with their J-20 fighter while we, despite seven decades of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), are barely at the first. To force a change, the Indian bureaucracy, both civil and military, and the political hierarchy gathered the will to break from the past and use the chance offered by the planned replacement of the Avro, the workhorse of the IAF's aircraft transport fleet.
The Defence Procurement Procedure mandates that in the event of a "Buy (from abroad) and Make (in India)" categorisation of equipment, the Department of Defence Production (DDP) would nominate the Indian production agency (IPA) to take on the transfer-of-technology (ToT). Theoretically, the IPA can be a private player but a dispensation has always been made in favour of a Defence PSU (DPSU), with a "tail clear" attitude to avoid the three Cs — the CAG, CBI and CVC. The result, which is no state secret, is that
DPSUs and ordnance factories have orders pending for 10 years, if not for two decades ahead.
HAL is a lead runner among these laggards, and to get away from its "clutches" (the word used in government circles), all stakeholders — the IAF, the ministry of defence, MoD (Finance), DRDO and even the DDP that oversees HAL — agreed, after almost two years of discussion, that to galvanise the private aeronautical industry, the Avro replacement project was a godsend. Having already selected the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), C-17, C-130, Apache, the Mi-17V5 and Chinook helicopters, there was going to be no new induction for the next two decades. So why miss the last chance to energise the private industry through the Avro replacement route? In any case, if HAL were made the IPA, given its track record, the project would be doomed.
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