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Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap 2013

July 02, 2013

The Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and posted on its website late last month provides a glimpse of the technologies and capabilities that the armed forces would be looking for in the near future. This projection is based on the capabilities envisaged in the Long term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2012-27, which was approved by the Defence Acquisition Council in April 2012.

The objective of the TPCR is to give an opportunity to the Indian industry to draw up business plans for developing technologies which could be transformed into capabilities required by the armed forces. The MoD expects the industry to interact with it on a regular basis and strike a partnership for developing contemporary and future technologies and manufacturing the requisite equipment.

Development of superior, or even contemporary, technologies requires a massive thrust in research and development (R&D). The expectation of the ministry is that the R&D agencies in the public and the private sector would be able to work out a detailed plan to develop such technologies and also to fund such projects, by tapping all available national resources, including the civilian industry, government enterprises and the academia.

The chapter on technology requirements of the Indian armed forces lists more than twenty technologies, ranging from battlefield transparency to sensor fusion, apart from several technologies specific to aviation, land warfare and maritime domain. The chapter on capabilities follows the same pattern. It is mentioned in the concluding portion of the document that although the direction and pace of modernization plan as well as that of technology cannot be predicated accurately, what is contained in the document is a fair assessment of the direction most likely to be followed by the modernization programme of the armed forces.

This is a welcome development but it also raises a number of issues that could come in the way of achieving the underlying objective of the roadmap.

The first and the foremost question is whether the information disclosed in the document will serve the purpose of the industry. While it is for the industry to answer this question, the feeling that it may fall short of the industry’s expectations is inescapable. There are three reasons for this: the information, for most part, is too generic; there is no indication of the likely numbers/quantity; and, there is ambiguity about the time frame.

It is true that the specifics of the kind of equipment the armed forces would require in future can neither be firmed up so much in advance nor disclosed in great details. But the information contained in TPCR in many cases is far below the line that separates ambiguity and specificity. Here is an example.

Mini/Micro Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and amphibious aircraft are listed as two separate items in the chapter on technologies required in future. In so far as the UAVs are concerned, TPCR says that these may be hand-launched with a weight of less than 30 Kg and a minimum endurance of 120 minutes. As regards the amphibious aircraft, TPCR says that these need to be developed for missions like intelligence gathering, search and rescue, logistics and communication duties in fleet support along with conventional aircraft carrier. The information in respect of UAVs is evidently more specific than the description of the amphibious aircraft. What might add to the discomfiture is that there is no certainty that the actual specifications would be formulated keeping in view the limitation of the technologies developed with reference to these generic descriptions in the TPCR.

The second reason why the information contained in the TPCR might fall short of the expectations is that there is no indication of numbers/quantity of the equipment. Here again, it has to be conceded that the numbers cannot be predicted too much in advance but it is equally true that in the absence of this information it might become difficult for the industry to determine the viability of technology development projects. Numbers are important. It might be viable to undertake a project for construction of just one aircraft carrier but a project for manufacture of even 40 aircraft may not be viable, unless there is assurance of a wider domestic and foreign market and there is some latitude in regard to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). It is precisely because of this reason that some newspaper reports are forecasting the doom of the Avro-replacement programme in which 40 transport aircraft are required to be built in India after import of 16 aircraft in a fly-away condition.

The third reason which could undermine the utility of the TPCR for the industry is its open-ended timeframe. If it takes five years to develop/acquire some technology and to press it into production, it would make no business sense to undertake the project in the first, second or even third year of the 15-year period that the TPCR covers. This problem could possibly have been overcome by dividing the TPCR into three five-year segments, coinciding with the 12th to 14th Defence five-year plans and indicating in which segment requirement for a particular capability is more likely to arise.

It is also worth considering why the public version of the five-year plans and the Annual Acquisition Plans (AAPs), which are actually two-year roll-on plans, cannot be released. These would contain more specific information which could be taken into account by the industry for persisting with or existing from the projects undertaken based in the information given in the TPCR.

There are a few other factors which suggest that the TPCR could possibly fall short of the expectation. The first of these is the lack of focus in the TPCR on upgradation and life extension of the in-service equipment. There are only sporadic references to it in the document. For example, it is mentioned that the future combat fleet would be a mix of the upgraded aircraft and the high technology modern aircraft with single role capability. In the absence of any indication of which existing aircraft are intended to be upgraded and when, as also whether such upgradation is likely to be done through the public or the private sector, diminishes the usefulness of the information.

The TPCR does not also talk of maintenance, repair and overhaul activities. These are an important route for the private sector to acquire industrial capabilities, which could then be channelized into research and development (R&D).

The second reason why the industry might not be able to derive full benefit that the TPCR seeks to offer relates to financial viability of R&D projects in the private sector. There is no denying the fact that it requires massive investment. The big question is whether the private sector would be willing to make the requisite investment and develop technologies in the face of uncertainty about the market for the products based on the technologies so developed. Though it was beyond the scope of the TPCR, quick thinking is required on the part of the MoD to formulate schemes for partial funding of R&D projects. The present budget heads for providing assistance for prototype development under the ‘Make’ procedure and also for providing assistance to the Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) for technology development would need to be brought in sync with this new scheme.

The third reason which diminishes the utility of the TPCR is the lack of clarity about what is reserved for public sector and what is likely to be offered to the public sector. The platitudes about offering a level-playing field to the public and private sector cannot dissemble the hard reality that the public sector and the ordnance factories are here to stay. The government might find itself in a bind if the private sector starts manufacturing what is presently manufactured exclusively by the public sector undertakings or the ordnance factories. For this very reason, private sector may not be very enthusiastic about undertaking projects which, in its opinion, are likely to be handed out to the public sector. A true competitive environment could result in some of them going out of business. A strategy to prevent this dilemma is called for.

The fourth reason which is, in a way, fundamental to the whole issue is the absence of an appropriate structure in the MoD to steer this exercise. The TPCR expects the industry to interact with the services, suggest options and put forth firm proposals for participating in the self-reliance process in terms of R&D, production and product support commitments. This requires dynamic coordination by an overarching structure within the MoD, which unfortunately does not exist.

As mentioned in the TPCR, it would be updated periodically as and when further details are available or changes occur in future iterations of the LTIPP. The MoD needs to initiate wide-ranging discussions with all stake holders and come out with TPCR Version 2.0 without much delay taking into account the feedback it receives. It will be the proverbial last straw for the industry if updating of the TPCR results in deletion of some technology/capability from the list, for the development/acquisition of which one or more enterprising souls might have made significant investment by the time it is deleted from the list.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.