Friday, November 24, 2006

Hon. Member of Parliament Sir.

I would like to thank Nitin for bringing this article by Hon. MP. Shri. Milind Deora, to my attention.

It certainly answers a lot of questions at least for me.

I hate to be the one that has to do this but someone is going to have to it, and it might as well be me. I know the Hon. MP or his staff are going to read this so I might as well do this right.

You cannot compare DARPA and DRDO. If you want to compare DRDO with something American, you have to look at an older organisation, and I challenge the Hon. MP and his staff to find the name of that older organisation and what exactly it did. A bunch of DOOs with Google as a guide might have a hard time with this challenge but the Hon. MPs staff have other resources so it should not be as hard as it sounds.

DARPA was setup to act as a funding mechanism for things that the Pentagon thought were unavailable through existing suppliers. As it turns out, because of the organisation predating DARPA and what it did, American industry had a substantial capability to absorb high end manufacturing tasks as a result American industry could service a number of Pentagon contracts with inhouse R&D. This capacity grew through the Cold War years, and today we see an extremely muscular private R&D base in America.

By contrast DRDO was set up to create defence research and industrial solutions for the Indian Armed Forces. As the Indian Armed Forces were heretofore supplied with imported arms, DRDO's attempts at supplying arms to the Indian Armed Force were met with a huge counter-publicity campaign sponsorred by the foreign arms suppliers. At every opportunity the foreign suppliers used a variety of persuasion methods to seduce the Armed Forces away from DRDO's wares. Foreign governments lent a helping hand to these unscrupulous arms dealers by doing everything in their power to deny DRDO a level playing field. Only where there were technology denial regimes, the DRDO's output were used and here too every attempt was made to put DRDO down. Despite this, the DRDO managed to build an extremely large industrial base and in many cases the products that DRDO provided were sufficiently competitive to reduce the air of lethargy that prevailed among our foreign suppliers. The Arjun and the LCA are good examples of this, even if the Armed forces eventually do not induct either in numbers, these products have effectively served notice to foreign arms suppliers, whatever they supply to us will have to be atleast as good as the Arjun or the LCA. If they can't supply something as good they will have to pay a ton of bribes to get us to buy it. The size of the bribe will make the deal unprofitable for them. This is the best explanation of the value that the DRDO has provided to us. I also state without reservation that if DARPA had to put up with the kind of hostility that DRDO has put up with, DARPA would have been dead a long time ago.

If you find out what the organisation that preceeded DARPA was called, you will also find out how it was funded. If you know that, then you also know that you can't make definitive statements about DARPA's funding commitments today either. Without a real understanding of how things are funded there, you can't make statements about how things are really done or even make objective remarks about what was really done. You can't make blanket statements about DARPA being better or worse than anyone else as most of DARPA's projects are covered by an extremely high security classification (TS-SCI). If you can't read what they are doing, how can you say that they are doing a good job?

I am glad to see that credit is being given to DARPA for things like the internet. I think these things are being termed spin-offs nowadays.

Well if such courtesy was extended to DRDO, then perhaps one might see the hugely successful work at DFRL (Defence Food Research Lab) in a different light. A common complaint in the army has been that it is impossible to provide high quality meals to Indian soldiers on the move. This same problem also presents itself when we attempt to distribute food in disaster prone areas, in most cases where we drop food supplies, the nutritional value of the food ends up being very low as the disaster affected people are in no position to cook the food. In general anyone who knows a thing or two about the Indian economy knows that India has a major food storage problem, the storage currently available causes a substantial loss of foodstocks. The key to solving these problems is better food processing and storage technology. That is precisely what DFRL has been working on. The manner in which DFRL has successfully packaged and stored pre-cooked Indian foods is an excellent example of how DRDO's technology is making a difference to India.

Ofcourse, it isn't as sexy as the internet but it makes a real difference to Indian lives.

Can food technology developed at DFRL be used to improve Indian lives? yes. Can this be done by a private company? may be. But you have to think really hard before you do this, you are now putting a substantial portion of the country's food security infrastructure in hands which you do not necessarily control. The answer to that is not simple.

One can easily see that at the present time DRDO is a vertically integrated organisation. You attempt to prune parts of it, you will break up internal synergies and leave the entire system vulnerable to attacks. As any MP is aware, currently DRDO is reeling under two major assaults, the first from media groups and armed forces personnel in the pay of foreign arms suppliers, and secondly from foreign headhunting firms that are stripping away highly trained manpower. At this point if actual sub-units are chopped away from DRDO, a third front would open up with negative consequences for its functioning.

If at this point someone comes in and shouts about how things should be chopped away from DRDO's areas of responsibility, a rational voice will feel compelled to ask whose side is this guy on? Even if we assume that such a person is only keen on seeing parts of DRDO privatised, we have to ask ourselves what does he gain by diminishing the apparent value of items to be sold?

Is it possible to say that now DRDO has reached a level of maturity and that it can disinvest from certain areas or transfer the technology to private players? Yes, I agree it can be done but herein lies a difficult problem - what to leave and what to keep? Answering that requires a holistic view of what our needs in the next fifty years are going to be and I assure you that there are no simple answers to this question.

Everyone loves to talk about arms sales but few actually understand what it means to sell arms. Arms are used for only one purpose - to kill people! The sale of arms is not a trivial problem because you have to ensure that the arms you sell do not eventually end up getting used against you.

To actually sell any arms on the international market you have to deal with all sorts of shady merchants of death. The result is that unless you absolutely know what you are doing and who you are selling to you risk having the arms you sell being sold to people you don't like. Since the Hon. MP loves all things American, perhaps he should read somethings about how American arms sales in the 80s have resulted in a huge blowback which eventually compromised their own security on 9-11-2001.

The Pakistanis can participate in the arms trade because their government is already neck deep in heroin trafficing. To them arms trade is just a value addition on existing infrastructure. For India this is not the case. We supply the world with textiles, medicines, steel, food and software. It is not a trivial extention from here to sell arms. In addition to making the arms, we will also have to carve out a niche for ourselves in the existing market and that will take a lot more work then most can imagine.

At the very least, the Indian Intelligence community is going to have to completely shift its posture in order to provide intelligence support for arms sales by the Indian private sector. Do you understand how much work and expenditure that is going to be? or do you foresee the consequences a system where any Indian arms manufacturer will be able to sell arms to anyone he pleases without audit and screening?

People that work in MNCs outsourcing to India wonder why you can't outsource arms production to India. The only price benifit in outsourcing comes from mass production at lower personnel costs. Unfortunately unlike software, mass production of arms is technology intensive and this technology has a very high proliferation risk attached to it. This is why no nation on earth will outsource mass production of arms to India and consequently people can stop dreaming about an outsourcing bonanza. Most FDI in the arms industry will only come with the guarentee of a local market in India and production will be highly limited.

There is definetely a liability that comes with youth, it presents as a lack of detailed knowledge of the situation on the ground. When a question that is being asked is phrased as an informed comment, it becomes amusing. However when it phrased as an apparent judgement on the value of people that have devoted their lives to securing the country, then that kind of behaviour is seen as being highly offensive.

7 Comments:

At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi
media is completely off the leash.Right from the day when there behaviour was extremely inappropriate during the july mumbai blasts to the present day when they continue in mud slinging aimed at our scientific institutions.Media has not remained patriotic anymore.they must be brought to there heels.

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Anonymous,

The media is a problem but I just want to clear some things up with Hon. MP and his staff.

There can be no sudden transitions in the DRDO setup.

A DARPA like setup prima facie has its merits, but you can't simply jump into something like that.

Since MP sahab has taken it upon himself to speak publicly on this topic, perhaps he should release a vision statement on what he expects out of the new DRDO setup.

An exercise in forward thinking will be beneficial to him and his staff.

Can someone please email this to the Hon. MP or his staff?

Thanks in advance.

 
At 9:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maverick,

In retrospect, it seems that the decision to allow FDI in the television and print news media was a seriously bad one.

In particular, I have the English news media in mind where we now have a situation where journalists are being bought wholesale by foreign governments and corporate groups to influence public opinion in directions they desire. The Hon. MP's article is an indication that this influence peddling might be starting to have an effect on policy makers as well.

This form of subversion is starting to reach intolerable levels. The sheer brazenness of these journalists is an indication that they have been allowed to get away with way too much. This has to stop. As anonymous said, these people need to be brought to heel and the sooner this is done the lesser will be the pain for all involved.

 
At 6:47 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Hi Anonymous,

I think there has to be a critical mass of public opinion that backs the Government's action in this regard. Without such an overt show of public support. It will be difficult to make a move against the troublemakers without raising the political stakes.

One naturally prefers a low escalation situation politically. So there has to be a public demand for some curbs.

You are correct when you say FDI in media has been a problem, but there is also the fact that now these groups have established themselves, they can continually seduce the public imagination and frustrate government attempts to create public awareness of their misdeeds.

On the whole a vibrant media is needed with a sense of public responsibility and national character. Presently the whores parading as the models of chastity need to be removed but this is going to take time.

A simply strategy would be to deliberately implant information in the media that takes public angst with it to new heights and then forces the government's hand. Once that happens, the minor human flaws that bedevil most characters can be exposed to separate the chaff from the grain.

But as I said earlier, even such a simple strategy would require a wider public distaste for the media.

The media is invading our homes, it is filling the minds of our children with poisons that we have no antidote for.

Maybe the journalism sylabbus in our schools is too simple? Maybe we are setting the bar too low? Maybe too much sifarsh type atmosphere is prevailing in the media corporations? So many problems, so few solutions.

The Hon. MP risks being judged by the company he keeps. I am sure there is at least one fellow in the SIB that has a rather long file on things that might be mispercieved but if the Hon. MP can demonstrate a sense of national thinking that that clearly shows he is a diamond in the rough, a star mistakenly cast among coals, then perhaps perceptions can change?

Who knows? we shall see.

I have said what I wanted to the Hon. MP and his staff, let us see how they respond to this.

 
At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Deora is talking through his hat.

Because of the DRDO, India now makes its own sonars, radars, and EW equipment. This is no tiny thing. Other nations have spent billions, trying to achieve the same, and not succeeded. DRDO should be freed from bureaucratic control, allowed to implement performance based promotions, and give free leeway for salary packages. But it should remain under GOI control with assured funding. But also build up private companies to handle similar projects. A bit of healthy competition is good for all concerned, and lastly, a single DRDO cannot handle all the tasks India needs. The scale of items required is staggering.
If its left to the services alone, nothing will be done. One only needs to look at the antics of Ajai Shukla to understand how lies and visceral hatred of the DRDO can make him say anything necessary to push his agenda.

DARPA exists in the US because only thing left is to fund programs, not develop them on ones own. In India, we NEED a company, an organization that can develop products and represent the scientists, the need to grow strategic ability, the need to make India able to stand on its own feet, not just induct the sexiest item into service. Ok, so your APG-79 radar on your new F/A-18 E/F from Boeing conks out (despite all the talk of high MTBF) because some newbie staff dropped the exciter or signal generator. Then what are you going to do? Petition the US, at a time when we are going against all weather friend, or would you prefer a dal chawal MMR, whose components are made in India?

Mr. Deora, think!!

 
At 7:16 AM, Blogger maverick said...

Anonymous,

I fear Hon. MP. Milind Deora does not have the understanding that his father has, I fear he does not grasp that indigenous defence capability is the key to India's national security.

Among the American B-school graduates there is a misplaced belief that somehow changing the "way India does business" is the key to securing an acceptance of India's point of view in the West.

These people do not understand that India cannot sell itself out like that and hope to gain. There are simply some things we cannot sell out and indigenous defence capability is one of them.

In his enthusiasm to see DRDO ape DARPA Hon. MP is forgetting that India is not the US, we cannot throw as much money at DRDO as the Americans do at DARPA.

And if the Hon. MP. believes that he actually knows how much money is spent on DARPA projects, I think he lives in a dream world.

The idea of imposing the DARPA model on India's domestic defence R&D without arrangements for funding and regulation is plainly absurd.

 
At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maverick, you are correct.
DARPA is basically meant for advaced research, as the name suggests. Whether a functional product is developed or not is secondary. DRDO is meant to develop weapons and large scale systems. We are yet to see the services even the Navy, launch large scale projects without the DRDO, relying purely on local design and development. Asking MNCs to handle networking with a bunch of imported COTS hardware/ software, does not count. Despite all the delays, without the DRDO, India would be still stuck in the situation where only small scale projects would be handled by its industry.

 

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