Houston, TX – I belong to the often quoted Indian middle class; the argumentative, the reticent and the nonchalant. If I buy something, I always bargain. If I don’t like anything I keep quiet. If I like something, I have been told to not dream bigger than my own shoes. Any which way, all I can do is to engage in weekend dinner conversations about movies, cricket and (oh before I forget) the ever enticing conversation about politics and the money makers.

The Indian Military is also a topic many from the middle class tend to talk about i.e. when they perform brilliantly against all odds, when machines they pilot do not perform as ‘expected’ and also when soldiers get martyred and endless wreaths are laid at Amar Jawan,.

But what could anyone “expect” out of machines–“more maintenance means more life” has been the motto of the Indian middle class ever since soviet style economics took center stage in the 50’s. Add to this the ’emotional attachment’ we Indians have for older trinkets, we have a deal!

This is the sad paradigm under which the Indian Military too seems to have been operating ever since Independence.

Successive governments decided that our best brains are not suited for engineering innovation (even in matters related to its own military industrial complex) and decided to outsource their equipment needs to the outside world. The Russians came along first, along came the Brits and the French later and finally in the 90’s it was the turn of the Israelis and the Americans to share the burden of supplying India with the choicest of the arms and ammunition we need till date.

So much so that our current equipment is so badly matched that several units in the armed forces are operating equipment from several countries all at the same time!

Some of the best policy wonks tell me that we should be happy about this– that we are now so well diversified that no single country or international grouping can exercise absolute control over Indian defense procurement and maintenance contracts but that is exactly the point: The Indian military is a vestige of the colonial past.

It has men that beam with nationalism, women that are ready to fight shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts in every sphere and brilliant commanders who can win battles any day but sadly the equipment they are sitting on is discarded junk from outside that is at best laughable if not sellable.

The outside suppliers are not to be faulted. It is the Indian political establishment that has painted themselves into a corner by not investing in original research and failure. The DRDO and ISRO may have given the Indian nation some great indigenous products but they are cess pools of enormously incompetent marketing managers.

Take the example of the soon to be inducted TEJAS; a diminutive aircraft that cannot fly without a GE engine. I mean if the TATAs and MAHINDRA’s could, they could make an engine for the TEJAS but no, we have to have an engine from GE lest we see the bird falling from the sky like a bird dropping. The TEJAS is an old world 3rd generation single engine fighter that belongs to the 80’s. It is supposed to be replacing the MIG 21’s that became obsolete in the 70’s but the Indian Government has continued to parade these flying coffins even to this day!

Another example is the kilo class submarines that have resulted in the deaths of scores of precious submariners and the scalp of a highly decorated Navy Chief. The kilos are dead meat to any Chinese and Pakistani submarine of today. The Indian government knows this all too well but did not ever invest into any significant change of strategy beyond identifying the need to have 25+ submarines in its armada. Why these 25 submarines and that too scorpenes and the yet to be announced second line of subs is anybody’s guess?

Both the Navy and the Air force do not seem to understand that the warfare of today is not the fictional scenarios that board room commanders used to play out during the Cold War. It is now cyber based, extremely well networked, stealthy and most importantly asymmetric. It cannot be based on carrier based monstrous battle groups; it cannot be won due to the number of aircraft one owns in the air or the number of boots on the ground.

It can only be won when failure is also an option.

Fail once, twice or a hundred times but certain matters pertaining to the military industrial complex cannot be outsourced. Foreign collaboration in technologies where the Indian scientific establishment needs a head start is always welcome and if it allows for friendly nations to create jobs in their economies, that is even better. But where is the leverage?

Blank copying older tactics, re-engineering without understanding the science and the lack of ability to out think any existing and potential adversary is essential for any nation to imagine itself as a global player in this day and age.

The Indian middle class has produced Abdul Kalams and Prof UR Rao’s in the recent past.  I am sure if the next Government dares to believe its own kind, it will invest in learning science and technologies from the basic level.

After all, we do equate Albert Einstein and CV Raman in the same bracket. Science is no one’s dream and birthright. Or is it?

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