Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Technologies & Indigenisation

Lieutenant General VG Khandare (r)  

The drive for indigenisation in India is a strategic imperative and clearly indicates the intent to achieve strategic autonomy in a dynamically changing New World Order (NWO). The world is fairly well digitised and is in an advanced stage of automation, mechanisation, informatisation and heading rapidly into intelligentisation. This is exactly the way every nation has progressed, China publicised the terminology through their White Papers. Concurrently, there is a wide global disparity in the degree of digital and other technological advancement in the over 194 nations in existence. 

Most of the nations are making rapid strides technologically, some announce their arrival while others move ahead silently, strategically consolidating their growth while some lag behind. It’s the national leadership which decides on the pace of modernisation. Few nations covertly degrade the capabilities of others so as to remain the sole global leaders. International conventions regulating the code of conduct in technological fields are sketchy and the muscle to enforce the conventions is lacking; intentionally or unintentionally. 

The Russo-Ukraine conflict has removed some preconceived ideas and confirmed the continuation of kinetic and co-existence of non-kinetic wars; expectation of any global intervention to stop a conflict is a mere fantasy-short conflicts are not a standard planning parameter; wars will have agenda driven external support and will continue to be fought on soils of nations beyond the territories of hegemons; continental wars are not passe; war material manufacturers will manoeuvre and ensure that wars and conflicts occur promoting commercial gains and facilitate testing of weapon systems under live conditions. The same format may not always exist but fixations on the nature, time period and intensity of wars will do no good to planners and practitioners in the security sector. 

Technological advances always create asymmetries and disruptions tilting the scales between success and failure. Historically, India has endured fierce battles and suffered multiple times due to technological differentials. ‘Disruptive technologies’ is an often repeated term that could be positively used as ‘empowering technologies’. The focus should be more proactive than reactive. Researchers and practitioners must be mentored by visionaries for technology discovery. All stakeholders must take ownership of technology discovery, some user driven and some research driven. The quest for technology discovery has to be a collaborative effort with seamless integration of intent and effort. 

Pursuant to technology discovery application of knowledge by users, to demand from the scientist community conversion of technologies into usable products will provide a winning edge. Collaboration is the only way. Silo approach and turf wars have been the bane of indigenisation and self-reliance in India. Success and blame have to be shared by all. 

Convergence of civil-military technology discovery, designing, development, production and mass consumption is the only way that nations grow. The race continues beyond pure technology discovery to quality supply chain and assured upgrades at desired timelines. Affordability is better with high scales of consumption. India’s size and scale, with optimised civil and military scales of consumption is a winner’s recipe. This wisdom needs to cut across barriers of civil and military users; States and Centre; public and private sector; researchers, designers, developers, manufacturers and users; and many more segments and stakeholders in the entire framework of national growth and security. 

While humans have to learn from history, it is also a fact that the same lessons do not repeat in the same form. Therefore, history has to be looked at alongside the future challenges. Opportunities need to be sought from the challenges. At the outset, rapid technological advances usually favour the first mover, as the pace of technological change accelerates, regional or global balances of power could be radically transformed by late bloomers. More shared awareness and technical literacy for these essential transformations will inevitably and rapidly reshape economic growth, security policies, war avoidance or war winning strategies. 

All the stakeholders urgently need a voluntary work culture transformation to collaboratively identify challenges, solution discovery, product development and application of innovations that have both civilian and military applications, maybe with minor variations. Affordability in the military domain for technology solutions is only possible when researchers monetise the solutions in the civil sector. Convergence and cross domain synergy should come from across multiple domains with a shared vision for a focused end state. 

To achieve successful technology absorption smart processes are urgently needed. Changes have to be self-driven, self-audited with a shared commitment. While some of the technologies, products and their applications may seem fanciful, change can happen quickly with non-linear thinking and mental mobility. Conventional thinking favours the status quo and considers disruptive technologies as threats; the opportunities would be visible beyond the hill to the optimist. The vital requirement is to ensure a self-driven attitudinal shift and to move from commenting to action as a whole of nation approach. The typical feeling of a secure government job attitude has damaged enough. 

To expect anyone to enumerate specifically the current and future key technologies which need to be indigenised would be expecting to reveal a large number of State secrets – a harakiri approach. What resides in open domain as regards technology indigenisation with specific reference to the domains and products is adequate to focus on a mission mode progression.

The armed forces should possess ‘niche-technology’, it’s a national responsibility. In Grey Zone Warfare the boundaries between military conflict and non-military conflict are blurred. Non-kinetic aggression has deniability and non-attributability hence is preferred to inflict damage on an adversary. In fact there are no clear identifications of whether the attack has been launched by an identified adversary or by some perceived friend – a third party, anonymous but with vested interests, wanting to push two competitors towards a conflict to gain leverage from the crisis and gauge the capability of both rivals. Such attempts and occurrences are visible, it only requires strategic insight and strategic intelligence to identify the real culprit. 

Convergence between technology & boots on the ground is a modern-day battlefield necessity; Representational Image 

Therefore, concurrent possession of niche-technology with military and non-military users is an inescapable necessity. Empowering organisational structures and sound processes are an insurance and act positively towards ‘conflict prevention’. Additionally, if these technologies are indigenous, that is a more robust deterrence. 

Simultaneously, the indigenous research and development (R&D) sector should be fully focussed on ‘emerging-technologies’ to transform the power equation with the adversaries to retain a position of prominence in the world order. Pure research though important would be of limited use; speedy application of the laboratory results into products is vital; emerging-technologies dictate changes in doctrines and war-waging methodologies. Therefore, in addition to collaboration with strategic partners, a time bound auditable effort be executed to indigenise bulk of these Emerging Technologies. The planners and executors focus has to be on retaining the indigenisation initiative and being technologically ahead of the adversary. Much of this requires a preferred strategic silence, something that democracies find a challenge to abide by. 

At the next stage, the ideas and thoughts of discovering or inventing game changers in the long run would fall in the ambit of ‘incubating technology’. Concurrent deep research for a leap in the future will keep India relevant. Armed forces, think tanks, scientists, investors, multiple ministries and academia have equal stakes at the risk of even being labelled as dreamers to be visualising future shapes, contours and domains to be able to provide technological solutions for the future beyond the horizon. 

While this needs assured funding, freedom of action and a commitment; it also needs accountability. Public and private sectors need to compete and also collaborate. There is yet another danger of getting to a high indigenised level in technology and then face a well planned beyond the borders pushback of banning these systems on grounds of ethics, morality and select group attitude. Some domestic push backs are inspired by foreign sponsors. Therefore, a nation has to integrate diplomatic and legal stakeholders to chart out a safe course to avoid a surprise at a critical stage. 

To come up with an appropriate model for India, while we should study all existing models and incorporate relevant good practices including those with our adversaries, the temptation to blindly ape the others would be easy but disastrous. India needs a human element for indigenisation as a long term campaign. Whether Joint ventures with strategic partners; soldier – scientist model or scientist soldier model or a possible TA model for better technological prowess in the cadre of stakeholders is a matter for modifying the stringent policies to be relevant to Atma Nirbhar Bharat Initiative. Extreme positions of banning all foreign technologies or products may be impractical especially for those critical domains where we lag far behind. We would need joint ventures and a time period to fill our capability and capacity voids. 

A multi-pronged solution is obvious enough: (1) Develop all armaments indigenously with dedicated mixed private and public sector teams in “mission mode”; (2) Concerning the minuscule list of urgently needed armaments, prevent foreign vendors from getting any advantage; (3) Let DPSUs and private sector firms with sophisticated designing and production wherewithal compete fairly for all manufacture contracts and transfer-of-technology benefits. 

BharatKarnad: Not in the spirit of indigenisation (BusinessStandard, July30, 2015)

The final word is’ indigenisation and incorporation of nice technology from its discovery till it’s productionising – usage and its replacement by emerging technology solutions requires a focus, an ecosystem, a commitment and whole of nation approach. 

This would obviously be applicable to the incubating technology too. The nation needs to encourage educationists, scientists, innovators, investors, users and decision-makers to be the architects of an India which moves into an era of technology supremacy by indigenising the bulk of what is needed and what can be exported. 

The article is written by Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r), PVSM, AVSM, SM currently the Principal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. The views are personal and not attributed to the Government of India. 

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