May 16, 2007:
India got another reminder that its
defense manufacturing establishment is still in need of some serious reform.
This came in the form of a report pointing out that, last year, all of the 26
air force aircraft that crashed, had been manufactured, overhauled or upgraded
by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). It's no secret that HAL,
and other state-owned defense research and manufacturing operations, do shoddy
work. Aircraft and weapons bought from foreign suppliers have much better
reliability records. But once an Indian government operation gets its hands on
something, things start going wrong. Parliament has been up in arms for years
over this, but nothing ever seems to change.
It's all about corruption. Not that India is
exceptionally corrupt. International surveys of corruption put India at about
the middle of the pack, on a par with nations like Brazil, China, Egypt, Mexico
and Saudi Arabia. But that means there are a lot of civil servants, and
military officers, cutting corners and pocketing bribes. The Indian Defense
Ministry has a particularly bad reputation. Despite embarrassing media stories
and some prosecutions, the corruption, and attendant inefficiency, continues.
Some of the worst cases are found in defense research and development projects,
which often go on for decades without producing much, aside from requests for
more time and money.