Murphy's Law: Weaponizing Incompetence

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November 29, 2019: China has weaponized the corruption and inefficiency of the Indian defense procurement bureaucracy and Indian state-owned defense industries. This is done by reporting more about these Indian problems. These embarrassing facts are no secret; one need only refer to Indian mass media where stories about epic, tragic and expensive problems are a regular feature. Nothing ever seems to change and China is using that to boost Chinese morale and demoralize the Indians.

One of the most frequently mentioned culprits is DRDO (the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization) and several major state-owned defense manufacturers. One the more prominent of these is the state-owned aviation conglomerate HAL and the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB). Shipbuilding, which uses private builders, is a bit better but not much because of the toxic impact of government supervision.

While China develops and builds modern weapons, India cannot and seems incapable of catching up. The latest Chinese media coverage of Indian capabilities does not have to be deceptive or biased. All the Chinese have to do is report what is actually happening, and usually reported in Indian media or, for the more embarrassing items, on Indian web sites.

A key problem in India is not just the insistence that weapons be built in India. Many Indian politicians insist that is not enough, and that these weapons must be developed and built by Indian firms or with the crippling help of DRDO. The military, both troops and officers, openly complain of how much this degrades Indian military capabilities. No matter, for the politicians' corruption in defense matters means more votes for them and opportunities for lucrative corruption.

China also has problems with corruption in the military, but they acknowledge the problem and make serious efforts to address it. Not so much with India. Now the Chinese feel so confident about the situation that they are boasting about their military superiority and specifically why India is not competitive and why that is not likely to change. For China, this is also an opportunity to denigrate democracy, which a growing number of Chinese would prefer to the current communist dictatorship. China ignores the fact that democracy works quite well in Singapore and Taiwan, two majority Chinese countries that have been successful democracies for nearly as long as India. India is not a failed democracy; it is the largest democracy to ever exist. India has its own culture of corruption that has become more entrenched because for several decades after achieving independence its government sought to impose socialism on the Indian economy. By the 1980s it was painfully obvious this had failed and even communist China was adopting a free market economy. India followed but did not dismantle or disarm the large bureaucracy that had developed to disrupt productive economic activity and provide more votes for politicians. China also gave its defense industries, even the ones that were still state-owned, more independence and less bureaucratic red tape.

The impact of these differences can be seen in how much more effective Chinese efforts to design and build new warships are. Contrast this with the dismal record of Indian effort to build military ships. China recently reported details of problems India was having building its first locally designed carrier, the INS Vikrant. The Chinese reported how valuable equipment already installed in the uncompleted Vikrant is being stolen. The thefts included several computer systems,

India’s attempt to build an aircraft carrier is, as expected, over budget and way behind schedule. This effort, the Vikrant, began construction in 2009 and the plan was for it to be launched in 2010, fitting out was to be completed by 2013 followed by sea trials and entering service in 2014. Things began to go wrong early on. By 2011 there were several major problems with Indian suppliers that delayed completion until 2017. A growing list of technical problems encountered by Indian suppliers of key equipment led to more delays and by 2016 an audit of the project concluded that it was unlikely that Vikrant would enter service in 2020 and that 2023 was more likely, but not guaranteed.

The 40,000 ton Vikrant has a ski-jump deck, like the refurbished Russian carrier INS Vikramaditya and is designed to carry 29 jet fighters and ten helicopters. A second Indian carrier is in the planning stages and will be based on Vikrant but larger (65,000 tons) and use a catapult instead of a ski jump for takeoffs. That enables aircraft to take off carrying more weight and some kinds of aircraft (like radar early warning types) to be used. The Indian Navy wants to see how the Vikrant works out before committing to the final design for Vikrant 2.0; the 65.000 ton INS Vishal. Faced with the dismal performance of the Vikrant construction effort it is unlikely that Vishal will be in service until the 2030s. Vikrant is now ten years behind schedule and there is still ample opportunity for more self-inflicted problems and delays.

In contrast, China has expanded its Jiangnan shipyard near Shanghai so it can mass-produce carriers. The expansion consists of a new shipyard devoted to building aircraft carriers. A new carrier, apparently the first 70,000 ton Type 002, is under construction. More revealing is the extensive infrastructure being erected around the new dry dock and a nearby kilometer long fitting-out dock. This is something of a mass production operation with components of the hull and pre-fabricated sections of the interior stored nearby ready to be installed. This is a technique widely used in commercial shipbuilding and for other Chinese warships, including modern destroyers and amphibious ships. The Type 002 carrier uses catapults to launch aircraft. The hull of the first one, already underway, is apparently going to take less than two years to finish and launch. After that, it moves to the fitting out pier where another two or three years of work is needed before the new carrier ready for sea trials. That process, including trips back to port or the shipyard for fixes and adjustments, can take a year or so.

China has not revealed how many carriers it plans to eventually build. China already has two; CV-16 in service and a similar CV-17 undergoing trials. It was assumed that China wanted to build two more similar carriers (CV-18 and 19) which would lose the ski jump deck and instead adopt a catapult. These two will be a bit larger than CV-17 and the first one is already under construction and is expected to be in the water by 2020 and in service by 2024. After the two catapult equipped carriers are evaluated, it is believed that two nuclear-powered carriers are planned (CVN-20 and 21). These will be similar to the 100,000 ton American Nimitz class CVNs.

India is nowhere near competing with that and the Chinese are rubbing it in. India has been operating carriers since the 1960s and had plenty of experience but never developed the capability to build them. Current efforts demonstrate why.

The first three Indian aircraft carriers were imports. The first two were second hand British carriers and the third was a refurbished (by Russia) Russian one. The Russian shipyard turned out to be corrupt and incompetent and the Russian carrier was late and way over budget. At that point, Indian politicians noted that Indian shipyards were building larger ships and, in theory, could handle a carrier. That turned out to be optimistic. By the time India has two carriers, China will have at least four, three of them built in China, along with the escorts and aircraft.

Whenever there is a military crisis, usually involving Pakistan or China, the politicians can be persuaded to allow a needed weapon to be imported. These “emergency defense purchases” are not popular with many politicians or the defense bureaucracy but they increasingly occur. A recent (mid-2019) example of how this works involved the Indian decision to again cancel an order for Israeli Spike MR ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles). Instead, India was going with the locally made Nag ATGM. The army leadership and the troops who use ATGMs prefer the Spike while Indian politicians and procurement bureaucrats prefer the locally made Nag. The Spike deal had been canceled before but was revived in January. Then in April, the Indian Army used its new “emergency purchase” authority to order 240 Israeli Spike ATGMs and twelve launchers for delivery as soon as possible. The recent cancellation of the larger Spike contract does not change the emergency order for Spike, which is meant to provide effective ATGMs to deal with the growing crises with Pakistan over Kashmir. The army emergency purchase will get the Spike launchers and missiles direct from the Israeli firm while the larger contract had the Spike systems being built in India and providing local jobs. For DRDO and many Indian politicians that is not enough; these weapons must be developed and built-in India even if DRDO cannot handle most of these projects.

The army has been warning for over a decade that without a new ATGM India would be at a serious disadvantage in a war with Pakistan or China. Spike MR was an obvious choice. But the procurement bureaucracy and DRDO said it could develop and build a comparable ATGM in four years. Based on past DRDO performance that would be a miracle. No one in the military believed the DRDO but this was not about what DRDO could do but about the incompetence, corruption and political clout that has characterized DRDO for decades. DRDO may not be of much use for the military but for Indian politicians, it is a vital part of getting elected and staying in power. DRDO provides jobs and cash for that.

Despite the Spike/Nag fiasco, Israel remains a major military supplier for India. Since 2000 Israel provided India help to deal with Islamic terrorists that Pakistan began using aggressively against India in the 1990s. India noted that Israel was a major supplier of military equipment worldwide and was especially good when it came to border security and dealing with Islamic terrorism. The alliance between Israel and India has grown stronger since 2001 and now India is quite open about it. There are more and more signs of shifts in long-established alliances involving Israel.

Currently, Indian troops are stuck with a 50 year old French ATGM design. Since the 1970s some 30,000 Milans have been produced in India, under license from European firm MBDA. India has also produced nearly 3,000 launchers. India believes that against Pakistan (the enemy that is most likely to use a lot of armored vehicles against India), Milan can still get the job done. But more modern ATGMs get the job done better and at the loss of fewer Indian infantrymen. Reducing Indian casualties in some future war is not a high priority item for politicians. The army was not happy with that and all the delays in selecting a new ATGM.

Then there is China, which has more modern ATGMS and tanks and is actively developing new versions of both. Against China, Milan had outlived its usefulness and China is the principal weapons supplier to Pakistan.

 


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