January 20, 2009:
Indian military leaders are complaining about the delays and poor quality resulting from the national policy of developing the ability to develop and build high-tech weapons. India already has 39 defense related factories. These provide jobs for nearly 600,000 workers, and provide a wide array of military services. But not always on time, or effectively.
The latest embarrassment is the attempt to refurbish a Russian made Kilo class submarine. Russia does this for Indian subs, and takes about two years. But five years ago, India decided to refurbish one of those Kilo class boats, the INS Sindhukirti, itself. The sub is still sitting in a shipyard, and it's expected to remain there another five years before the work is done. The navy is not happy about losing the services of one of its most modern subs for a decade, to do a job that takes the Russians only two years. Worse, there are three other Indian subs that are stuck in this shipyard hell. Slow shipyard work results in only seven of Indias 16 subs being available for service at any one time. Ten of these subs will reach the end of their service lives by 2012. No subs are being built in India, even through a submarine building yard in Mumbai have been idle for twelve years. The admirals are very unhappy with all of this, but the government insists that Indian firms be used for an increasing amount of military work. .
The Indian defense industry has long been known as inefficient. Some of the factories date back to 1947, when the British colonial government left. Others were built with Russian assistance. More recent ones were built with the help of Western firms. Quality has long been a problem with the state run factories, and the military has forced the government to procure more essential weapons and equipment from foreign suppliers. Israel has picked up a lot of business because of this, partly because both countries are prime targets for Islamic terrorists. India also believes they will get higher quality assistance in building domestic weapons building expertise using Western sources. The Russian stuff is good, but the Russians are less efficient, and effective, than their Western counterparts.
Then there is the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which is supposed to design new weapons for all three services. DRDO has 40,000 scientists and technicians, but takes decades to produce systems that never seem to work right. The politicians are under pressure from the military to revamp DRDO, and make the organization more responsible, and responsive. But those demands have been made for over a decade, and so far the bureaucrats are holding their own.