India needs to start mass producing Tejas planes, Arjun tanks and the like

I’ve always been a World War 2 buff. So when I got myself subscribed to Audible last week, the first thing I did was pick out a bulky volume on World War 2 history. At the time of Chinese aggression, it is particularly interesting to think about the war and understand the strategies that went into the United States crushing Japan and Germany.

The chief lesson one can take is that when the war began, a US victory was far from certain. The US had been caught ill-prepared when the Japanese attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. Soon after, the Japanese descended with great fury on numerous islands in the Pacific held by American troops. In fact, US troops suffered shattering defeats at places like Bataan in the Philippines. The cruelty of the invading Japanese and the death marches to which they subjected the prisoners is difficult to put in words.

Even two months after the Dec 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor, America was slow to mobilize. In fact, German U-boats would gather and hunt American shipping right outside harbors at New York and Atlantic City. People landing at New York airports could see the flaming ships scattered all around. Why such audaciousness? Because the Americans were slow to put their cities in blackout. So the outlines of incoming ships would be clearly visible in the lights of the city. The German U-boats would wait a few miles outside the ports, killing their prey at will.

So how did America turn the tide of the war? Because they did a form of industrial warfare on a scale that the enemy simply could not keep up with. American shipyards began churning out ships at a rate faster than the enemy could destroy them.

Even when American troops landed in North Africa in late 1942, the balance of power lay with the British. America started slow, with poorly trained troops. But once they began, there was no stopping them. By the landing on D-Day in Normandy in June 1944, the British had been reduced to mere camp followers. A single US Navy task force that arrived to retake the island of Tarawa from the Japanese was larger than the entire Japanese Navy. There was nothing the Japanese could have done.

This got me thinking of what is happening on the LAC. Obviously, we are not in a World War-2 like situation and nobody expects open conflict, that too on a large scale. But there is a gap we need to close.

Yesterday, I heard that India is going for a possible emergency purchase of strike aircraft – Su-30 and Mig-29 (not to be confused with near worthless Mig-21s) from the Russians. These are fine aircraft. Very deadly. Very powerful.

But there is a numbers gap that we need to close. India has around 600 planes in active military service. China has over 1500. In case you are curious, about half of India’s 600 planes would be considered frontline aircraft, while most of Chinese planes are relatively old. Their most common aircraft is the J-7, which is from 1966! Our most common aircraft is the Su-30MKI, which is actually seen as a rival to America’s most modern F-22 raptors. So you can imagine the quality gap.

So what makes the Chinese Air Force more powerful than ours? Haven’t we always heard : quality over quantity? Amazingly, this is one situation where quality is cool, but quantity makes a *huge* difference.

Let me explain. If I remember correctly, some years ago, there was a joint India-US Air exercise, called Red Flag in Nevada. Some would say the real reason Americans wanted us there was because they wanted to see how their F-22s would fare against the Russian Su-30s. Obviously, Russia won’t tell them. So the simplest thing to do was invite India, which uses the Su-30MKI, a variant of the Su-30.

Here’s where it gets cool. After the exercise, a secretly shot video of a US Air Force pilot went viral on youtube, where he says with much relief that the Su-30 would lose to the F-22. But guess who can stop the F-22? The humble Mig-21! No, not one Mig-21. But three Mig-21 planes coming from three different directions would leave an F-22 helpless!

Now think about the cost of the F-22 vs the cost of 3 Mig-21s. Quantity beats quality.. How about that?

So military technology gets weird that way. The cost of sophistication is much higher than the additional security it provides.

I am obviously no military expert, but I believe this is a doctrine India needs to put into practice. Sure, we shop around for the expensive, high quality stuff. But let us not forget to mass produce the humble stuff.

In fact, something momentous happened last month that sort of flew under the radar due to Coronavirus. India has finally and fully operationalized the first 18 Tejas planes. No more ifs and buts. The plane is very much real and in operation.

What we need to do now is produce vast numbers of it. Not in dribs and drabs like is planned right now. How about a big order of 500 Tejas? To be delivered within 2 years. Give HAL the budget it needs to do this. If necessary, get HAL to start using private factories. As it is, industrial demand is low right now. This can be the perfect stimulus package.

(Of course there is the problem of the Tejas requiring an American engine. Well, we need to buy those. The Americans will be delighted to sell us stuff).

But everything else, we can make ourselves. My focus is on large scale.

The same goes for things like Arjun Tank. Let us order 2000 of those. We have just 250 of them now and a further 4000 or so Russian tanks, half of them T-92S (decently modern) and the other half T-72s (badly outdated). But remember, quality doesn’t matter that much once you achieve a basic level.

So we need to scale up orders right now. An additional 2000 Arjun tanks and 500 Tejas will make our military formidable before any Chinese attack. With that, we need to scale up our border infrastructure even faster. We have to put strike aircraft at Daulat Beg Oldie. The Chinese are bullies. They fear strength.

And don’t forget ammunition. We don’t need to worry so much about sophisticated laser guided bombs from the US. We can manufacture simpler, cheaper bombs that would come in just as useful in any eyeball to eyeball conflict.

This brings me to my last point. We need another ministry. A ministry of Defense Manufacturing with publicly stated goals of scaling up our production. Remember the US came out of the Great Depression through massive production during World War 2. For us, a massive defense production program could be the way out of both the economic slump and the military challenges.

19 thoughts on “India needs to start mass producing Tejas planes, Arjun tanks and the like

  1. Yesterday I read the news that when the Rajdhani express was launched in 1969 at 130 kmph, the Chinese trains used to run at less than 100 kmph. Today China has a network of high speed trains while majority of our trains run at 40-50 kmph. India was far more industrial nation than China but in the last two three decades, China has outstripped us while the Congress was choking India with license raj.

    The first thing Modi needs to do is to increase the defence budget to 3% of GDP. Today the defence budget hardly leaves room for capex. Maybe also provide a one time infusion of lets say $25 billion into making fighter planes and tanks for the Indian army. The next thing would be to get rid of most of the babus. Keep a few essential ones, let the rest of the decision making be automated.

    But it no use having weapons without the men behind it. After 1947 we have been fed on a diet of Gandhi-ization and Modi is no different. Chanting Gandhi-Gandhi all the time makes us look like a nation that will put up with anything. Modi/BJP needs to stop eulogizing Gandhi and start eulogizing Shivaji/Rana Pratap/Guru Gobind Singh more. If we lay claim to Kashmir and Ladakh today, it is because it was part of the martial Sikh kingdom, not because of Gandhi and Nehru who almost gave it all away.

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  2. CW, you have highlighted one of the most important issues that India needs to address. Developing a Military Industrial Complex (MIC) that can churn out quantities at speed and also be able to scale up and move to qualitative research and development of nextgen weapons. There are a number of reasons which is a huge topic by itself but one of the prime reasons that could be cited is the lack of successful Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) models developed with specific aim of enabling creation of capacities in private sector while working hand in hand with public sector.

    Defence research is a long gestation and capital intensive program. Therefore, it requires a partnership between military, private sector and public sector and targeted government funding/grants to enable R&D to come up with solutions to futuristic military requirements. Unfortunately, the nehruvian socialistic policies and attitudes prevented and continuing to prevent the emergence of such partnerships to tackle our defence requirements. The only defence minister who tried to tackle this was Manohar Parrikar who had the intellectual rigour and capacity to visualise and evolve a policy in this regard. However, after he left the DM, his well thought out policy paper and initiatives were dropped and did not get implemented mostly due to the well entrenched nehruvian socialists in bureaucracy and polity. The fear in implementing such a policy was/is there is no consensus in political parties and it will give a handle to opposition to level unfounded allegations and drum it up. Of course there will be no consensus as the opposition consists of congress party and the communists (chinese stooges) who continue to use thoroughly discredited nehruvian socialism to ensure continuance of defence imports where there is big money to be made. If we have our own MIC then there goes their easy scam money.

    As CW rightly said, the immediate solution therefore is to increase the industrial capacities of defence PSUs to be able to churn out high volume of products required for defence use. Investing in facilities to create increased capacities is a must. We should develop capacities to quickly churn out fighter jets (Tejas), field Artillery (here there are already private sector products capable of delivering quantity and quality), small arms and ammunition, submarines, destroyers, frigates, UAVs (armed / recon), etc. This will also generate employment to large number of people. In the long run developing a MIC that includes private sector participation is a must. PSUs inherently have limitations due to salary caps and therefore would find it difficult to attract the brightest and best and therefore a PPP is the way to develop MIC in India.

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  3. Interesting you mention the scale of American war production during WWII. Actually, it was mind-boggling – at the scale of automobile production. Almost 100,000 figher and bomber aircraft were producted by four companies, led by Boeing during the War. Abhishek says India should produce 500 of the Tejas aircraft. In 1944 alone, towards the end of the war, the US was producing almost 400 aircraft *per month*.

    Two birds could be hit with just one stone: that of increased orders to HAL and the dispersion of the Tejas technology to private sector Indian companies (Tata, Mahindra, Godrej, etc) who could be licensed the technologies for free and have them ramp up production at record speed with appropriate tax benefits. India could repeat what the US achieved with Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, North American, and Hughes Aircraft. And rapidly create an aerospace cluster.

    And add to defense aerospace competence and experience. Nothing could be better.

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  4. Is it time for India to deliver Jhapad to China?

    This jhapad will deliver India many benefits:
    1. Remove illusion in Chinese minds that any amount of needling they do India will not retaliate militarily.
    2. This will signal the rise of India loud and clear to the world in the same way China made its point in 1962.
    3. Force UN to include India as a permanent member of the security council in UN due to the reality on the ground of India’s abilities.
    4. Ensure peace with China for foreseeable future as they will learn their lessons not to push and needle India needlessly. All peace in this world is the outcome of war. Without war there is no peace. There is a misconception or a deliberate misinformation by the Chinese stooges in Indian political system who keep repeating ‘war is not a solution’. Yes for these stooges war is not a solution as all they care is about themselves and not about the nation. When China keeps offering Hobson’s choice to India after every border episode, then India is left with only one choice a war to enforce its rights.
    5. It comes with added benefit of fundamentally changing internal narratives, a sort of tearing apart/destroying the vestiges of nehruvian socialistic legacies and replacement of it by a new nationalistic thought process that puts in motion India first policies.

    For those who say this not is not the time as economy is important etc. the time for war is not choice of our own making. War becomes imperative when when circumstances created by enemies requires it and if it is in national interests.

    I would be interested in knowing what everyone’s thoughts are.

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    1. Any land war between India and China will be a stalemate of sorts because of the Himalayas. Things change when air power and naval power are used. India can blockade the Malacca straits and bring China to its knees.

      But unless Indian politicians and babus change their ways, this episode will also be forgotten and our leaders will be soon shaking hands with Eleven. It all depends on whether our leaders have a backbone and pride.

      That pride will manifest not only in military affairs but other spheres – absence of corruption, stop looting of temples. Adharmic leaders hollow the country making it easy for external aggression to happen. The Congress and Communists will sell the country, they should not be in power in even a University election.

      While the Chinese CCP is amoral and rogue, they have managed to make China into a powerful economy. Our leaders are so amoral and rogue that we are lagging behind. We are a democracy etc is an excuse – we need to make our leaders accountable for producing results

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  5. There are questions marks raised about our ability to manage a two front war because of the lack of quantity of our defence equipment.

    Mass production of defence equipment from the humble to the sophisticated fifth generation equipment within set timelines.

    The other major concern is the amount of money needed to fund the activities and buying the raw material.

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  6. Here is the comment of the chinese stooge CPI

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    1. But I thought only parties with at least 5 MP’s got invited – that’s why Lalua & that pAAPi Kejru were ignored. So how did CPI get in ?

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  7. I don’t know much about our military capability, but from this Blog, I got the impression that we have many more fighter pilots than we have fighter planes. Is that so?

    I believe China started to become more and more powerful and richer after President Nixon opened China to the world.

    Except when the attack is totally unsuspected as it was this time at LAC, historically the attacking sides in the war suffer a bigger casualty because the defending army can select choicest spots, or bunkers mostly unknown to the attacking army while the attacking army has to come out in open. Accordingly, we should remain constantly in a defensive position against Chinese treachery and constantly on the lookout for Chinese Drones.

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    1. Nixon’s China visit was a political opening to the Middle Kingdom for the US. The real economic advantages that China reaped had to wait for Clinton in the 2000s. It was during the closing months of the Clinton presidency that the US signed off on China’s admission into the WTO.

      With that came the wave of US multinationals who salivated at the prospect of huge markets and profits for their goods. They never materialized; in fact, there are studies that show only a fraction of US corporations have profited. China used every WTO rule to its advantage and restricted market access, forcing partnerships with Chinese companies on foreign companies that wanted entry into its markets (starting with automobiles), extracting ruinous concessions in terms of parting with intellectual property, and slowly but surely getting the US tech giants out of China.

      The only exception to this rule has been Apple, but as one incident involving both Apple and Amazon revealed, there was a long-term strategic gameplan by the Chinese: to infiltrate very deeply into these companies at a tech level and steal IP. See: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies.

      Apple gained entry into China’s mobile market, put down deep roots in terms of outsourced manufacturing, and probably sees very profitable outcomes. What China has gained in terms of electronic manufacturing competence and stolen IP remains to be discovered over several future decades. However, the push into China was not just political (starting with Clinton) but also hugely supported by senior leadership at all the Fortune 500 companies. The math on this was simple: China entry begat big stock price bumps for the listed companies (which is why there has never been a shortage of China supporters among CXOs, Wall Street, think tanks, and influential academics at places like Harvard), corresponding fat compensations in the form of equity and bonuses for the leadership – and a virtuous cylce was born.

      The citizens had no say in the matter. I suspect China never imagined or calculated for the negative outcomes as a fallout of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic. Will US politics revert to the usual in respect of China or would this mark a new beginning in rational assessment is a question that we would have to wait and see. Wall St has a very powerful influence and we may just see “return to normal” in a few years. After all, their lobbies dictate policies in Washington while the hapless voter neither has the clout to dictate nor the imagination to see what has happened. But then, the polarized politicas may well cause a drastic change in direction. Difficult to say.

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      1. Google shut its China office in 2010/2011 because the Chinese military infiltrated its employees into Google, then hacked into the Google servers at Mountain View and stole secrets which were used by Baidu and perhaps Huawei.

        After that most American MNC’s dont trust Chinese employees and dont locate critical development centers in China. it is no coincidence that Google and Microsoft are headed by Indians. In most American MNC’s you wont find Chinese in executive positions.

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        1. Yet Google kneels before CCP China by adhering to CCP diktats in censoring content in Youtube and altering search engine results whenever anything CCP wants it to do. Google also deletes app from playstore that CCP wants deleted.

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  8. Not only mass production of defence equipments but all the construction and civil equipment and products should be efficiently, economically and qualitatively mass produced. This is an opportunity when the infrastructural development mode is in progress, all manufacturing should be boosted. Think about it. When USA was spending on mass infrastructural projects they were importing caterpillars for example from outside? They innovatively manufactured them and now are exported throughout the world. If bathrooms per group of persons in cities and suburbs were required mass ]products of standardized partition are manufactured. There are thousands of publicly and privately used products which can be standardized and manufactured massively economically and qualitatively in a massive country like India. Only patriotic, efficient, economically visionary, with only aim of job creation and prosperity nationalist businessmen should be launched strategically in place of random, corrupt, crooks, bollyfinanced type leeches. Of course, mass defence products should have equal or more urgent priority.

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  9. Nehru is by far the worst PM India has ever had. How does one say so? It is based on clear evidence of disastrous decisions and actions and inactions he took which affected Indian national interests adversely and continues to negatively affect National interests even today. A few of such blunders are listed below:
    1. Kashmir problem – Nehru abruptly halted the march of Indian soldiers in pushing back the Pakistan army and referred the matter to UN.
    2. Application of a Article 370 to Kashmir.
    3. Ignored sound advice and almost disbanded the Indian Army by starving the Army of funds. Appointed his relative Kaul as head of the Armed forces an incompetent person. This resulted in the 1962 debacle against China. Did not allow the use of airforce against the invading Chinese army otherwise the outcome would have been totally different.
    4. Did nothing when China occupied Aksai Chin around 43,000 Sq kms by saying not a blade of grass grows.
    6. Did nothing in the name of Panchsheel when China occupied Tibet. In fact he aided China by sending rice and other food items to occupying Chinese soldiers as their supply lines were distant! This is the reason we share a border with China otherwise Tibet was a buffer zone.
    7. Rejecting US and USAR offer of a permanent seat in UN And instead insisting China be given the priority to permanent seat offered to India.
    8. Gifted strategically located coco islands to Burma which is now in China hands.
    9. Refused offer of Khan of Kalat a princely state of Baluchistan who opted to join India rather than Pakistan. Later Pakistan invaded and took over Baluchistan.
    10. Gifting Manipur’s Kabo valley to Burma an area of 11,000 sq.kms.
    11. Gwadar port was offered to India by sultan of Oman in 1958 which Nehru refused and was later bought by Pakistan.
    12. Signing ridiculously one sided water treaty in the name of friendship and goodwill with Pakistan.

    All of the Nehru’s blunders continue to adversely affect Indian national interests to this day. So without a shadow of doubt Nehru is the worst PM India ever had. It will be nearly impossible for anyone to beat that disastrous record in the foreseeable future.

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  10. It is now time for India to apply pressure on a few Chinese puncture points. For instance, an Indian navy ship could hold a Chinese vessel from passing through Malacca straits on some grounds. Maybe for just 15 minutes but we should do it. Just to send a message.

    Another message could be to station a Sukhoi or LCA at INS Baaz in Nicobar which lies at the mouth of the Malacca strait. Just keep them for a day, circulate some pictures etc

    Next step – send one of our submarines to Taiwan on a friendly port call.

    Unless India shows the Chinese that we too can play the poke-poke game, the Chinese will not stop.

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