Testing times lie ahead of, and for, the new government in New Delhi and for India’s defence industry as well as defence import plan-of-action. The ratio thereof stands at an adverse 28:72 against the local industry, allowing the global vendors to hold a firm grip of the Indian military market. This lopsided scenario, however, was not the aim of the new rulers of independent India as they dreamt of a self-sufficient and sustainable military complex within the country. But the situation went from bad to worse in the last decade, the presence of a financially clean defence minister notwithstanding. Precious time has already been lost. It is, therefore, time to redeem the situation as India’s neighbours have sailed past to an advantageous position, putting the Indian security at considerable disadvantage.
As things stand, India had consistently banked first on the Anglo-French and American-sourced military machines in the 1950s, and subsequently turned to Russia (then USSR) in the 1960s owing to difficult and divergent diplomatic and political dynamics between the West and the Orient. By the 1970s, and during the time of Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, the scenario dramatically shifted to USSR becoming the monopoly arms producer-cum-supplier to the Indian arms bazaar.
Understandably, the monopoly had its debilitating effect. The Indian initiative and enterprise to be self-sufficient in arms production crippled by the readymade availability and import of Soviet weapons. An attitude of “why labour, when things are produced and supplied by a 24/7 vendor who happens to be a political and diplomatic messiah of India in international forum?” appears to have gripped India. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, being the government-owned monopoly stakeholder of defence aviation production, also did not help matters, often impeding the quality of the transfer of technology, as the Indian Air Force complained.
The question today is, how much and how far can India go on importing, and still remain a regional power and aspiring superpower? Where does the solution lie, as far as the astronomical expenses are concerned, with an adverse 28:72 ratio between indigenous production and imported arms? A partial remedy lies in joint ventures, and not buyer-seller relations, between India and Japan. The badly depleted Indian submarine fleet needs urgent attention and action. Two Japanese companies, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki have between them 20 state-of-the-art diesel electric submarines built in 1990, being operated by the Japanese navy. As the Japanese are very conscious about the cost-quality formula of their product, they do not like time and cost overrun to spoil their reputation in any manner. Hence India is unlikely to be a loser if joint production can take place in an Indian shipyard.
Why Japan and not any other country? The answer lies in the fact that India had naval import and construction schemes with several Western navies like those of Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the United States — but never with Japan. Yet, India has seen and experienced first-hand the marvels of the Japanese work culture and technology in the automobile sector, where Isuzu, Suzuki, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota have all been in co-production mode with India.
According to Military Balance, 2014 (published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London), “Japan’s Self Defence Forces are the most modern Asian armed forces in terms of equipment.” Further, it transpires that the present prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, is seeking to change the country’s restrictions on collective security, as was stipulated by the MacArthur Constitution of 1946. Constitutional constraints nevertheless continue to check large-scale Japanese military modernization, but the prospect of Indo-Japanese “joint venture and co-production” of military machines could be a viable and fruitful scenario for India.
The boldest venture of Indo-Japanese armament collaboration, however, could be in aviation owing to Tokyo’s proven record of technological sophistication, which usually is on a par with the best of the West. Thus the Japanese are virtually in every sphere of aviation, from the Fuji T-5 primary trainer made by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd to the ATD-X Shinshin “technology demonstrator” made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. Japan’s four-engine Shin Maywa made US-2 is the amphibious aircraft that India rightly seems to have ordered. The hallmark of the Japanese is that despite taking, or importing, technology from the US or the West, their ability to adopt and adapt according to varying needs has always been of a high order, which inevitably improved in the hands of the Japanese.
Today, the most spectacular of Japan’s aviation enterprise, however, is the one created on October 1, 2003, by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — the JAXA SST supersonic airliner. After the retirement of the Anglo-French Concorde, Japan wants to improve the future environment impact by “minimising sonic boom and reducing engine noise during take-off and landing; and to increase economic viability by airframe weight and air drag, and improved engine efficiency”. There is no reason as to why India should not make an effort to get into this high-end technological league with Japan, if an opening is provided by a possible Indo-Japanese strategic partnership on an equal footing.
When Japan wanted to replace its American-made Lockheed Martin C-130H medium transport and multirole aircraft, and requested for proposals, it straight away rejected foreign bids received from Airbus A-310, Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J. Instead, Japan selected its own Kawasaki to lead indigenous designing to meet the requirements of medium transport or multirole aircraft for the Japanese air self-defence force. Japan is coming out of its syndrome of “compulsory” imported technology following defeat in World War II. Whether surface combatants or conventional diesel electric submarine, or fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, attack helicopter or helicopter-borne carrier for its navy. Since Japan could not export its sophisticated armament products owing to severe restrictions imposed by the West since 1945, Tokyo concentrated on the export of non-lethal technology, consumer goods and an array of automobiles across the globe, cutting deep into the Western monopoly on land transport. Since 1991, Indians have been witness to Japanese automobile giants capturing the Indian market by setting up production units in India. This is a win-win situation for both Japan and India.