The Truth about Military Hardware in our Armed Forces

Author: Lieutenant General SPM Tripathi, PVSM, AVSM (Retd)

Period: October 2007 - December 2007

The Truth about Military Hardware in our Armed Forces

Lieutenant General SPM Tripathi, PVSM, AVSM (Retd)

While military experts have been pre-occupied with the deficiency in manpower, particularly the officer cadre in the Armed Forces, it is the poor state of military hardware that should cause greater concern. Modern warfare is all about weapons, equipment and support systems. Indian history is full of instances where our brave soldiers were defeated in battles because the enemy had the advantage of superior horses, rifles and guns. In the field of military hardware the state in the three Services today calls for urgent corrective action.

Dependence on a foreign power for military hardware can be as lethal as the weapon system itself. Foreign governments and arms manufacturing companies consider sale of arms a vital source of income. Sale of weapons and equipment forms an important part of their foreign policy initiatives. To make the deals attractive, terms and conditions are sugar coated with phrases like technology transfer and setting up facilities for production in our country. Thus, they not only sell weapon systems, they also make additional profits by providing production and repair facilities. There is hardly ever any mention of them buying back the weapon systems or equipment thus produced, at market prices. Normally, in the contract the first hundred numbers are bought outright and subsequently production facility and transfer of technology is included. By the time the whole process of setting up facilities for production is completed, the system is on the verge of becoming obsolete. The whole process begins again for the next generation weapons. We are thus caught in an endless cycle of purchasing weapons and equipments from abroad repeatedly.

An ambitious project of making Light Combat Aircraft (LAC) was undertaken by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) long time back. They did not have the capability of making a combat aircraft then and they also do not seem to have the capability now, though it is said that the project will fructify in five years. Meanwhile the Air Force, compelled to phase out MIG 21 air craft in large numbers, have fallen dangerously short of their authorised strength. This has necessitated in MoD floating a global tender of Rs 40,000 crores for buying 126 medium multi-aircrafts post haste. Despite the urgency, this contract will pass through many phases; trials, negotiations, acceptance in service and production etc. Therefore, the Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft may not be inducted into the Air Force for another 3 to 4 years.

Navy and Army are also no better off. A deal of Rs 6,000 crores was signed with Russia in 2004 to supply Indian Navy with a refurbished aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Gorshkov’; with 16 MIG-29K ‘supersonic fighters and a mix of Ka-31 and Ka-28 helicopters to operate from the carrier’s deck. This aircraft carrier is already over age. Navy has been wanting to acquire Gorshkov for a very long time and it was scheduled to join the Indian Navy by August 2008. Presently, there is no information as to when the Navy will get this aircraft carrier. At the same time an indigenous 37,500 tons aircraft carrier is not likely to be in service before 2015. Meanwhile, the only aircraft carrier Viraat is also ageing. 

The saga of an indigenous tank for the Army is well known. More than 25 years ago, a project was started to make an Indian tank named ‘Arjun’, which would match the lethality, protection and sustained mobility of a modern tank on the battlefield. Though a few tanks have been inducted into an armoured regiment, after an agonisingly long period, the Army is not satisfied with their performance. And in these 25 years, more than l00 times the original projected cost has been spent.

These are only three examples, one each from Army, Navy and Air Force; mentioned to show how inadequate deficient our weapons and equipment management is today. Numerous such examples can be quoted which when taken together make the picture extremely dismal. It is now sixty years, since Independence, that the management of military hardware became our own responsibility. Israel also gained their independence about the same time as our country. While we had Ordnance factories and other infrastructure already in place, Israel had none. Yet in the last sixty years, Israel has developed a capacity to export sophisticated weapons and equipment of about the same value as we have been importing. What are the reasons that have prevented us from becoming self sufficient and self reliant in military hardware?

Is our infrastructure faulty? In the MOD, the DRDO is responsible for assimilating the weapons or equipment requirement of the Services through a qualitative requirement floated by the latter. Thereafter, the DRDO prepares a project report obtains government sanction and the budget. The DRDO is then supposed to fabricate a prototype of the system, offer it to the concerned Service for trial, obtain their approval, make industrial drawings and transfer the system to Defence Production for meeting Service requirements.

Unfortunately, this arrangement has not worked at all. DRDO is headed by an eminent scientist, who also wears the hat of Scientific Adviser (SA) to the Defence Minister. DRDO has excellent laboratories in various disciplines like armament, vehicle, instruments, radio etc. The organisation also has excellent scientists. However, they do not have much practical knowledge about the battle field requirements of the weapon systems that they are engaged in fabricating. There is not much interaction with the Services. Also, the DRDO do not realise their limitation realistically. Taking on the project for Light Combat Aircraft (LAC) is a case in point. No aircraft have been fabricated in the country and to think that a LAC can be made which will match the technical specifications of modern combat aircraft seemed unrealistic. We have seen the result in this project.

The department of Defence Production is headed by a Secretary who is an lAS officer and all the top level decision makers in the department are from Civil Services. This department also works in isolation from the Services and has done very little either to improve the structure of Ordnance factories or modernise their facilities. Though coordination meetings are held to monitor the progress of the projects there is a lack of focus. The allocation of responsibility at the various stages of the project is not clearly defined. The DRDO has been unable to produce prototypes in time. Almost all the projects get delayed. Along with the work of DRDO the department of Defence Production should get involved in making industrial drawings of the system and setting up production facilities. Though coordination meetings are held frequently the expected results are not forthcoming.

Loss to the exchequer in these projects is enormous and calls for introspection to set things in the right perspective to safeguard National security interests. Indigenous manufacture will also cost money but foreign exchange will be saved and the infrastructure will be better utilised. More important, our defence forces will not be dependent on foreign manufacturers in times of emergency. Self-reliance is, therefore, a military necessity. However, except for missiles, our country has been unable to develop any major weapon systems without foreign components. For most of the weapon systems very large number of important components are imported from aboard. So, if we are not importing a weapon system as a whole we continue to import costly critical items like engine, fire control system etc.

The country cannot afford to continue paying large sums of foreign exchange year after year. Therefore, we have to shore up our indigenous capability. The need is to look at the whole system and make urgent changes. Mere patch work will not do; there has to be a total re-think on the whole subject, which may include major structural as well as procedural changes.

The Services have to reconcile to the fact that DRDO and department of Defence Production are not yet geared to produce modern weapons and equipment that are displayed in glossy magazines. Also, the technical expertise and the latest gadgets that include a wide range of facilities will take time. Therefore, the criticality of operational efficiency over mere sophistication is what the Services should look for. For example, the Fire Control System (FCS) in tank and naval ships have become very sophisticated. Having got an efficient stabilisation in the tank, the maximum errors occurred due to faulty range estimation. For a very long time the Israeli Army used hand held range finder and conveyed the target range verbally to the gunner. Till they were able to develop a computer driven fire control system, a hand held range finder was accepted by the Israeli tank men. On the other hand from the day project ‘Arjun’ was launched, our Armoured Corps insisted on a latest fire control system. The DRDO was in no position to fabricate such a system. While the DRDO was in the process of developing a modern FCS, the Armoured Corps should have accepted a simpler system.

So where do we go from here? First, we have to set our aim right. Not only should we aim to equip our Armed Forces with modern equipment, made in India, but we should also aim to enhance exports of our military hardware and earn valuable foreign exchange. The private sector can play a very important role in research, development and production of military hardware. Our country has reached a stage where the private sector can complement the Department of Defence Production in producing the most sophisticated weapons and equipment and indeed take off much weight from their shoulders. The MoD on behalf of the Armed Forces is considered one of the biggest arms buyers in the world market. This is a stigma that must be removed.


.Lieutenant General SPM Tripathi, PVSM, AVSM (Retd) is an Ex Member Parliament (Lok Sabha), from Deoria Constituency in Uttar Pradesh. He retired as a Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Planning and Systems).
Journal of the United Service Institution of India, Vol. CXXXVII, No. 570, October-December 2007.


USI-ICWA UN Webinar Challenges of Mission Leadership in UN Peace Operations

USI is conducting a series of webinars on the UN themes in collaboration with ICWA Since 2021, for the cross-fertilization of ideas and generating policy recommendations for reforms and restructuring …

War Disabled Personnel of Indian Armed Forces: Challenges, Concerns and Aspirations

Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen sacrifice their lives & limbs for many reasons, like national, regimental and unit pride; high level of motivation; courage; call of duty; and above all the understanding that …

Major Navdeep Singh: USI War Wounded Foundation Event

Talk by Maj Navdeep Singh, Author and Legal Luminary Need for Formulating a ‘War Disabled Persons Special Disability (WDPSD’s) Act’ for War Disabled Personnel and its Important Components.

38th USI National Security Lecture

The 38th USI National Security Lecture was delivered by Lt Gen Raj Shukla, PVSM, YSM, SM, ADC on Wednesday, 13 April 2022 at 1100 h (IST) at the United Service Institution of India. 37th National Se…

'Is The New Cold War a Myth or Reality'?

A talk on 'Is The New Cold War a Myth or Reality'? by Mr Atul Singh, Founder, CEO & Editor-in-Chief Fair Observer, USA scheduled at the USI, New Delhi on Wednesday, 23 Feb 2022 from 1100 to 1300 H (I…

UN Peace Operations: Women, Peace and Security

Along with the decline in inter-state conflicts and a sharp increase in intra-state conflicts in the last two decades, there is a consequent increase in the casualties to innocent civilians. Taking no…

National Security Policy of Pakistan (NSPP) 2022-2026

USI is conducting a panel discussion on the ‘National Security Policy of Pakistan (NSPP) 2022-2026’ on 07 Feb 2022 from 1100 h to 1300 h.

FRONTLINE COMMANDER: The Military Biography of the Late Lt Gen Jaswant Singh, PVSM, AVSM


37th National Security Lecture: The Chinese Challenge - Its Many Dimensions and India's Options

Shri Maroof Raza, a well know commentator on strategic security and military issues will deliver the lecture on 24 Nov 2021 at 1100 hrs at the USI. The focus of the talk will be the geo-strategic as w…

Indian Military Operations Mukti Bahini & the BSF Salient Factors in the Liberation of Bangladesh

Shri VK Gaur and Lt Col BB Singh with Dr Sanjeev Chopra (based on VK Gaur’s book Yoon Janma Bangladesh) Chair: LS Bajpai

Naval Operations Beyond Naval Blockade Valley of Words 2021

Sandeep Unnithan in conversation with Admiral Anup Singh - Valley of Words 2021.

Air Operations Experience of First Heliborne Operation Valley of Words 2021 1080p

Sqn Ldr Rana Chinna in conversation with Sqn Ldr Pushp Vaid, VrC

Air Operations Air War in the West Valley of Words 2021 1080p

AVM Manmohan Bahadur in conversation with Jagan Mohan (Unheralded operations by Vampires, 'Texan' Harvard, Canberras and An-12)

Stories of Valour Narration of stories of valour by Maroof Raza Valley of Words 2021

Narration of stories of valour by Maroof Raza. Maroof Raza talks of forthcoming book The Contested Lands (India-China border dispute) - Valley of Words 2021

Managing Future Conflicts Role of World and Regional Fora Valley of Words 2021

Ambassador Asoke Mukerji and Maj Gen Dhruv Katoch Moderator: Lt Gen JS Lidder original video can be accessed from:…

Perceptions India’s Compulsions and Outlook on East Pakistan Objectives and Strategy

Shri Iqbal Malhotra in conversation with Lt Gen Nirbhay Sharma and Maj Gen Ian Cardozo - Valley of Words 2021

Perceptions Western Pakistan’s Designs on East Pakistan Campaign, Objectives and Strategy

Lt Gen PJS Pannu in conversation with Christine Fair and Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Contribution of Indian Cinema in Infusing Patriotism Valley of Words 2021

Lt Gen PJS Pannu and Maroof Raza in conversation with Shri JP Dutta (producer, director, filmmaker) and Nomination of Bollywood film Border on 1971 War. Original video can be accessed from: https://w…

Diplomacy and Statecraft Perceptions Information and Media Operations Valley of Words 2021

Lt Gen PJS Pannu in conversation with Sir Mark Tully, Subroto Chattopadhyay and Vishnu Shankar (Editor, TV9 Network) Original video can be accessed from :…

USI- FO Live: Evolving Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific Region

The United Service Institution of India (USI) and Fair Observer present a panel discussion on the evolving geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region. Lately, the AUKUS Deal has added another twist to th…

𝐒𝐓𝐑𝐈𝐕𝐄 𝐖𝐞𝐛𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐫 on Buyout Sino Pak Collusivity Implications For India Maj

STRIVE a Lucknow based National and Defence Security Studies Centre organised a Webinar in collaboration with Military Literature Festival, Lucknow on a highly sensitive and contemporary issue the “B…

Can India and Pakistan Take Steps Towards Rapprochement

In this episode Major General BK Sharma (Director - United Service Institution of India) and Lt. General Asad Durrani (Former Director General ISI, Pakistan talks with Analyst Arvind Saharan on Indi…

𝗨𝗡 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗲𝗸𝗲𝗲𝗽𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗢𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀: 𝗣𝗿𝗼𝘁𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝗖𝗶𝘃𝗶𝗹𝗶𝗮𝗻𝘀

Over the past few decades, inter-state conflicts waned but there has been an increase in Intra-state conflicts. In any conflict, the innocent civilians are the ones who suffer the most. But the suffer…

Valedictory Address by CDS General Bipin Rawat PVSM UYSM AVSM YSM SM VSM ADC

Valedictory Address by CDS General Bipin Rawat PVSM UYSM AVSM YSM SM VSM ADC The original video of the event can be accessed on the VoW youtube channel:…

Managing Future Conflicts Deterrence and Conflict Prevention: Valley of Words 2021

Major General Dhruv C Katoch, SM, VSM (Retd) in conversation Lieutenant General JS Lidder, UYSM, AVSM (Retd), Ambassador Asoke Mukerji, Shri Arvind Gupta and Lt Gen Prakash Menon PVSM, AVSM, VSM [Retd…


close slider

    All classes of membership except temporary membership and membership of Service Officers applying for Correspondence Courses being conducted by the USI, will be subject to approval by the Executive Committee. The following are ordinarily eligible to become members of the Institution, with full voting rights:-

    Read More