Former Chief of Army Staff, Gen V P Malik, the man who led the Indian Army in the Kargil war against Palistan, speaks to Robin David during an interview:-
Are we ready for war in technology age?
Just to put things in perspective, technology today is a very important factor in not only military strategy, but also national strategy. Unless you develop and possess technology, you can’t reach the level that you want for your nation at all levels. And when you flow from that downwards, military technology becomes essential. But we have really not been able to develop technology, which has been a major concern. I have told the parliamentary committee that we are lagging behind on the aspect of self-reliance. And when you have to buy weapons and weapons systems from abroad because they have better technology, obviously that’s not the best way of ensuring your national interest.
What percentage of our technology needs do we import?
Well, till recently, we were importing 70% of our sophisticated weapons systems from abroad, which is a huge number. And during the Kargil war I personally felt that we were so dependent on other countries that they took you for a ride. Let’s be clear, there are no friends (among countries). You have given them leverage on you. There were some countries that simply refused to part with weapons and equipment we wanted.
Did you feel hindered during Kargil war?
There was a total ban on the import of any equipment from the US and UK, because in 1998 we had gone nuclear and 1999 was the war. We were short of spares for Bofors guns, and some parts for our naval helicopters. We did not have proper radar systems which could detect the guns firing from the other side. We did not have any ground sensors and one of the reasons why infiltration took place was that we did not have adequate surveillance devices along the LoC.
Is there greater awareness about filling technology gap in armed forces today?
No. There is better realisation among some people but the procurement part is still lagging. The good point is the pursuit of Make in India. I had spoken to Mr (Narendra) Modi long ago, well before he became PM. And similarly I have spoken to other leaders. I have said that you can’t have national security if we are importing 70% of our needs from foreign countries.
You believe DRDO has not done its job?
Well, they have not been able to meet our requirements.
What is the answer to that?
DRDO has to focus more on core issues. It must also interact outside its establishment with universities, with technical experts in different fields and there should be no hesitation in encouraging private sector R&D. They should also try and get technologies from outside. But the most important aspect I think is that the DRDO must be made accountable. You set a deadline, you have to meet it. We can accept one, two, three-year delays but you can’t accept a delay of 25 years. We gave the GSQR (general staff qualitative requirements) of the tank we wanted. By the time Arjun came, there were these whole lot of anti-tank guided missiles which it could not withstand. When we raised this issue, they said it was not part of the GSQR. Obviously, because the GSQR was given 25 years ago.
The life of a weapon system used to be 25 to 30 years. Today it has come down to 10 to 15 years because the technological developments are much faster. So, if you give me a tank after 15 years, what use is that to me?
The whole problem has been that you have created these public-sector ordnance factories and then you have forced us to buy from them. So they are quite happy to not change.
Where does the ministry of defence stand in all this?
The ministry of defence is a bad organisation. Accountability within the ministry is zero. If DRDO has not delivered, the ministry has not reported the matter to anyone and not taken any action. That is what I have told the parliamentary committee (in 2003-2004 after retirement) — get this damn thing (monitoring and accountability) out of the ministry. The defence PSUs too need to be taken out of the ministry of defence. The joint secretary sitting in the ministry is controlling the PSU. He gets all his privileges from them — car chahiye, ghumna chahiye. There is a nexus. If the DRDO is not delivering, I would like to see some secretary, some joint secretary resigning or being sacked. Besides the DRDO head.
But the Comptroller and Auditor General does audit the armed forces… The CAG’s audit is like a chartered accountant pointing out your faults. Is he checking whether you have acquired (military) capability? No. You have to have capability audits in the armed forces. You can have this within CAG or even outside it with experts who can give an independent opinion on whether you have acquired capability or not. Your benchmark need not be money. Your benchmark needs to be capability.