7. Incubating Technologies Today For A Vibrant ‘DIB’ Tomorrow

(Published article in Defence and Security Alert Aug 2012)

INS Sahyadri joined the Indian Navy on 21 Jul 2012. The warship employs advanced features such as CODOG propulsion, Total Atmosphere Control System, Enhanced Combat Management System, Automated Power Management System and an ATM based integrated Ship-wide Data Network etc. The ship has been built at Mazagaon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai. The Indian Navy has been nurturing ingenious ship building since its inception. The first major warship to join the IN was the INS Nilgiri in 1972. Since then the Indian shipyards have come a long way on the road to self reliance and indigenisation. Today they are building not only sophisticated warships but also a very complex strategic submarine Arihant and the indigenous aircraft carrier (to be christened as Vikrant).  MDL is one of the four defense shipyards of the country, apart from the Goa Shipyard, Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, and Visakhapatnam-based Hindustan Shipyard. It is a key warship builder of the nation. At present, MDL has orders for building Shivalik-class stealth frigates and six Scorpene diesel-electric submarines. The Indian Navy’s efforts at indigenisation of naval technologies, over the past five decades have resulted in building of nearly 80 per cent of warships within the country, in its four Defense Public Sector Undertaking (DPSU) shipyards. At present, Indian Navy has placed orders for 47 warships with shipyards, 44 of which are being built in Indian shipyards, and is planning to induct at the rate of five to seven ships a year over the next five years.

The Navy has also been encouraging the entry of private sector into arms development. Out of the several projects undertaken with involvement of domestic private companies, the Arihant project is a good example of public–private cooperation in defence production[1]. The Arihant class submarines are nuclear–powered ballistic missile submarines, they are being designed and constructed as a part of the Indian Navy’s Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) Project. The ATV project started with the intent to design nuclear–powered fast attack submarines, though over time the project was re–aligned towards the design of a ballistic missile submarine in order to complete India’s nuclear triad[2]. Amongst the many challenges faced by the project a major one pertained to design and miniaturisation of the nuclear reactor. The initial design of the miniaturised naval–version of the reactor developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) had technical difficulties which were resolved with the help of the Russians[3]. The submarine design centre of L&T carried out detailed engineering, using 3D modelling and product data management software. BARC built the final production version of the reactor at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) at Kalpakkam. The hulls for this class are built by L&T’s Hazira shipbuilding facility. The control systems for the submarine have been built by Tata Power SED. Walchandnagar Industries have supplied systems for the steam turbine integrated with the PWR.

In the words of Admiral Nirmal Verma “Today, we pride ourselves to be a ‘builders navy’; this is a phrase that reflects the enormous investment that our navy has made in conceptualizing ship and submarine designs. We have very vibrant indigenous construction programs……”

While the Navy is proud to be a ‘builders navy’ the fact remains that the shipyards still import gas turbines, engines, gear boxes, hydraulic systems, sensor and weapon packages etc. which take away between 75% to 55% of the cost of the ship to foreign vendors. What we have today is the capability of defence shipyards with support from indigenous industry, to manufacture low to midlevel technological products and integration of complex systems. The production of high end technology systems still eludes us. As Admiral Nirmal Verma says “However, we still require to bridge certain technological gaps and therefore the intention is to adopt leapfrogging technologies.”

 

Offsets

One of the crucial strategies to acquire technologies which arms importing developing countries adopt is by demanding offsets. It is perceived that by doing so their domestic arms industry would develop advance capabilities. Through this route of technology infusion they hope that they would be able to eventually produce sophisticated weapons in much less time frame than they would have if they had commenced design and development from scratch. They dream of running on the technological bridge connecting their country with a developed country.  In a study done by Bauer and Dunn revealed “virtually no case where offset arrangements have yielded unambiguous net benefits for a country’s economic development’.[4] Further they found that offsets, with “very few exceptions do not result in significant technology transfers, not even in military sector.”[5] These countries in a way got entangled in a technology warp, thus when a TOT was successful, the local defence industry could not achieve its aim of attaining any sort of technological equity with the OEM or, even if they acquired the capability, they found that the technologies have advanced to the next level! The Bauer and Dunn findings have indicated that offset route did not result in bridging the technological gap and was an expensive option in terms of time and cost.

In case of India, studies by Baskaran[6] reveal that offsets have not achieved the aims with which they were sought. In fact they have resulted in spectacular failures in case of aircrafts, naval vessels and tanks. The Indian defence industry[7] “failed to acquire capabilities sufficient to close the technological gap with developed countries and keep pace with technological change”. In fact the OEMs have been hesitant to transfer core technologies to the India, thus leading to a deficient defence industrial base.

Generally it is observed that TOT and offset routes lead countries to acquire technologies at higher costs and of limited long term value as the transfer is of an established older technology. The establishment of a successful and robust, state of the art, defence industrial base through TOT/offset route depends upon various factors like willingness of both the OEM and the parent government to release core technologies for transfer; acquiring countries ability to absorb the technology, which has been transferred, in terms of its human resources and competence; and lastly even after the technology transfer the country should have the capacity to forge ahead and develop the changes and/or new technologies in the relevant area on the strength of its own R&D and technological base. Failure to do so, in effect, results in one of kind TOT, advantages of which wither out on its own.

As a matter of interest, Japan is the only country that has benefitted remarkably as a result of its offset policy in post WWII era, mainly because of its tremendously motivated, educated and highly skilled workforce and the fact that the US permitted practically unrestricted flow of technology to Japan to further its own interests in the region.

In the long term, the only option that remains with a country like India, is to incubate technologies in house, preferably such that they also have commercial viability in the non military arena. This is so because in foreseeable future India would not take the route of exporting explosives and weapons and it is unlikely therefore that any weapon manufacturer would be permitted to set up a shop here for feeding the markets abroad. Thus the defence industrial base would be catering to only India’s need of defence equipment, upgrades, maintenance and repair. The economic viability of such ventures can only be supported by government, especially since the average life of large platforms and weapon systems easily spans over three decades.

This brings us to the question ‘what type of technologies should India incubate for the future? The answer in my view lies in developing ‘disruptive technologies’. In 1995 Joseph L. Bower and Clayton M. Christensen coined a term ‘Disruptive Technology’ to describe the phenomena of entrenched commercial technology being replaced by a new technology. The term describes how entrenched technologies or innovations became obsolete in only a few years by new technologies or innovations. However, for a new disruptive technology to be viable for an entrenched business, the disruptive technology must become sustaining. Thus the need for incubating dual use technologies which feed the commercial as well as defence needs. The term disruptive technology when used in reference to military use, must be modified to ‘military disruptive technology’ because of the differences based on the strategic, operational and tactical impact that the disruptive technology will have, when employed against an adversary. It is also imperative for a rising power like India to find a way to evaluate new disruptive technologies that can be converted to military disruptive technologies when applied in tactical situations. John C. Keefe in his article[8], ‘Disruptive Technologies for Weapon Systems: Achieving the Asymmetric Edge on the Battlefield’ provides definitions for what disruptive technology is with respect to military applications. He defines disruptive technology as ‘an innovation that forces the advancement in security or degrades current security as related to changes in geopolitical, military, economic or social factors’. He asserts that it is of extreme importance that the newest emerging technologies must be advanced as soon as possible because it will reward those who get it to the field quickly. Further, specific technologies must be identified early to continue a nation’s asymmetrical advantage. Keefe also names biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology as areas of disruptive technology.

Two types of disruptive technologies have been identified, the first type is a technology that is used in a new way to create disruptive results and the second type of disruptive technology is a completely new technology with new effects.

 

Several technologies have been identified by developed countries which are likely to impact national security and most can be broken down into the following four areas of potential disruptive technologies:-

Computer Programming or Software. Efficient software development, image understanding and distributed-grid-based processing Systems.

Aerospace. Next-Generation space shuttle system and hypersonic/supersonic aircraft.

Medicine. Cloned or tailored organisms, gene therapy and regenerative medicine.

Energy.  Alternative energy, micro electro mechanical systems, fuel cells, distributed energy and new-generation nuclear power plants.

 

The building block technologies that will fuel new military disruptive technologies include Robotics, Nano- and bio-technology advances, Fuel cell and distributed energy technology, materials development, and advances in sports medicine. It is estimated that all of the above building block technologies would lead to military disruptive technologies either individually or in collaboration with other technologies in the coming decades.

 

The way ahead for the Indian Navy is therefore to put in place a grid of pure and applied research programs at academic institutions, in collaboration with industry or otherwise, which generate fundamental innovation in areas of future interests to the Navy. The Indian Navy should also consider dealing directly with ‘Matters Naval Research’ at the grass root level of research institutes and engineering colleges by adopting a long term, broad based approach to incubate military disruptive technologies in addition to result oriented solutions which may be required in short/mid term. The fruits of this concerted effort would feed the defence industry of tomorrow with knowledge experts who in turn would complete the mosaic of the IN’s requirement of military technologies. The DIB of tomorrow would have ‘knowledge’ at its base and thus, let the IN lay the keel of a thousand ‘Knowledge Ships’ today and transform the future of Naval Warfare tomorrow.


[1] ‘Creating a Vibrant Domestic Defence Manufacturing Sector’ A CII-Boston Consulting Group report 2012.

[2] ibid

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brauer, Jurgen and Paul Dunne.  “Arms Trade Offsets and Developments” Jun 2005.

[5] ibid

[6] Baskaran A.”The Role of Offsets in Indian Defence Procurement Policy in Arms Trade and Economic Development: Theory, Policy and cases in Arms Trade Offsets. Jurgen Brauer. New York. NY: Routledge 2004

[7] ibid

[8] Keefe, John C. “Disruptive Technologies for Weapon Systems: Achieving the Asymmetric Edge on the Battlefield.” The WSTIAC Quarterly 7. No 4:1-5.

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