Defence preparedness should focus on new technological developments and skills and not just budget allocations
Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (retd)
Post-Independence, India opted for an autonomous path of development, which was at the core of its concept of independence — economic and political sovereignty. Learning from the brutal experience of colonisation which killed our skills and technology in every sphere, including in shipbuilding and rocketry, we understood that our best interests would only be served by our own priorities and innovations to bridge the wide gap in science, industry, technology and living standards.
However, this did not mean that we had decided to shut out the world; we kept our windows open to all scientific and technological developments, civil and military, with the potential of assisting in the technological progress of our country, in consonance with our human, material and economic resources, determining at every step what was best suited for us, including what was efficient and cost effective to bridge the gap.
The policy adopted emphasised that military technology must serve diverse purposes and benefit all disciplines that strengthen the areas of science and technologies to build a versatile, vibrant, and dynamic society, and serve civil and scientific objectives, not only what is normally perceived as ‘military’. This must be emphasised, because it is not adequately understood today that almost all indigenous research and progress in technology and science contribute to a nation’s defence potential and to a country’s human capital and institutions; that the entire chain of activities that we generate in these areas, add to human skills increasing the creativity of our people. Without these up-to-date technological abilities, a country can find itself limping.
Unfortunately, the present day public discourse on defence is centred on mere budgetary allocations, or by lobbies touting for acquisitions of weapon systems or counterproductive singling out of countries for ‘pot shots’ in our strategic environment, designating some countries as adversaries or others as new-found friends. What is missing from the perspective is how to develop technological and advanced skills in the country as a whole. Any planning for defence involves taking stock of our overall capacities and national interests, not forgetting that our military establishment is concerned with ‘capabilities’ and reflecting on the adage that a nation with a navy is really a neighbour to all. In contemporary times, any nation with capabilities in ‘Space’ also becomes a neighbour in the sky! Strength cannot be equated with indiscriminate sabre-rattling which does not substitute for serious planning, technological advance, training, and increasing practical knowledge in design and research across the board and not only in revamping outfits related to military research and development, which have created their own scientific bureaucracy and not progressed or contributed with the same outstanding commitment as Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
Budgetary allocations, subject to a minimum threshold, are not the be all or a pre-condition for military/ defence preparedness of the nation, provided there exists a sound understanding and grasp of the principle that the whole nation participates in the nation’s defence and contributes to it in kind. For example, the erstwhile predominant ‘superpower’, and its military arm is usually referred to as ‘pre-eminent’, with bipartisan political support for its annual ever-increasing budget, now topping USD700 billion, not counting the financial allocation for its intelligence and surveillance agencies and nuclear R&D, the largest in the world. Estimates project China as spending about USD170 billion, Saudi Arabia with nothing to show except showpiece expensive acquisitions, spends about USD60 billion.
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