Friday, September 23, 2016

The farce called Transfer of Technology

Imagine 50,000 years ago, in a small village, a feud breaks out between a bunch of neanderthals. Every man gets hold of a stone made weapon and begins to sharpen it to attack his opponent. There is one man who doesn't know how to sharpen or make a weapon off a stone. He is confused whether to attack with the blunt stone or not. His instinct says it will not kill his opponent. He looks around and tries to improvise by just imitating the action that the others are doing with their stones. He doesn't know whether he could make the weapon better by tying the stone to a stick to make it a spear. Such a neanderthal is never going to win a battle. His weapon is only as good, if not worse, as he could imitate from the other opponents. 

This is the problem that India has been facing from independence with regards to our country's air combat systems.The famous charade about India's technological prowess is "We have the indigenous technology to send a satellite to Mars but can't develop a fighter jet on our own". It is true and there is only one reason for this. We never knew what we wanted and therefore we never tried. From 1947 till this date, we have never asked the question to ourselves "How do we want to project our air power better than what is best out there?". Our question has always been "What are the air combat systems used the world over and which would suit us best?". And therein lies the fundamental difference between the nascent success of our space programme and the absolute failure of our defence programme.

The idea of "Transfer of Technology" being touted by politicians across the aisle as a success, is a cause as well as symptom of our failing research and development eco system. Since we never knew what we wanted with or for our Air Force, we have always tried to "match up" to the state of the art systems that was available over the decades. In the 60s, when the Mig 21 emerged as a successful fighter jet, we wanted it. Nothing wrong. The idea of a single engine supersonic fighter becoming the backbone of our Air Force was a good vision. It was even better when we acquired the technology to manufacture it locally and we built 650 of them over the decades.

The question is, what did we do after it? A visionary Air Force would've come up with it's own needs, it's own ideas of new concepts for future combat systems. A visionary HAL, having acquired a supersonic aircraft manufacturing technology, would've spent decades understanding the technologies that went into it rather than simply manufacture it blindfolded to the specs.  (The USAF has already specified what kind of future bomber it wants 2 decades from now and has started working on the experimental technologies with Northrop Grumman)Neither the Indian Air Force nor HAL (the only a/c manufacturer) wanted to explore, question and research on the next step in air combat technology. Instead, they looked up to the superpowers to see what the next technology would be. Once the next step came in, the same Transfer of Technology, license mfg cycle followed.

This has been judiciously done for almost all air combat systems. The Sukhoi 30 MKI (air superiority super maneuverable), the Rafale (medium range nuclear strike heavy fighter bomber), the upcoming FGFA PAK-FA(stealth fighter) are all examples of another country/air force inventing next steps in air combat technology and us trying to acquire them. The idea of stealth fighter came from west and we are only co-developing it after three different companies have already done it. We continue to attempt to match/acquire the level of military technology whose agenda and benchmark is being set by someone else. Our fledgling missile programme too started with reverse engineering Russian ballistic missiles and then further developing related technologies from it. Even in such a mature area, ideas of MIRVS and Hypersonic missiles came from the superpowers. The only solace is we are neck and shoulder with them in terms of pace of research and development.

That is why Transfer of Technology is never going to be of any use to India. We don't want to think ahead with the acquired technology. We don't spend time on pushing the frontiers of ideas. We as a country, as a culture, as a civilization have lost the capability to innovate, to think beyond the best. From our air combat systems to transportation systems to e-commerce retailing we are trying to only recreate an idea already proposed and developed by someone else.