By Bharat Karnad
There’s little that the BJP government of Narendra Modi and the Ministry of Defence can do, considering the Indian military has been criminally negligent in doing the basic things right. Those basic things include: having strong perimeter security even around their own encampments and depots in the extended Kashmir “covert war” zone (which includes Pathankot) and left them with no choice worth the name.
May be Parrikar, who has allowed himself time and again to be railroaded into wrong decisions usually by Modi and his PMO (LEMOA, Rafale, prospectively EMALS), can do something imaginative and good for the country for a change. Here’s a suggestion that takes him far from the immediate concerns but which would have tremendous consequences: Seeding a huge aerospace engineering base in the country and propelling not, “Make in India” effort which will merely reinforce the licensed manufacture tendency in the indigenous defence industry in both public and private sectors, but a genuine design-to-delivery capability for all manner of combat aviation platforms, from fighter planes to fighting drones.
It will simply require Parrikar, an IIT alumnus, to instruct his Ministry that, hereafter, no phased out aircraft, combat or transport, will be sold as scrap. It would rather be transferred with its full complement of avionics and communications suites to the aerospace engineering departments functioning in the numerous Indian Institutes of Technology, the National Institutes of Technology and, foremost in this group, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. It will enable undergraduate and graduate students in these departments to gain familiarity with just deactivated/near-operational combat and transport platforms. This will also help them gain knowledge of diverse technologies through intense laboratory study as a means of reverse engineering every part and component, sub-assembly, so that in time and as part of their course work for their advanced degrees, they are capable of innovating the machine designs they have dissected and put together on a series of MiG-21, MiG-23 and MiG-27 aircraft.
Imagine the high quality skills engineers and designers will have acquired along with their degrees, instead of just being armed with bookish knowledge.
This manpower could step right into high-pressure jobs and begin producing for DRDO labs and DPSUs in the government sector, and increasingly, for private sector defence industrial ventures, which, hopefully, will have a larger role in the future.
This endowing by the government of advanced technology and platforms is normal in the more advanced societies where universities are the intellectual seedbeds for nursing and generating skilled manpower for the national aerospace/aviation sector. The Aerospace Departments at Caltech, Pasadena, and Purdue University, specializing in engineering sciences, which produced Neill Armstrong—first man on the moon who, after his astronaut career returned to his alma mater as professor of aerospace engineering, are famous for their achievements. Purdue, for instance, has its own aircraft and even an air strip.
Of course, powerful people up and down the chain in MOD who have long benefited from the selling of demobilized aircraft as scrap will be angry and upset. But, perhaps, Parrikar will risk their ire and take the decision to dispatch the decommissioned MiG fighter aircraft to the educational institutions, for the greater good of the country.
Bharat Karnad is a senior fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and author of most recent book, ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’.
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