Sunday, October 17, 2010
There has been an animated debate on the need to boost Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in India’s defence sector which has not been in a position to meet the diverse requirements of the Indian defence forces owing to the lack of financial resources, technological expertise and advanced manufacturing base. While some consider FDI to be an alluring option for giving impetus to the domestic defence sector, there is also a view that the entire issue is “sensitive and controversial” in nature. This implies that a balance must be struck between increased FDI flow and national interest. India could institute a policy framework to encourage foreign participation in terms of financial investment, technological sharing, manufacturing expertise and marketing skill to not only meet the domestic requirements but also to cater to the export market. It will also give the much required impetus to the defence PSU's for improving the quality of their products to survive in the market. Also as an exporter of defence hardware, India would be in a position to expand its sphere of influence. According to the recommendations of the report that was present in the parliament on ‘Indigenisation of Defense Production-Public Private Partnership’, the allocation limit of FDI i. e. 26 per cent may increase on a case to case basis to the proposed 74%.
It was in 2001 that the Indian defence sector opened up for private participation, with the FDI limit capped at 26%. The Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on defence has proposed raising the FDI cap to 49%. Similarly, many industry bodies have made a strong case for increasing the FDI limit in the Indian defence sector with a view to boost defence hardware production capability. But without a level playing field it would be impossible to attract a higher level of FDI into the Indian defence sector. After all, foreign companies willing to invest in the Indian the defence sector will expect benefits, such as purchase guarantee, open access to other markets, control of production capacity, production range, etc. at par with their Indian counterparts. While formulating a policy aimed at boosting FDI in the Indian defence sector, this issue needs to be addressed. The Indian Defence Ministry is opposed to the idea of boosting the FDI limit in the Indian defence sector on the grounds of “security concern.” Whether Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s overdrive for self reliance in defence production is a major hindrance in the way of boosting FDI, one is not sure.
The security concerns mentioned earlier are quoted according to the policy released on internet as-
(i) In times of operational emergencies like wars, the companies might shut down and choke the supplies to the armed forces.
(ii) Non sharing of the important technologies by making an assembling plant of imported goods.
I think our policy makers do not know about the concept of 'Global Factory'. A company sets up plants of various functionalities in different regions to draw the maximum benefits of each in terms of cheap labour, abundant raw materials, etc. that they offer. When a defense company invests in any country, it makes it an integral part of its production chain. A sub assembly produced in India might be exported to other manufacturing facilities, integrating the factory in production cycle. In that case, it won't be easy for the company to shut down any facility and disrupt the worldwide production network. Also, no one can shut services without notice and adequate safeguards must be taken while issuing license.
An increased FDI flow into the defence sector has the potential to decrease imports in which the role of agents and middlemen have been conspicuous. The private Indian industry is split in opinion when it comes to increasing the FDI limit. Some see it as an opportunity to expand their businesses by entering into joint collaboration with foreign giants, and some see big defense companies like EADS, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc., as a threat to their business. Small and medium enterprises will welcome the entry of foreign companies though, as enormous opportunities will be htrown at them. But this division in though of the private players have led to the absence of one voice while lobbying for such a drastic measure as increasing FDI limit beyond 50%.
Defense PSUs import sub assemblies under the garb of technology transfer. Almost 70% of the defense requirements are fulfilled by either imports or purchase of such sub assemblies to make sub standard equipments which they call indigenous! As things stand now, India’s defence manufacturing base leaves much to be desired. For instance only three Indian enterprises—Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd (HAL), Bharat Electronics Ltd and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) make it to the list of top 100 defence outfits in the world. It is obvious that the Indian Defence Ministry has a strong bias towards state owned enterprises. But it is high time that the Indian Defence Ministry transforms its image of being partisan to state owned enterprises. Industry sources say that the Indian Defence Ministry should support research and development in private sector industries through a variety of measures including appropriate incentives. This step along with an increased FDI flow in phases could galvanize the private sector to increase the quantum of resources and time to develop futuristic weapons systems that Indian defence forces are keen on acquiring.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Few days back I read an article where the present Director of DRDO, Mr. V.K.Saraswat stated that Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) cannot force to sell their products to the armed forces, thereby they should not be blamed if their productivity is low as they do not get the necessary support from the Indian defense! I personally feel that this is an emotional statement rather than a strategic one, coming from a man who heads one of the costliest ‘albatross of the neck’ of the Indian government. After all these years, there has hardly been any equipment which DRDO has developed in the promised timeframe and conforming to the accepted parameters. It has been a chronicle of false claims, tall promises, inexplicable delays and sub-optimal products. The only success it has to its credit relates to replication of some imported products (commonly called ‘reverse engineering’ and ‘indigenisation’). And still it expects the armed forces to buy its sub standard equipments, using which they are supposed to protect the nation!!!
DRDO has 51 laboratories with 5,000 scientists and over 25,000 support personnel. Which means that for every scientist, there are 50 support staff!! The magnitude of overstaffing in such a niche organization is a matter of concern. After all, their salaries are being born by burning holes in the honest tax-payer’s pockets. DRDO has an annual budget of around Rs. 6500 crores (this year statistics), and it still asks for more. Since the year of its inception, there is not a single major or minor product, barring an excellent sonar system and the INSAS rifle that has found usage in the armed forces. The case of the notorious ‘Arjun’ tank, whose delivery date has been delayed by 26 years puts DRDO capabilities to lead the nation’s defence research program into question. In short, the Indian armed forces have been forced to do with less, and suffered more, because of the inadequacies of the DRDO. Though it has been subjected to a lot of criticism, no attempt has been made to identify the underlying reasons for its lackadaisical track record. There are three primary reasons that have led to this sorry state – lack of accountability, lack of focus and failure to develop scientific disposition.
Right from its inception, the main thrust of DRDO has been on empire-building and construction of facilities rather than developing a scientific temper. Every DRDO establishment boasts of world-class auditoriums, convention centres, conference halls and hostels. A major part of its budget is spent on activities unrelated to real research work. Glossy brochures and meaningless seminars consume considerable resources. Mediocrity thrives due to propensity for non-scientific activities. Rather than concentrating on a few selected fields, DRDO has expanded its scope of activities to beyond manageable limits. It has a laboratory at Tezpur (Assam) where orchids and mushrooms are grown for research. The said laboratory prides itself for having identified the sharpest chilli in the world. Another defence laboratory located at Pithoragarh is engaged in the development of hybrid varieties of cucumber, tomato and capsicum. It is also trying to develop new strains of Angora rabbits. Amongst its claimed achievement is production of ‘Namkeen Herbal Tea’. Expending of defence budget on such irrelevant activities defies logic and reveals a total lack of focus. Many feel that DRDO’s failure in high-tech areas has resulted in a crisis of identity – it has lost sight of its primary responsibility and resorted to delving in fruitless work to justify its existence.
There is a total lack of accountability as DRDO is not answerable to anyone. Director General of DRDO is also Secretary Defence R&D. In addition, he performs the functions of Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister. Thus he wears three hats. Therefore, no questions are ever asked. Escalation in costs and deferment of completion dates are taken for granted. In 1997, India was on the verge of signing a contract for the import of Weapon Locating Radars (WLR) when DRDO intervened to scuttle the deal with claims that it would develop and produce them in two years. India went into the Kargil conflict without WLR and suffered many casualties due to its failure to neutralise Pakistan artillery effectively. Incidentally, DRDO has not been able to produce WLR to date and India had to buy WLR from the same previously selected producer in 2003. DRDO should have been held accountable for knowingly making false claims and the resultant loss of precious lives. But no such action has ever been contemplated. There are numerous such cases, where DRDO has pumped in loads of money for a project, which has never seen the light of the day. The jawans in Kashmir were compelled to design their own steel plated patka, or headgear, in place of the helmet, which is awkward in insurgency firefights. The paramilitary devised their own light armoured vehicles, and the DRDO’s heavy steel bulletproof vest was no less cumbersome than medieval armour. For 20 years, the armed forces have been tackling improvised explosive devices and mines. But the DRDO has only recently, after 9/11, discovered robotic systems to do the job. The Arjun tank that is being displayed for the past 15 years is not a dummy. But it has come into limited service in the army riding on the back of a political fiat. For the second time in its history, the army has a tank it cannot allow, in good conscience, to be sent into battle in a real war. Its antiquated rifled barrel main gun cannot fire missiles, and is not optimal for fin-stabilised anti-tank munitions. Worse, the Arjun’s sophisticated (German origin) pneumatic suspension system is fed nitrogen gas through pipes that are, to put it delicately, not protected by its armour, and hence even small-arms fire can bring the 58-tonne monster to a grinding halt. Even today, the country’s air defence system is severely hampered by the DRDO’s failure to produce the ‘Trishul’ and ‘Akash’ surface-to-air missiles. All vital areas across the country, as well as combat formations and the naval fleet, are protected by a multi-layered air defence system. The first layer is fighter aircraft of the IAF, which seek to either destroy enemy air bases or shoot down their aircraft when they enter our air-space. If these aircraft get through, they hit the second layer, which has Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMS) with ranges from 2-30 km. Since the Seventies, Soviet-origin missiles with specific variants for the army, navy and air force did this job. The ‘Trishul’ and ‘Akash’ were designed to replace these systems beginning from the mid-Nineties. It is now 2010 and the missiles are not there, which means 50 of our cities and industrial zones are more vulnerable than they should be to air attack, as are our armed forces.
In 2005, the Kelkar Committee recommended an integrated approach involving users, Ministry of Defence and the industry. It wanted DRDO to confine itself to projects requiring sophisticated technology of strategic, complex and security sensitive nature. It further recommended outsourcing of high technology research and development work to private sector on the lines of parallel development on cost-sharing basis. Consequent to the acceptance of the Kelkar Committee recommendations, the Government introduced major policy changes in Defence Procurement Procedure. In Defence Procurement Procedure – 2006, the role of DRDO has been redefined as follows -:
• R&D Functions.
• Development of strategic, complex and security sensitive systems.
• The related technologies will be futuristic and sophisticated in nature. These technologies are likely to be circumscribed by denial regimes and hence would need to be developed indigenously.
• Advisory Functions.
• Assist HQ Integrated Defence Staff in categorisation of proposals as per the technologies sought in Preliminary Services Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) formulated by the concerned service HQ.
• Help Integrated Project Management Teams (IPMT) constituted by Acquisition Wing in the formulation of Project Definition Document.
• Analyse DPR and facilitate identification of competent production agencies.
• Monitoring Functions.
• Assist in monitoring during design and prototype development phases.
• In case of unsatisfactory progress, recommend adoption of exit procedure to abort the project.
It can be seen that as regards R&D activities, DRDO is mandated to restrict itself to the development of strategic, complex and security sensitive systems. All other R&D activities have been put outside its domain. In the light of DRDO’s continued failure to deliver and recent reduction in its role in the new Defence Procurement Procedure, there is an urgent need to carry out a thorough overhaul of its structure and functioning. A few cosmetic reforms will not do. That will amount to condoning inefficiency and wasteful expenditure of the defence budget. First of all, DRDO must understand that it exists exclusively for the armed forces. That is its raison de etre! It consumes a considerable chunk of resources that the country spares for national defence and it must not be permitted to fritter it away on irrelevant and peripheral activities. Over the years, DRDO has lost direction and diluted its commitment to the services. As per its vision statement, DRDO has taken upon itself the onerous responsibility to ‘make India prosperous by establishing world class science and technology base’. Similarly, its mission statement includes ‘development of infrastructure and committed quality manpower and building of strong indigenous technology base’. These functions have not been assigned to DRDO in its charter. It is a self assigned role. DRDO appears to be mistaking itself to be another Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. DRDO must never forget that it exists exclusively for the development of defence technologies and, therefore, ought to divorce itself from all unrelated activities to focus on what is needed by the services.
DRDO must be made accountable by making its Director General report to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (or the Chief of Defence Staff when instituted). An eminent personality from scientific community (and not necessarily from DRDO cadre) should be appointed as Secretary Defence R&D. The appointment of Scientific Advisor should be abolished as it serves no purpose whatsoever. Additionally, DRDO must be held responsible for the claims that it makes. Certain failures and delays are inherent in all R&D works and must be accepted as justified risks. However, DRDO must not be able to get away with tall claims which it knows are totally outside the realm of possibility. There is a need to put an independent oversight arrangement in place to monitor DRDO’s performance. Every DRDO project must have an exit option. In case DRDO is unable to complete a project in the initially stated timeframe, it could be given extension of up to 50% of the initial period. No further extension should be granted at all. Failure to complete the project during the sanctioned time period should logically result in its termination and foreclosure. The services could then explore alternate sources for its procurement. Such an arrangement will preclude indefinite denial of urgently needed systems to the services. DRDO has become a huge bureaucratic monolith over a period of time. Now that its role has been confined to the development of strategic, complex and security sensitive systems, major structural changes are required to be undertaken. Ruthless surgery is needed to cut flab to make it lean, focused and mission oriented. Every laboratory’s past record and performance should be objectively assessed. DRDO should also consider amalgamation of laboratories engaged in similar and overlapping activities to exploit synergy of operations. For example, a number of laboratories are engaged in the field of electronics and could expediently be merged into one entity. DRDO must learn to provide equipment in the stated timeframe. Relevance of any technology is an incontrovertible function of the time period in which it is made available. Services should not be offered a technology which has already become obsolete due to delays in its development. As is the practice the world over, initial blue print of the equipment should facilitate innovative, concurrent, upgradeable and modular design. Additionally, DRDO should focus on a few niche areas where indigenous competence available with public and private sector can be exploited. There is no point in duplicating systems which are readily available in the world market from multiple sources. Finally, DRDO needs to change its manpower policies. The current practice of declaring almost all superannuated scientists as indispensable and employing them afresh as advisors/experts should be done away with. Persons who contributed little during their active service life are allowed to subsist on the defence budget for years after retirement as well. More importantly, this practice prevents infusion and blossoming of fresh talent. There should be lateral movement of talent between academia and DRDO at all levels. Security of government job should not be allowed to breed complacence. Non-performance must not be tolerated and shown the exit door. Terms of employment should be able to attract and retain talent.
The performance of DRDO over the last 50 years has been highly disappointing and has belied all hopes of development of indigenous competence. Despite its regular public relations exercises, it has singularly failed the services, at times at a huge cost in terms of human lives. It has used the shelter of self-reliance to expand its sphere of activities. To deflect mounting criticism for its failure to develop high tech systems, DRDO has resorted to highlighting production of commonly available products with much hype and fanfare. Take the case of DRDO’s premier engineering laboratory at Pune. It boasts of having developed 18.6 meters high self supporting masts and bullet-proof podiums. These items are so commonplace that they are being produced by numerous road-side workshops. On the other hand, the same laboratory has been struggling for the last four decades to develop a suitable boat to ferry assaulting troops across a water obstacle. As mandated in the new procurement procedure, DRDO should concentrate exclusively on strategic, complex and security sensitive systems, especially those which are likely to be circumscribed by denial regimes. It should resist the temptation of choosing the softer option of delving in reverse engineering and indigenisation of imported equipment. This has, in fact, been the bane of DRDO’s culture. The new defence procurement procedure should act as a wake-up call for DRDO. It must accept the fact that its role has been pruned because of its poor track record. It is a sad reflection of its functioning and continued failure. The services are no longer ready to be fed with excuses while waiting ad infinitum for crucial equipment to materialise. DRDO has to carry out a detailed and honest introspection to identify reasons for its failure to deliver and for the current state of total despair. This has to be an in-house activity as no outsider can comprehend internal dynamics of an organisation. Lost prestige can be redeemed only after all infirmities are objectively analysed and radical corrective measures initiated.
(Excerpts are cited from Maj Gen Mrinal Suman’s article in Indian Defense Review. Maj Gen Mrinal Suman’s is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment)
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Since the dawn of the space age, space related activities have been largely controlled and shaped by the governments. They still play a major role today and will continue to do so in future. Typically, states see space as a tool to support a broad range of public policy objectives. These include defense and security of a nation, environmental policies, the pursuit of scientific knowledge and economic development. Hence we need a concrete nationalized space policy for making space activities more resourceful and focused.
India's space program started after the sputnik era of the late 50's. Pandit Nehru's approval for the application of space technology in Indian was an act of extraordinary foresight and courage, especially when coming from the man who had been instrumental in crippling the industry with his 'License Raj'. In the absence of technology of its operational systems and complexities and risks involved, it was a a brave decision that could only have been based on a vision of the future and an immense amount of faith in the Indian scientists and people of that time. The Indian Commission for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was created in 1969 and was brought under the Space Commission (Department of Space) in 1972 after it was constituted, to administer its activities.
There was a lot of ruckus in the parliament when the issue of starting a space program was announced. These few famous words from Vikram Sarabhai, the pioneer of the Indian Space Program answer all the issues raised by our politicians back then - "There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets, or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society." These lines of his became the policy of the space program for the next three decades. The first decade was dedicated mainly to the vision of Vikram Sarabhai to make India a self reliant country in the field of space technology and use it for national development. The next phase was the demonstration phase, when our scientists experimented with ideas and sent the first Indian satellites to space. After that, the realization of end to end systems phase came up, when all the data gathered in the past few years were put to use to make an indigenous launch vehicle called SLV, under the able guidance of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and Professor Satish Dhawan (then Chairman ISRO). There were a few failures and a lot of successes but India managed to carve a niche for itself in the field of Space technology in this world. Currently, it is in the operational phase, with a constellation of 23 satellites for various purposes like remote sensing, telecommunication, tele-medicine, education, tracking and astronomical experiments.
Within a span of 3 decades, the Indian Space Program had achieved more than what was expected of it. Comparing with the other two organizations of the same stature (DRDO,HBRC), the performance of ISRO was better in terms of outputs delivered to the nation. This was made possible only due to proper strategizing and policy making within the organization. Like any other company, these two things- policy making & strategy making, play an important role in shaping up the organization. They are very much needed to make the activities within an organization more resourceful and focused. India currently ranks 6th in terms of budget allocation for space activities, the expenditure being around Rs.3500 cr annually. To see to it that tax-payers money is put to good use, there must be a proper policy in place to see to it what direction we want to give to our space program. What has already been done is pretty well documented and can be easily found on the click of a mouse. The aim for national development has been fulfilled with the range of Indian satellites currently operating in space and their details can be found on www.isro.gov.in. The question that arises is what now! After the success of Chandrayaan, ISRO's reputation as a leader in low cost access to space surely has gone up in the world market. But what is worth observing is the attitude of the decision makers towards ISRO after this huge success. With the sanctioning of the Rs.12000cr manned space flight program, it is clear that ISRO has managed to stay in the good books of the policy makers. This might just be the correct period when it should go for the massive policy shifts it has been looking for in years....
Since huge amount of data is available on strategies adopted in the past, I will delve only with what strategies ISRO can adopt in the future. Currently, a lot of scientific experiment based missions are on the block, like Chandrayaan-2, where a rover will land on the moon and collect samples, the human spaceflight program, the docking in space program, Mars orbiter and Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) program. This shows that the policy of our space program is gradually shifting from national development to scientific exploration and technology demonstration, as most of our societal needs have been met. The effects of space technology might not have trickled down to one and all, but it surely has been the backbone behind our economic development. Take for instance the communication revolution or the DTH revolution. Without ISRO's satellites, they would not have been possible. Coming back to the point, we are in a transient phase today in terms of policy making for the future space program of India. The future strategies to give direction to the space program will be base on a lot of factors, some of which I think might be the following -:
(i) The Political Angle
India is in a very good position in international politics today. And the reason behind this is the galloping economy that has seen a growth rate of 7.0 (on an average) for the past few years. All international relations today are driven by economic competence of a nation. And India is on the verge of becoming the next global superpower. Its standing in international politics is unique and it will try to exploit this by strengthening diplomatic ties with existing and emerging space powers for better and more technology transfers in the form of pacts and memorandum of understandings (MoUs). These link ups should also affect the trade between the two countries in other areas like manufacturing and commerce. The space powers like USA and Russia saw space as an instrument for maintaining economic, political and scientific leadership. The demonstration of space technology prowess was at the peak during the cold war time, and it lead to many landmark missions like the Apollo mission, Voyager mission and spacewalk exercises by both USA and Russia. Although there were drastic budget cuts for space missions after the end of the cold war and the disintegration of the USSR, it wasn't the end of history. National sovereignty, which concerns the protection of citizens, prestige and projection of soft power, are still motivations for most governments. In this context, a growing number of countries including the major geopolitical actors (Brazil, India, China and Russia) are recognizing the strategic value as well as threat that space represents as space technology becomes more and more sophisticated. The future of international politics will also be closely related to space, and this can be tracked down to the two most fundamental fodder for political actions- National security and energy. The renewed interest of nations in moon is majorly because of the availability of a particular isotope of Helium in its soil, which can act as a fuel for nuclear reactors used to generate power for civilian needs in the big seven nations (with respect to nuclear capability)- USA,Russia,China,India, France,Japan and UK. Also, space technology has been more than useful for serving armed forces of several nations, by providing satellite images of enemy territories and a advantageous position to keep warheads, that form an integral part of aggressive military weapon system. Recently, China shot down one of its ageing satellites with a surface to air missile, which turned a lot of heads in the world. It became only the third country in the world to possess such capability, and this unnerved many nations considering the aggressive political history of the nation and close linking of its military and space programs. Hence, the future of political wars will surely be based on space issues rather than territorial issues, and could be truly classified as the fictitious 'star wars'.
(ii) Socio- Economic Angle
Our space program strategies in the past have always been directed towards domestic social development, and this trend will continue in the future. But the focus should gradually shift from providing the technology to ensuring that the benefits of the technology trickles down to the people who actually need it. DOS must complete the chain of managing their resources, right from developing the technology to see to its implementation in all corners of the country. The sluggish state bureaucracy will thus be by-passed and the time taken to reap the benefits of a certain mission will also reduce, and thus increase the credibility of the organization among the masses. Currently, this model is adapted in the southern states and they have benefited hugely from it. But the focus now should shift to the underdeveloped states of the north and the north east. This will surely help in the industrialization of these states, combined by the self reliance of the huge rural population that reside in these parts of the nation. These two are the major factors that control the migration trends of population and increment of the human development index (HDI), both of which are in bad shape in these states. And if ISRO shifts its focus to these states, other industries will automatically start taking interest. Political situations might still be a negative influence in these places, but with the right attitude they can be easily overcome. Tie ups with NGOs can be a viable option rather than spending fruitful energy and manpower on management of the technology supply chain. Then there is the globalization aspect that counts heavily as a factor and indicator of socio-economic welfare of a state. More people will migrate from underdeveloped states to the developed ones, creating more scarcity of resources in the already overburdened states. Culture will be globalized as long as we continue with the liberalization process, started way back in 1991. Income inequality both at the national and international levels will affect the demographic growth trends. In these conditions, correct space policies which promote social development in such a globalized world should be in place to strengthen the domestic economy, and there by contribute in improving the socio-economic condition of the nation.
(iii) Commercial Angle
After the inception of Antrix Corporation in 1992, the commercial exploitation of our capabilities has been good enough. Currently, it has a turnover of 1 billion USD and trades with 47 countries. DTH operators in India and the middle-east are the biggest customers, followed by satellite services to small countries which do not possess launch capabilities. And the good thing to note is that India has captured this market by providing its space technology services at 25% of the cost of that charged by developed countries like the USA. But it will surely face tough competition in future from big private enterprises that have started to manage their economics so as to reduce the prices of the same commodities (space launches, satellite manufacturing, etc). Since the WTO agreement on basic telecommunications was signed in 1997, a number of countries have considerably reduced cross-border restrictions on market access, there by liberalizing the space sector leading to greater commercialization. The Agreement on Basic Telecommunication (ABT), signed again in 1997 has triggered the privatization of many space agencies, opening up market opportunities in this sector and creating pressure for restructuring and creation of a new international space consortium. Antrix wasn't slow to see these changes, with India being an important part of all these developments. In the near future, it must look to trade in space vehicle parts and services too, because it is a niche area and only a select few have complicated part manufacturing capabilities. Also, to expand its market activities it should look at international acquisitions /takeovers of private enterprises (especially of America and Europe). This is essential from current point of view as transponder prices have plunges 40-50% during the last few years, leading to tough competition in the market to enter the elite broadband market. For this to happen, the government should have the policies in place to allow Antrix to do so. These acquisitions will surely be helpful for the development of trade ties with agencies and states which are not currently on the customer list of Antrix. They might also help ISRO with their R&D as they deal with many such agencies for procuring sophisticated instruments for their launch vehicle and satellite programs. Space tourism is another profitable possibility which Antrix should be ready to offer with a certain market strategy, as lots of big enterprises have started showing interest in this. India's capabilities in earth observation are unquestionable today, and along with telecommunications, positioning and navigation services, it is at a commanding position in the space market today. And should further look for dominance in the commercial space sector by investing the profits earned by Antrix into space technology production and development of sophisticated services like in-orbit manufacturing (testing and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products and new alloys), space power generation (development of space solar power systems to provide energy from space to earth) and extra terrestrial mining of minerals. Space insurance (pre-launch,in-orbit and third party property liability) is another way which might be attractive to the users of space technology. It will act as a critical element of commercial launch vehicle and satellite services industry in the future. Prospects of all these activities are limited by dependency on the reduction of cost of access to space and a favourable political climate.
(iv) Industrial promotion and development
While commercial demand for space products and services has grown in importance over the years, governments still represent a major market for the space industry in most of the countries. Same is the case in India, where space is one of the few sectors exclusively under the government control. With budget allocation to meet space demands increasing every year, the opportunities for private manufacturers in this sector is also increasing. This happens so because a huge chunk of the public space budget is contracted out to such private firms in one form or the other. But the private aerospace industry in India hasn't shown much growth despite the liberalization of rules two decades back, mainly due to a number of institutional, legal and regulatory obstacles that slows the sector's development and may even threaten the existence of some companies. The major obstacles are in the form of market access restrictions, export controls and investment restrictions, legal constraints and unreliability of the state owned main industry, which is subject to policy changes at the brink of change in governance. Framing concrete policies favourable for the growth of aerospace industry and deregulating the sector to an extent would surely help in giving it a boost. Industry partnership should be encouraged by outsourcing not only manufacturing based jobs, but proper R&D related work which ISRO may not have enough time and resources for. Joint space missions can be another way of involving the best of capabilities of the industry and ISRO. This would increase the flow of capital within the sector at the domestic level and should be mutually beneficial. Jobs will be created in this sector at a faster rate as more and more manpower will be required to cater to the increasing needs. The partnership with industry will be a mutually beneficial association for sure. The joint venture of making the Light Combat aircraft (LCA) is an example, where people from academia and industry collaborated to make the first indigenous Indian fighter aircraft. Such ventures give a boost to the R&D organisations, which in turn gives a impetus to the market as good R&D gives a technological edge that is very essential in today's market. The future of space activities will depend on the development of many other advanced technologies like nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics & artificial intelligence, innovative manufacturing techniques like micro-manufacturing, information & communication technology, MEMS, smart materials, alternative propulsion systems, space transportation systems and many other things on which space technology depends directly or indirectly. Looking at the breadth of the activities needed to sustain and adhere to our future plans, it is extremely necessary that the private enterprises be more involved with the space activities of India. And if we succeed in promoting industry, we will be indirectly benefited from the revenue generated from them in the form of taxes that will add to our national income.
(v) Human Resource Development
The space program of India must look forward to human resource development to meet its future needs in the space sector. The setting up of the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) was one such step, where students are selected through a national examination after +2 level itself. The space commission must make such bold moves so as to hold back the national creme from going out to other countries, by providing them equivalent facilities in their own country. As the industry-state partnership increases, reverse brain drain might also start taking place, where Indians working abroad might come back to work in India subject to the conditions that they get similar working environment and salaries. DOS must encourage such trends and try to build a working culture that takes the good points of both the western corporate style and the conventional Indian style. Programmes must be initiated at the school levels itself to increase the know-how about space sciences among the students at an early age. Today, more than 95% of the average Indian will not be able to recall the immense role that space technology plays in his day to day life. Awareness creation should be a strategy to gain public acceptance of its programs, which can help tilt political decisions in its favours. Through its village resource centers and tele-education centers, it should introduce personality development and vocational training modules that would ensure skilled labor availability at no extra investment from the other side. The model of the National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS) is a classic one, where around 350 professionals/university faculty members/school teachers and students from different departments are being trained annually. There should be more such initiatives to allow the dispersion of knowledge among the masses at a greater level.
(vi) Environmental Issues
The future policies on space should be made keeping environmental concerns in mind. The current impending problem of space debris is a topic of major discussion in international circles these days. It is estimated that there are around 5000 defunct satellites orbiting the earth today. And when we take into account the parts of the rockets and space stations, the amount of junk orbiting the earth takes an alarming value. The disposal of these wastes is a major issue and needs immediate attention, so that no further dispute happens in near future. Also, the need for developing alternative propulsion systems is necessary for future space exploration missions because of scarcity of energy resources currently available on earth.
(vii) Addressing National security issues
Because space technology has both civilian and military applications, the state has a strong interest in not only fundamental space research but also in developing certain space assets and creating a healthy national security. From the economic advantages point of view it is not a very good proposition, as some of military activities may be classified and the technology can not be commercialized. But in the present scenario, when our neighbouring countries possess such capabilities, we should not be shy to develop our own aerospace command. The shift in policy should be to a level where our international standing on the peaceful uses of space technology remains intact, without compromising on our national security. Today, USA has 97 and Russia has 40 satellites exclusively for military purposes, with camera resolution of around 0.2m. In comparison, India has a couple of satellites which cater to such needs. With China marching ahead aggressively in integrating its military prowess with its new found space prowess's, it becomes very necessary for India to involve more co-operation between the defence and the space sector. This will reduce the duplicity of efforts for both sides, as they can do some specific R&D together (like the development of scramjet engine for RLV and the in-process Brahmos hypersonic cruise missile, and solid motor boosters, etc can be done together to give quicker and better results) and save unnecessary wastage of public money.Also, future security issues for a state will be the threats posed by terrorists groups, who become more and more sophisticated in terms of the technology possessed by them. To counter internal conflicts as well as international threats posed by such hostile groups, space technology will hold the key.
All the above mentioned points are my own opinions and haven't been copied from any text. There are no references for most of the things I have written, and I do not guarantee the accuracy of any statistical data which I might have mentioned. This write up is an accumulation of inferences of data that I had analysed about the Indian Space Program, by reading texts on the past and present policies and strategies, discussing with my friends here at Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology (IIST) and with my peers who have had an experience in ISRO and DOS and played an important role in policy making. Please leave your suggestions and opinions on this topic. I am open to discussion.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The world is glad today
lush, damp and drenched
Drops hug the leaves,
anoint the still budded lilac blossoms
before their blooming rich purple and plum
made richer by their wet skin
New leaves under the weight beads heavy,
hanging bowing the white pine needles
undersides exposed to drink
drink in the morning
hushed in the rain
temperature near the dewpoint
sprouts of just planted flowers
eager from the parched soil
new puddles bloom too on the ground,
the driveway collect and gather
without the smell of summer rain
yet tears splash and spread silent shimmers
in the spring rain…