Thursday, September 19, 2013

EMALS, Joint Production of Javelin - Why Am I Not Thrilled with the US Offers

A Su-30MKI with a Brahmos missile under its fuselage at Aero India
The US has offered to co-produce with India an Electro Magnetic Aircraft Launch System for use on the second indigenous carrier.

US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter offered EMALS technology to India during his visit to the country from September 16-18, 2013.

"The US is developing and fielding that system and is offering the technology to India which has an aircraft carrier and is considering making more," Carter told the press.

He also said that the US has offered to jointly develop a new version of the US Javelin anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). He indicated that US bureaucratic processes had been amended to allow a new version of the system to be jointly developed.

India is currently not counted amongst US military allies; consequently past defense deals involving transfer of military technology have invariably stalled.

According to Indian press reports the US has put forward a total of five weapon system co-production offers - the other three being the MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopter, the M-45 127 mm rapid-fire naval gun and a delivery system for scatterable mines.

Alluding to the joint production by India and Russia of the Brahmos missile, Carter said, "That is exactly the same kind of thing where two industry teams are involved in the whole product life cycle; where the product is both co-produced and developed."

During his visit, Carter met the Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, and Defense Secretary Radha Krishna Mathur, reiterating to each that the US and India are destined to be partners on the world stage due to their shared common values and outlooks on a wide range of issues. Amongst other things they discussed steps the United States and India are taking to streamline their respective administrative processes and make bilateral defense trade more responsive and effective.

Deputy Secretary Carter visited Hindan Air Force Station, where he was briefed by IAF pilots on India's co-produced C-130J's (A lot of India specific equipment has been fitted on the aircraft) and recently procured C-17's. He also hosted a meeting of senior representatives from the U.S. and Indian defense industries focused on additional steps the United States can take to remove barriers to bilateral defense.

Perhaps there is a lot to cheer about Deputy Secretary Carter's visit to India and the generous US offers to co-develop weapon systems urgently needed by us, but I have my reservations. I am skeptical that the proposed joint manufacture will help India acquire the capability to produce its own weapon systems in the future. I doubt that is the US intent. I am skeptical that joint manufacture will lower costs. I think it will increase costs. I think the US is offering joint manufacture just as a mechanism to bypass technology transfer regimes.

The problem with developing advanced technology is you need advanced technology to develop it! Let me explain. Any new technology that we develop, cannot be very far advanced from the technology that we have already mastered. In other words, you need an advanced industrial base to make advanced weapon systems.

With our limited resources, creating an advanced industrial base for weapon manufacture is a challenge. The challenge gets insurmountable when you try to develop just about every weapon that your scientists read about in defense journals and you attempt to do so in the public sector. The correct approach is to focus on areas where you have already succeeded and become world leaders, and along the way, in a carefully calibrated manner, expand your focus.

Joint production is about joint ownership, not technology sharing. The Brahmos is a good example of what to expect from joint development, and even a better example of what not to expect.

Nine years after Brahmos was first tested in late 2004, India has still not imbibed the technology to locally manufacture its ramjet engine and radar seeker; the two critical components are still being made in Russia.

The Navy and the IAF want Brahmos to be downsized using modern materials and electronics, in order to make the missile compatible for launch from submarine torpedo tubes and medium category fighter aircraft. Currently, to launch the missile from a submarine, the boat needs to be fitted with a special section equipped with vertical launch tubes, a modification that costs millions of dollars and adversely affects the performance of the sub. Similarly, air launch of the missile requires heavy and expensive modifications to the Su-30MKI.

For a weapon system to be cost effective, it should be compatible with a wide range of launch platforms and require nothing more than a software update to the platform's weapon system. Brahmos isn't such a weapon system.

The Brahmos joint production model is really a spin on the license manufacture model that just didn't work for India. A joint production spin makes buying weapons from abroad more palatable to Indian citizens and lawmakers!

In the late 90s, India invested $240 million to complete two decades of the SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile's development and contributed its inertial navigation system for the Yakhont derivative Brahmos. Since then, Brahmos Aerospace hasn't done anything spectacular that suggests a technological leap. Just as HAL didn't do anything spectacular after license producing several MiG variants and Jaguars. Ironically, Indian defense scientists justify the 30 years and still counting development time for the LCA on the ground that we had to start from scratch!

It's not surprising that Brahmos Aerospace is busy plugging new platforms for the missile rather than improved version of it. Left to itself, the public sector company will not be able to manufacture a single Brahmos. That is the truth about the much touted Brahmos joint production.

DRDO Chief Dr. Avinash Chander frankly admits that license manufacture doesn't help imbibe technology and India must learn from the Chinese model of reverse engineering.