Dr Abdul Kalam, in the opening remarks of his biography says, “economical and technological supremacy equates to power and world control”. Although our economic prospects seem to be well on course, the elusive dream of being self-reliant and technologically supreme has continued to remain distant. When I say, technologically supreme, I am explicitly pointing towards our defence technology base. In the last seven decades, our pursuits to build and indigenise crucial defence technologies have been rather slow and disappointing. For an India of tomorrow, will the same old approach to self-reliance apply, particularly if it hasn’t yielded results?
Integrating civilian and military technological efforts is one way in which we may hope to expedite our journey towards self-reliance. Civil and Military Integration, CMI, as it is commonly referred to, isn’t a new concept. The United States (US) and China have already been working towards such an integration from the early 1980s. The strategy was officially embodied in Deng Xiaoping’s so-called “Sixteen Character” slogan, which called for “combining the military and civil, combining peace and war, giving priority to military products, and making the civil support the military.”
As recent as early this year, Chinese President Xi Jinping formed and headed a new central commission for integrated military and civilian development.
In the US too, The Dual Use Science and Technology (DUST) Program encourages partnerships between the DOD and industry to develop dual-use technologies that have both military utility and commercial potential. The approach adopted by two countries whose combined spending on research and development is more than US $ 400 billion goes to prove a very important point – the said strategy cannot be simply written off.
According to the US Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, CMI includes, “Cooperation between government and commercial facilities in research and development (R&D), manufacturing, and/or maintenance operations; combined production of similar military and commercial items, including components and subsystems, side by side on a single production line or within a single firm or facility, and use of commercial off-the-shelf items directly within military systems”.
Another definition says, “Civil-Military Integration (CMI) is the process of uniting the Defense Technology and Industrial Base (DTIB) and the larger Commercial Technology and Industrial Base (CTIB) into a unified National Technology and Industrial Base (NTIB). Under CMI, common technologies, processes, labour, equipment, material, and/or facilities would be used to meet both defence and commercial needs”.
Today, India has a clearly segregated defence technology industry base and a civilian technology industrial base with little interplay with each other.
Let’s consider an example to illustrate the need to develop an Integrated National Technology Base. The Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) of DST had come up with the “Technology Vision 2035” document in 2015. While it talked about security in information and communication, it remained silent on similar requirements in the military sphere. IT is one sector where the civilian side has taken a clear lead in innovation. If a rugged cyber-security system can be put in place at the South Block or in an MNC, a tweaked version may well be of use to the military in its remote stations or on the battlefield.
On the other hand, technologies like the Internet, GPS, Jet propulsion etc., which have highly impacted the civilian sector, were all spin-offs from the Defence R&D efforts.
We now know that the introduction of CMI significantly paves the way for evolving a single integrated standards document required for certification for both civilian and military technologies, thereby reducing issues relating to certification standards. The Civil-Military Integration Promotion Department (CMIPD) in China is actually mandated to do this task. While enhancing a civilian entrepreneur’s understanding of the military standards, which are otherwise esoteric, it promotes entry of the civilian industries into the defence sector.
The current system of segregating the two sectors seems to be contributing towards sluggishness in the acquisition process and increase in the initial acquisition costs.
A study by the US Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) says that
segregation often increases initial acquisition and life-cycle costs; limits flow of information and technology and reduces the numbers of firms willing to sell to the government. These studies further suggest that segregation contributes to decreased economic competitiveness due to the inefficient use of national resources
To quote further from the same report of OTA, “Many of the studies have attempted to calculate the added costs and other negative effects of the government requirement for cost and pricing data; unique contract clauses; the use of inappropriate or unnecessary military specifications and standards; and disputes over technical data rights. Studies have estimated cost increases of 20 to 60 per cent resulting from various government acquisition rules. Some estimates were even more dramatic. A Defense Science Board study on commercial products, for example, reported that the militarily specified version of the STU-III classified telephone cost ten times more than a commercial version. Although it is difficult to generalise the finding of such case studies, it is clear that the current system has driven up costs and acquisition times.”
The prevalent segregated nature of the defence sector restricts the flow of product and process information and technology to the civilian side, and in some cases, the defence establishments themselves don’t have access to the full range of technology available in the civilian industry base. This greatly discourages innovation and the substitution of more advanced components at the sub-systems level.
A couple of reports and case studies have already established that CMI indeed helps maximise resource utilisation and bring down purchase costs. However, the approach cannot be simply believed to be fit for the Indian ecosystem as well. Since prospects appear to be promising, I feel it will be a worthwhile effort to study the possibilities of the said integration.
There are few striking similarities between the two industrial bases. Out of my own experience, I find a great overlap between the defence industry and a civilian industry in the following segments. I’ll try quoting an example or two for each one of them.
Design And Analysis Softwares: Both the sectors use software like CATIA and Solid Works for modelling, and HyperMesh, Nastran and Ansys for the analysis of designed components. There is a huge workforce for modelling and model preparation for analysis in the civilian sector which can be made use by the defence sector while the state-run PSUs focus on design and Innovation. A lot of time in the DPSUs goes into these routine activities which contribute immensely to the project delay.
Manufacturing Processes: Both the sectors rely heavily on similar manufacturing processes, which include but not limited to tooling, machining, forgings and castings, and the heat treatment processes. For example, the large casting techniques used in making large aircraft bulkheads may also be used in making frames for an automobile. The facilities like heat treatment and reverberatory furnaces too are found in both the sectors. Filament winding machine that has been extensively used in aerospace applications (ex: Fuselage of Boeing 787) is also made use of to manufacture large storage tanks.
Testing and Inspection Methods: The Coordinate Measuring Machines and the verniers are almost ubiquitous in both the sectors. The Non Destructive Testing techniques find equal application in military and civilian aerospace industries.
Common Materials: The large-scale use of Composites, Aluminum and Steel along with application specific materials is another avenue where there are immense possibilities for the two sectors to find collaborations.
While studying the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) and the Compendium of Problem Statements published by the Army Design Bureau, I found great synergies between what the army was expecting and the expertise that existed with the civilian industries to address those expectations. I, therefore, feel that there are many enablers for the integration to happen provided a systematic framework is put in place.
Assuming that policymakers are going to be interested in further understanding this approach, few questions that require answers are:
- What are the various benefits of CMI?
- Is integration already happening? How much integration currently exists? Where is this integration occurring?
- Can a single integrated standards document create a win-win scenario for both the sectors?
- Will the acquisition costs and time come down because of the integration?
- Are some technologies or sector more amenable to CMI than others? Are there identifiable characteristics that enhance the potential for integration?
- Can such characteristics be developed in other sectors too?
- What are the security implications of integrating the two sectors?
- What are the costs and risks? Are the incentives for CMI sufficient to foster integration?
- If CMI expedites our journey towards self-reliance and How?
The study will obviously last for a long duration. Implementing even a pilot program will be an uphill task. But as I have already stated, the said strategy encapsulates new avenues for us to expedite our indigenisation goals and cannot be simply written off. I only hope that the officials at the MOD pay heed.