By Abhishek Jain
Let’s start with that customary famous quote
“Physics is Science, everything else is stamp collecting” – Rutherford
Since all the engineering/technology is finally a subset of Physics, I believe the father of Nuclear Physics has me covered. The article wishes to dissect the ongoing debate on how the policy, government support, and other things will help propel the defence industry. The writer is son of a defence auditor (35 year exp), accidental entrepreneur (Prof opened company and I just joined) and reluctant marketer (tech buff) at heart and these three perspectives define my thinking about the current state and way forward. If you find some of the anecdotes unbelievable, I swear they have been watered down and not exaggerated.
The Policy Discussion
Most of the industry forums, for whatever theme they are called for, finally come down to policy discussions and how it can aid the development of defence industry. The discussions wander to and fro about easing the procedure, providing a level playing field, giving everything free and may be change the constitution. In one meeting with the Defence Minister (Raksha Mantri), one start-up said, we have been supported only for five (5) years by the Government! The discussions have become repetitive and sometimes are on the verge of not even understanding the perspective of the Government Auditor.
As an auditor’s son I can say with full confidence that whatever policy is made, it has a root in some evil that has happened in past. Hence, I side with the auditor and would not want drastic changes in procedure or policy. We are in perennial mode of policy and procedure improvement. Let us stop that. A policy not implemented is as good as a policy not made. So let us implement something and only have small modifications if very necessary, no major change.
I see two major fallacies about the sector (a) there is lot of money is defence (b) we can invest our way to market share. First one I will leave but the second is hilarious. I met one company that had recruited two-three MBAs to kick-start the defence business. I wish to stress that experience in defence matters. We need to differentiate between a Guerrilla and Gorilla and that can happen only if we are willing to invest time in learning.
The true blue marketing persons are saying ‘yes sir’ to any problem statement that is posed to them. E.g. I can have amphibious vehicle run at eight to ten KMPH in water. Now ‘Power’ is proportional to velocity cubed, which means going from eight to ten we need twice the power. This ‘yes sir’ behaviour has led to the specifications being tougher to achieve or sometimes impossible. What it leads to is even bigger problem that we are not thinking in systems but in individual parts. If we can source items from various places, we can make the system and the result is not up to the mark. Engineer quality is one more issue, I once saw a whopping 8000 m/s velocity from a nozzle throat. RIP Mach and Area ratio equations.
The ‘P’ for Physics
Personal feeling but strong that the problem is identified. We need to focus on Physics and it is simple to do that, thanks to super-computers. We need to do away with this ‘COMPLY’ business in tenders. The prospective vendor must do a small feasibility study and showcase that he has understood the system and knows the sensitivity of one parameter and its effect on the other. This will alleviate the problems like I need this vehicle lesser in weight but have more armour protection. A physical+math model, if correct, steers the discussion in direction where we are constructive instead of questioning the knowledge of who knows what.
Fairly reasonable system model can be generated in a month or two and can be a good basis for discussion. Since, no metal has been cut or electronics bought, it is cheaper to implement. I suggest that all feasibility studies by forces must start with a math model and end up in a supply chain model. There are umpteen number of free/paid software to do this. The project can be given to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) or Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) like us (apologies for plug in). Review has to happen with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as the scientists alone can understand the nuances better.
The Time Dimension
One of the most profound discoveries of the preceding century was that Time is also a dimension. Unfortunately, we have made it a habit to disrespect it. Oh! The tender last date is tomorrow, has it been extended in past, no, and then we can get first extension for sure. This is common refrain I hear from my marketing ilk. From the Government I would like to have something like a Madhya Pradesh Service Act where all the services will be finished in time. To save time, like payments, invoice, PO and internal file movement can be made paperless. Again, I am not advising a policy change, I am just saying a culture change or having a RASIC chart even for procurement. It is OK to close down Requests for Information (RFIs)/ Expressions of Interest (EOIs) but not to have them lingering. It only inflates files for the marketing people enabling a report to the bosses that I am working on so many fronts. Fronts those are not moving at all.
The respect for Physics and Time will have a cascading effect. Management will start focussing on what is required to be done than discussed. Better engineering talent will be respected, frivolous non-technical players will quietly move on, marketing people will become more responsible and Government will be able to procure and deploy in time. In very short run of a year, it may increase the pain, but later than that we will be actually delivering products. Let us not only Make in India but have Made in India.
-The author is Vice President, Strategic Partnership, Zeus Numerix Pvt Ltd. He was one of the 10 innovators to meet US Defense Secretary, and is also a Winner of Lockheed Martin Innovation Award and various other awards