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The untimely death of Arun Kumar Bal, the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, negotiating the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) purchase, will delay further India’s military preparedness. It is now unlikely that Delhi will sign the ‘deal of the century’ for 126 Rafale fighters from Dassault Aviations during the current Fiscal Year 2013 (in other words before the legislative elections). On 4 October, during a press conference Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said that appointing Bal's successor and familiarizing the new appointee with the complexities of the MMRCA negotiations could take four months, if not longer.
The same day, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Defence Minister remained optimistic, “it is logical that there should be in-depth technical and financial discussions”, he pointed out.
This raises another related issue, the Chinese defence preparedness and India’s lack of it.
A few months ago, The People's Daily provided some details on the Chinese Dream, so dear to President Xi Jinping. The mouthpiece of the Communist Party explains: “The Chinese dream is a dream for peace. Adhering to the peaceful development is China’s choice of the times. China stands for peace settlement for global disputes and issues and the new security concept of mutual trust, mutual benefit and cooperation. …the Chinese dream belongs to the world.”
Well, it is unfortunate that recent events on the ground did not reflect these high philosophical objectives. The South China Sea, the East China Sea as well as for the Himalayan borders between India and China, (whether it is in Ladakh, Uttarakhand or Arunachal Pradesh), have only witnessed tensions, not harmony.
It is however certain that India has to learn something from China in terms of ‘dreaming’. But let us not fool ourselves, the true objective behind the Chinese Dream is to make of China a dominant, self-reliant superpower.
Very early in its history, the Chinese Communist leadership realized that the great renaissance of the Chinese nation was dependent on ‘innovation with Chinese characteristics’. Beijing has now taken decisive actions to remedy some of the nation deficiencies in this field. India has not yet.
On June 22, 2013, The South China Morning Post affirmed: “China's top science advisers have listed 19 projects as the research priorities of the next decade. They include quantum telecommunications and a high-performance jet engine that could drastically improve the capacity of its indigenous fighter jets.”
According to the Hong Kong newspaper, the report was prepared by the Chinese Academy of Sciences as a road map for breaking into the US dominance in domains as diverse as military, space, new materials, energy or agriculture.
Though not all the projects have a direct military implication, ultimately, ALL the projects will have a dual use. The South China Morning Post mentioned: “The most eye-catching one is a new jet engine that promises to deliver thrust equivalent to 15 times its own weight.”
This particular field is usually considered to be the weakest in China's aviation sector. Beijing has had to rely on foreign imports (mainly from Russia) for its fighter jets.
Though Chinese plans triggered some skepticism, China has the political will and the economic means to jump into innovative adventures. Further, the Chinese Dream goes hand in hand with military modernization. It is not new, but in the recent years and months it has been taken up by the new leadership in Beijing with renewed vigour
Already in March 1986, Beijing initiated a National High Technology Program (known as Program 863), which was launched to promote China’s high-tech development in key areas such as information technology, biology, aeronautics, automation, energy, materials and oceanography.
Fifteen years later, another landmark document was published, “The National Medium- and Long-Term Plan for the Development of Science and Technology (2006-2020)”, also known as the MLP.
The MLP describes itself as the ‘grand blueprint of science and technology development to bring about the great renaissance of the Chinese nation’.
The MLP defines indigenous innovation as “enhancing original innovation through co-innovation and re-innovation based on the assimilation of imported technologies.”
What ‘assimilation’ and ‘re-innovation’ means is well-known from those who deal with China. The report clearly states: “Importing technology without ‘transforming it into Chinese technology’ is not acceptable to China anymore”.
Around the same time, the concept of Megaprojects was mooted. They have for objective to ‘assimilate and absorb’ advanced technologies imported from outside China to help the country to ‘develop a range of major equipment’.
Michael Raska, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, mentioned the three military megaprojects:
- Shenguang Laser Project for Inertial Confinement Fusion;
- Second Generation Beidou Satellite Navigation System;
- Hypersonic Vehicle Technology Project
A ‘Special Projects Office’ was established in 2007. It was the equivalent of an economic zone headquarters to make sure that the megaprojects would not be buried by the bureaucracy. The megaprojects office was to evaluate applications, approve funding and closely monitor the projects. The budget for each project was specific and identified both central and local government contributions; in other words, micromanagement.
Can India achieve such a feat? Especially in the defence sector, India depends in a large measure on imports. For many analysts, the main reason is the lack of large-scale Research and Development (R&D).
Take the example of HAL. A few months ago, Dassault Aviation, the constructor of the Rafale selected in the MMRCA project, expressed some doubts about the capacity of HAL to absorb French technology. Without even speaking about ‘innovations', can HAL ‘digest’ French technology?
India is suffering from the same disease as China, but despite the bureaucratic deficiencies, the leadership in Beijing has a tremendous political will (and adequate economic means) to change this scenario in the years to come; it does not seem to be the case in India, at least under the current political equation.
When Steve Jobs passed away, experts debated why China did not produce its own Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg? One contributor to Forbes explained that the emergence of such ‘innovative’ entrepreneurs “does not blend well with China’s culture of Confucian conformity to existing norms. Throughout China’s history, the established order saved little respect for inventors, entrepreneurs, and business pioneers.”
There is some truth in this, but the Confucian conformity added to the Communist bureaucracy and the supreme importance of the Party’s diktats, is today balanced by a tremendous will to ‘innovate’ in order to materialize the Chinese Dream.
The Indian Dream has unfortunately not even been formulated as yet.
It is a great pity, because the ingredients (brains) are very much present.