Rethinking innovation in defence

News: Recently, a report was released by the Parliamentary Standing Committee which draws a comparison of India’s defence sector spending on research and development with the US and other countries.  

What are the findings of the report? 

According to the report, India spends too little on research and development (R&D) in the defence sector. 

The US spends 40% of world spending on defence, China spends 13%, followed by India at 4%.  

Russia, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France and Japan come next at 2.5-3% of world spending each.  

What are the real issues in India’s defence R&D sector? 

Lack of spending: India spending does not match with the US and China’s spending in either defence or defence R&D.

For example, the US is a $23-trillion economy and India is a $3 trillion economy. But the US spends 30 times more than Indian spending, 

India spends a reasonable amount on defence R&D (except for the US and China). India’s R&D problem is not about the amount, the problem is where do we spend on R&D in defence 

In India, there is little difference between who funds and who does R&D. The public funds are used for R&D in public institutes only. And the Private funds are used for R&D in private industry only.

For example, In India, 63% of India’s national R&D is funded by the Union government. 7% happens in the public higher education system and 56% is done in the government’s own autonomous laboratories like DRDR, Department of Space and the Department of Atomic Energy. 

Delays in project completion: Consequentially, India’s two largest projects, the main battle tank (Arjun) and the light combat aircraft (Tejas) have not been completed even after 40 years.

In fact, the local productions aren’t India’s main defence choice. In fact, India imports the majority of the defence requirements. This adversely impacts India’s strategic autonomy, which forms the bedrock of our foreign policy.  

Way Forward 

India should adopt the US model. It should stop distinguishing between funding and doing R&D. The government should provide funds for defence R&D across private industry, public and private universities, and public research institutes.  

In the UB 2022-23, 25% of DRDO funding has been “set aside” for higher education and private industry. It would lead to more innovation in the defence industry. The firms and universities should be allowed to bid for funding in a competitive process. They can compete for bid to develop particular defence items or research particular topics, with the R&D funding coming from this budget.  

A scheme, called iDEX, funds defence innovation in start-ups.  This measure must be effectively implemented. 

Source: The post is based on an article “Rethinking innovation in defence” published in the Business Standard on 26th April 2022. 

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