Tales from the defence world to give heart to Modi & Sitharaman

PM and raksha mantri are under immense pressure after several decisions favouring indigenous defence production. Here are five gritty stories for them to hold on to their faith and trust their judgement

r-swaminathan

R Swaminathan | February 22, 2018


#indigenous defence   #Rudra   #Tejas   #defence   #Nirmala Sitharaman   #Narendra Modi  
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and PM Narendra Modi with NCC cadets, NSS volunteers, tableaux artists and tribal guests, in New Delhi in January
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and PM Narendra Modi with NCC cadets, NSS volunteers, tableaux artists and tribal guests, in New Delhi in January

Prime minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman are in the midst of one direct attack, one insidious insinuation and a special kind of offensive. These concerted actions have emerged after both firmly showed their hand and spoke their mind on going down the indigenous path for most of India’s long-term defence needs. The decision to order 83 Tejas Mk1A aircraft, procure Rudra attack helicopters for the Indian Army and Indian Navy’s air arms and cancel the deal for Spike anti-tank missiles with Israel in favour of Nag and its variants being developed by DRDO showed their hand (See ‘Defending Tejas fiercely and applauding Rudra and Nag’, Governance Now, January 31, 2017). Both quickly followed it up by speaking their mind to senior defence officials and bureaucrats that they are strongly in favour of backing the development of Tejas Mk II, revive the development of Kaveri engine and increase the investment for Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Both these decisions haven’t gone down well with the global arms manufacturers and the foreign arms lobby in India and not surprisingly they are reacting in all possible ways. 
 
The dire attack uses a combination of cherry-picking facts and figures and actively mixing it up with disinformation. Such an attack tarnishes indigenous defence equipment as obsolete, sub-standard, underpowered. Such attacks are frequent and easy to recognise. The long and short of such an attack is this: Indigenous equipment is not adequate to protect India’s national security and defence interests. The insidious insinuation is more sophisticated and by extension tougher to discern. It’s insidious precisely because on the surface it doesn’t appear like an attack but embeds all the characteristics of one. It is usually couched in the language of collaboration and cooperation. Such language reinforces a narrative that has three major thrusts: Indian equipment is good, but it needs foreign help to get it up to world standards. Such foreign help is almost always proffered in critical areas – aircraft engines, avionics or radars, for example – usually when Indian scientists are close to achieving a critical breakthrough in these areas. The help never involves any real transfer of technology.
 
The long and short of this insidious insinuation is this: Indian equipment is good, but for it to be world-class the critical technologies need to be imported lock, stock and barrel. The implication of such a viewpoint is fairly straightforward. It binds India to select global defence majors putting the country at the mercy of the complex dynamics that emerge from geopolitics and geo-economics. A case in point is the numerous unsolicited offers for joint collaboration from aviation majors for manufacturing the Kaveri engine, especially when it is really close to becoming a finished product. Interestingly, none of them mention either transfer of technology or using the indigenously manufactured Kabini core. 
 
The special offensive is almost always dominated by charm, red-carpet welcomes and pleasing sound-bytes. It’s rolled out when India either decides to modify an earlier decision to import defence equipment or in the first instance picks up Indian equipment for a critical defence requirement. It ranges from prime ministers and presidents coming to India with major defence delegations or hosting Indian leaders and their business contingents, chiefs of different air forces flying Indian aircraft like Tejas and giving positive reviews to global arms manufacturers hosting seminars, conferences and events in the power circles of Delhi about the strategic emergence of India and its need to play a more prominent global role in terms of international security.
 
There are three message of the charm offensive has three prongs: One, we all want to be partners in making India strong, self-reliant and a global player of repute. Two, we don’t have any problems with Indian defence equipment and in fact want to contribute in making it better and world class. This message, if one understands it carefully, is just a minor variation of the insidious insinuation. Third, our defence systems are proven platforms, tested around the world and can co-exist with Indian equipment.
 
The attack, the insinuation and the charm offensive are used by the foreign arms lobby in a seamless way, one feeding into the other in a cyclical loop. This results in an overall environment that literally force key decision makers, with many not even realising it, to act in ways that allows this lobby and its supporters to keep all sorts of things in play for extended periods of time. Two are prominent and need special mention. The first is that no decision is ever seen as final and there are several examples that can be brought to the fore; from the protracted procurement process that has marked the acquisition of Rafale aircraft to the RFPs for the 155 mm self-propelled howitzers. This continuous state of limbo obviously affects our long-term defence preparedness by never allowing any of the three armed forces to have their needs fulfilled in time. It also expands the potential for all kinds of backdoor deals to be struck at the eleventh hour. If one carefully follows such trails, one can find hard to explain decisions that range from requirements changing at the last minute to some blacklisted defence companies suddenly entering the fray as knights in shining armour. 
 
The second is that any decision about procuring indigenous platforms and weapons systems is systematically questioned. Such questioning range from a series of high-profile defence experts using media platforms to expound how India’s defence preparedness is suffering as a result of such acquisitions which is quickly followed by several defence majors offering alternative equipment to the defence establishment to quiet and behind-the-scenes offers by the same majors to set up joint partnerships for the same equipment with Indian private companies. This tactic serves the purpose of isolating our indigenous defence and scientific establishment. Such isolation makes them unfair targets since they are left to defend themselves and their products against sophisticated public relations and corporate communications divisions of global giants. This often makes them and their products seem inadequate and incompetent. 
 
With their head, heart and mind clearly aligned that indigenisation is the long-term strategy for India’s defence preparedness, and with concrete decisions backing their thought process, Modi and Sitharaman will soon find themselves at a point where the surrounding environment may plant self-doubts in their minds about their decisions. In particular, both will find themselves being subject to numerous attempts to change their minds on Tejas, Arjun, some of the crucial missile systems and the funding of ongoing projects that are critical for India’s national security. When they do find themselves at those crossroads, and not if they do, here are five real stories for them to remember so that they don’t lose faith in our scientists and the defence establishment
 
Story 1: Trust our scientists to figure a way out: Control laws and Tejas
 
Building a fighter aircraft is really tough and only a handful of countries can truly claim to have mastered every aspect of it: the US, Russia, France, Britain, Germany and Italy. Now, building a cutting-edge fighter aircraft for the future with no aviation history to boast of either indicates incredible stupidity and irrationality or amazing self-belief and ambition. When India decided to build its light combat aircraft (LCA), now Tejas, the world was quite sure that this nation was suffering from a severe case of unrealistic expectations. There are seven major aspects to building a fighter aircraft: 
1. Control laws 
2. Software architecture, design and coding
3. Airframe design and materials 
4. Avionics 
5. Radars 
6. Engines 
7. Manufacturing 
 
All seven aspects are critical, but some are fundamental to the extent that countries and companies protect them with all means necessary. The most critical of the seven are control laws. The quality, reliability and robustness of the control laws determine everything from airframe characteristics, flight envelope and the ability of an aircraft to handle stress and ‘G’ forces.
 
When the LCA project was established, India was supposed get help from both the Americans and the French on developing control laws. Simply put, control laws are nothing more than mathematical equations. But unlike typical equations, the quality of these equations will determine how well designed and robust your aircraft is going to be and how customisable it will be in the future. Control laws can be the difference between producing a Formula 1 race car and an 800 cc Maruti Alto. Both the Americans and the French were not keen on actually teaching our scientists the secrets of evolving the mathematical equations, often trying to customise already evolved control laws that both had used for their respective aircraft, namely the F-16 and the Mirage. This was even before the US-led sanctions following the Pokhran tests. The Indian scientists who comprised the control law team set up under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Aeronautics Laboratory (NAL) were also connected deeply with other institutions like IISc, IITs and the Regional Engineering Colleges (RECs). They were determined to develop a fresh set of control laws. Such laws are critical because they determine how robust, flexible and customisable the software architecture, design, coding and programme for the aircraft would be. In short, complete command over the control laws will naturally result in complete control of the software architecture and the entire programming for the aircraft.
 
The Indian scientists were able to evolve control laws on their own, without much help from the Americans and French, but they hit a ceiling. When the mathematical equations were tested it was found that the laws allowed the aircraft a maximum Angle of Attack (AoA) of 22 degrees. It was quite good, but not to the standards that the scientists had wanted for the aircraft. They wanted LCA to turn faster and tighter and that would have meant that the aircraft would have had to take more ‘stress and G loads’. It also meant that the mathematical equations had to be rewritten to allow for the AoA to go up to 24 degrees. No matter what the Indian scientists tried, they just couldn’t break the mathematical Rubicon. Needless to say, the foreign collaborators were not of much help. One young scientist who had done his post-doctoral research at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) decided to approach his mentor who had pursued some of his initial studies at Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg). His mentor decided to put him in touch with a Russian mathematics professor, his colleague and friend. This Russian mathematician helped the Indian team tweak the mathematical equations and the new control laws allowed for an AoA of 24 degrees. It’s precisely because of the bull-headedness of the Indian scientists that Tejas has one of the best handling characteristics in the world and the Indian scientific establishment has complete control over the software and the various programmes embedded within Tejas. 
 
Key Lesson 
Let Indian scientists take on complex challenges and trust them and their networks to come up with their own unique ways of resolving tricky problems even if it takes time. 
 
Story 2: Give our private sector the right role: DRDO, Baba Kalyani and Rheinmetall
 
Baba Kalyani, Kalyani Strategic Systems Limited (KSSL) and Tata Strategic Engineering Division (SED) are quite rightly garnering all the attention for producing a world-class and record-beating 155 mm towed howitzer gun, its full technical name being the lazily ponderous 155/52 calibre Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS). The 155 mm gun has been a particular bane for India. It’s a critical piece of equipment for the Indian army, especially for fighting in the mountain ranges, and the last major acquisition was the Bofors 155 mm gun. For all the controversy surrounding the howitzer, the Bofors gun came to India’s rescue during the Kargil war. But it’s a howitzer that’s gone a little long in the tooth and India today desperately needs a modern 155 mm howitzer. The desperation has become even more intense in the light of acquisition of equipment by both Pakistan and China to identify a howitzer’s location within seconds of its firing. In short, India really requires howitzers that need to fire deeper and farther and have an enhanced ability to move quickly after firing. In technical terms, it’s called the ‘fire and scoot’ ability. Bofors, to its credit, has an electrically enabled auxiliary pack that allows it move once it fires. But, as I said earlier, it’s a little long in the tooth and in today’s environment it can be caught on the wrong foot.
 
For the last decade or so, Indian defence planners have been aware of this deficiency and there have been hectic, even if sporadic, efforts to fill this gap. All such efforts, needless to say, have focussed on acquiring 155 howitzer systems from foreign companies. Such efforts have also been witness to a whole host of issues from South African company Denel, which also produces a mean 155 mm howitzer, being blacklisted for various supposed misdemeanours to India being extremely reluctant to go back to Bofors for updated versions of its 155 mm howitzers, despite the company having changed hands and now being part of BAE systems. In between it was discovered that the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) Kanpur was actually sitting on the complete design blueprints of the Bofors 155 mm howitzers, which the Swedes now call the Haubitz FH77. It was decided that the OFB would produce it in-house with suitable modifications and improvements. The OFB version of the 155 mm howitzer is called Dhanush. The Indian Army during its trials, quite rightly, deemed it very good, but not excellent. This meant that it was slotted to replace the older 105 mm Indian Field Gun, 105 mm Light Field Gun and the Russian 122 mm guns. In short, Dhanush, like Bofors, was a good howitzer, even an improvement, but not really there in terms of meeting the big threats from Pakistan and China. 
 
This is where Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) finally got a toe in. The DRDO has been trying for as much a decade to make an impression on the Indian defence bureaucracy and the senior army commanders and decision makers that it also should be given the opportunity to bid for the 155 mm howitzer project. It would be suffice to say that no one took DRDO seriously for various reasons. Some were understandable. For instance, DRDO has genuinely struggled to deliver production ready prototypes in time, often having had to depend exclusively on public sector units like the OFB and HAL, which have had their own set of issues with regard to capacity and investment layouts. Other reasons were not so understandable, reeking either of discrimination or the imprint of the foreign weapons lobby. To its credit, DRDO did keep telling whoever would listen to it that they have evolved a world-class design for the 155 mm howitzer. The tide, in a way, turned for DRDO when the organisation on the back of policy changes that allowed it to cast its net wide decided to scout for private partners. Again, to the organisation’s credit, it proactively sought out a few companies, including Baba Kalyani’s Bharat Forge and Tata Strategic Engineering Division (SED). 
 
What DRDO did absolutely right was to go to companies that had the manufacturing pedigree, quality control, deep pockets, vision, dynamic leadership and an ability to collaboratively work with DRDO scientists in a quiet manner. The last aspect was critical because DRDO did not want its efforts, to put it mildly, sabotaged by forces inimical to any form of indigenous development. To the credit of Baba Kalyani, the project was quietly commissioned, located with KSSL and money allocated. All this was done only on trust, with DRDO completely transferring its blueprints to KSSL and the Baba Kalyani unit in turn going about its business only in the way Indian private sector can go about. DRDO also gave Tata SED the same deal as KSSL. Wheels within wheels quickly turned in the entire Baba Kalyani group and someone somewhere gave Baba Kalyani the information that Rheinmetall AG, a powerful German company headquartered in Dusseldorf, was looking to dismantle one of its plants in Switzerland and planning to send it to the scrapyard. Rheinmetall, like most Western arms manufacturers, has both civilian and military arms. The civilian arm is well known for producing the MAN series of trucks and buses. The German giant is primarily in the business of producing a variety of military vehicles, heavy arms and ammunitions, including the 155 mm howitzers. Baba Kalyani and his team quietly swooped in, bought all the milling and production equipment and set up a plant in India. Needless to say, the plant is world class and everything from stamping, dyeing and milling is high quality and meets world standards. 
 
It must be noted that while KSSL and Tata SED are rightly bagging the kudos for getting the 155 mm howitzer up and running so quickly, and in such an innovative manner, the design of the howitzer was also a world beater. So much so, that during the September 2017 trials conducted by the Indian Army, the howitzer lobbed a shell to a distance of 47.2 km. It’s a world record and no other 155 mm howitzer, including famed global ones, has thrown a shell longer. All credit must be given to the DRDO scientists for creatively and innovatively designing the howitzer with a 52 mm calibre, again an out-of-box thinking necessitated by the specific requirements of the Indian army which is facing hostile artillery batteries across both the Pakistani and Chinese borders.

Key Lesson 
Learn to leverage the right strengths of different players. DRDO’s strength is design, while the Indian private sector’s strength is development and production. However, choose the right private sector partners with the correct pedigree and the capacity to deliver.
 
Story 3: Think far out, way far out: India’s state-of-art rail gun
 
The world was completely taken aback when reports and pictures emerged in the first week of February 2018 of China installing an experimental electromagnetic rail gun in one of its amphibious landing ship, Haiyang Shan, berthed in Wuchang shipyard in Hubei province. An electromagnetic rail gun is for many defence futurists the ultimate Holy Grail. The principle of the rail gun is simple enough: A projectile is fired at as much six to seven times the speed of sound using electromagnetic force. In short, giant magnets, massive amounts of electricity and parallel rails of highest quality and calibre are required. They are also required to operate in tandem, in a predictable manner and in a way that everything from the massive friction to intense heat that’s generated are either dissipated or absorbed by the system. In short, the challenge is not in the principle, but in operationalising it. The usual suspects – US, Russia and China – pumped in money, time and effort to develop this ‘magic’ weapon. Magic because the projectile does not need any explosives, magic because just the sheer kinetic energy imparted by Mach 6 speed makes it deadly, magic because it’s all weather and can be fitted anywhere. Along the way, some other countries, like the former Yugoslavia, got limited success in developing small prototypes.
 
Part of the global shock came from the fact that China advanced rapidly on such a difficult technology in a relatively silent manner. The other part is the usual angst that the West displays every time they think they are losing the technological or economic edge to Asia and particularly China. It must be borne in mind that both the Americans and Russians are still in the prototype stage and haven’t really gotten down to weaponsing their railguns. It must also be mentioned that the Russians and Americans thought they were ahead of the curve vis-a-vis China. Completely hidden in this narrative is the fact that the world leader and pioneer in electromagnetic railgun has been India and others have been usually playing catch up. Such has been the performance of our scientists in this field that the Pune-based Armament Research & Development Establishment tested our first prototype railgun in 1994. In fact, the five key scientists – Tatake, Daniel, KR Rao, Ghosh, and Khan – published a seminal paper quite unimaginatively titled ‘Railgun’ that gave a detailed explanation and schematics of the railgun. This paper, in a quiet manner, became the foundation for research of the other countries. 
One can now indulge in a bit of a debate whether Indian scientists should have let out their achievements in such a spirit of academic camaraderie. But it’s a moot point because the release of the paper doesn’t seem to have stopped India from advancing ahead very rapidly and take a lead position. Last year, in November, Indian defence scientists and engineers from DRDO developed and tested an Electromagnetic Railgun (EMRG) that fired a 12mm square bore projectile at Mach 6, with the next milestone being an ability to lob a 30 mm projectile weighing one kilogram at more than 2,000 m/s, which would work out to almost Mach 7. What it means is that India today has the ability to develop series of capacitor banks of 10 megajoules each, which is an achievement in itself. Ten megajoules is approximately the amount of energy required to push a one-tonne vehicle to 100 mph or as fast as Shoiab Akhtar’s fastest delivery ever. One joule, for comparison, is the energy required to lift a 100 gram tomato one metre vertically from the surface of the Earth. Such a capacitor bank indicates an extremely sophisticated manufacturing ecosystem comprising of companies, SMEs, engineers, scientists and fabrication units. While the Russians and Americans are getting surprised and shocked at the rapid advancements made by the Chinese, it’s quite possible that the Chinese don’t see them as competition as much as they see the Indian scientists and engineers as their rivals.
 
Key Lesson
Give Indian scientists and engineers the leeway and leverage to do crazy projects like the railgun and they will give India an edge in unconventional and future technologies 
 
Story 4: Give our scientific community lateral opportunities: Mars mission and its batteries
 
I heard this story sometime last year from a source in Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and wrote about it briefly in a column in FirstPost. Minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari is known in policy circles as someone who gets the work done and is unafraid to use creative and innovative ideas and solutions. He is also seen as one minister who is efficient in the Modi cabinet. Shortly after he took over the reins of his ministry, Gadkari called a meeting of his senior officials to discuss three things: environmental pollution caused by diesel and petrol vehicles, the strategy to make India an electric cars only country by 2030 and innovative public transportation approaches like driverless pod taxis, magnetic levitation trains (Maglevs) and vactrains, popularly known as hyperloop. 
 
As the discussion moved ahead, the bureaucrats and experts ended up making the same point in several ways. The point being that the minister and his government are both being extraordinarily ambitious in wanting to make India an electric cars only country by 2030. The usual reasons were being bandied about: no technology, no manufacturing ecosystem, no powering docks, no electricity, near impossible changes for car manufacturers and of course the Indian consumer’s price sensitiveness. Gadkari was listening patiently, nodding in his usual style, when he quickly interjected and asked something in his earthy, but sharp manner. “Did Mangalyaan (Mars Orbiter Mission) go all the way to Mars in a diesel, petrol or a kerosene engine?” Everyone who was holding forth on why India cannot really do it went silent, completely stumped by the question. Gadkari, like several ministers in the Modi government, has a good team of interns and volunteers around him. One of them decided to really check this out and what she found out was simply astounding.
 
The MoM was a proud achievement for the Indian space scientists. The fact that an Indian space vehicle reached Mars on the first go – a world’s first – was and still is a stupendous achievement. But lost in that big achievement were several technical breakthroughs that were path-breaking in their own right. One such breakthrough was mastering the technology behind powering the 36Ah Lithium-Ion battery packs using an extremely limited number of solar panels. The technical requirements of the MoM required that the vehicle be compact and have minimal weight. Accordingly, three panels of single solar array 1.8x1.4 m were used to generate 840 W in Martian orbit. The battery had to store this energy and also have the intelligence to use it in the most efficient manner. This was a breakthrough the likes of which Elon Musk and Tesla would happily give their right arm to. When the intern found out the enormity of the achievement and told about it to Gadkari, he was excited and asked his office to send a request to ISRO to discuss this further. 
 
The request was duly sent and ISRO sent one man, their main scientist who had led the team that cracked the relatively complicated battery storage technology, for the appointment with Gadkari. There was no big team and no fancy presentations accompanying the man. The story goes that the scientist was dressed like how ISRO and DRDO scientists are usually dressed – in a half-sleeved shirt, tucked into loose trousers and wearing Kabuli slippers – and introduced himself like how ISRO and DRDO scientists usually introduce themselves: politely, quietly and in a low-key manner without any fanfare. Gadkari’s office asked him for his card and ignored him thinking he was just there on some errand, till the minister came out to find out what happened to the appointment. That’s when Gadkari’s officers looked at the card. Profuse apologies followed, and a good two hours later, Gadkari was a satisfied man. Last heard, the technology has been customised, adequately down-rated and tropicalised, prototypes built and is estimated to cost about 1/10 the price of commercially available electric batteries.
 
Key Lesson 
Take time to understand the complete implications of the achievements of our scientists and one might not have to go to foreign companies and their brokers for technologies and solutions.
 
Story 5: Innovation is not just the preserve of scientists & engineers: Shop-floors and assault rifles
 
This last story is also the shortest. The Indian Army has been searching for an appropriate gun to replace its INSAS 5.56x45 mm rifle issued to the infantry troops. INSAS is an indigenously produced rifle based on the famed AK-series rifles, but designed to fire standard issue NATO 5.56 mm cartridges. It was based on a design philosophy that was popular a couple of decades ago. That philosophy was derived from a strategy that lower calibre bullets inflict more collateral damage on the enemy because it injures the soldier. An injured soldier will need at least two other soldiers to take care of him and do the necessary evacuation. In short, one bullet wound is expected to incapacitate three soldiers. Such thinking emerged in the NATO security circles and might have been appropriate for the Russian invasion scenarios of Western Europe. But Indian security forces, especially the army, found the 5.56 mm calibre underpowered for anti-insurgency operations and soon the Indian armed forces were looking for rifles that had the capability to fire 7.62 mm rounds. These rounds had greater penetration and kill power. The paramilitary forces had always preferred to use the AKM versions imported from East European countries for their sheer ability to stop an attacker decisively because of their larger calibre rounds. There were also some complaints and allegations against INSAS for jamming up in extremely cold conditions and the some of the butt stocks cracking under temperature changes.
 
INSAS standard issue rifle was to be phased out of the Indian Army by 2017. The army floated a request for proposal (RFP) for new rifles and as usual it seemed favourable to global majors, notably the Italian Beretta (ARX-160), Czech Bren (CA 805), the American Colt Combat Rifle and the Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) ACE1 model. The Indian Army conducted trials and only the IWI remained in the fray. With a single vendor situation, the procurement process stumbled. This is when the shop-floor of the different OFBs –Trichy, Ishapore (also called Ichapore) and Kanpur – went into an overdrive and decided not to give up on the RFP. Shop-floors of the factories are made up of people who are essentially machinists, production supervisors, lathe operators and mechanical engineers. They develop an innate and intimate knowledge about arms and ammunition and often come up with innovative solutions. Soon, they were producing basic blueprints of different kinds of assault rifles that the factories can produce using existing equipment to fulfil the army’s requirements.
 
The blueprints caught the attention of the powers that be and they were sent to scientists in DRDO and ARDE. Some of these blueprints interested the scientists enough to integrate it with existing efforts, most notably in the Excalibur rifle which was introduced by ARDE as an improved version of the INSAS 5.56 mm rifle. It couldn’t be ignored and in performance trials it did creditably to the extent that the Indian Army had to adopt it as an ‘interim measure’ rifle even as it changed the RFP for a rifle that could fire the 7.62x51 mm rounds. Not to be deterred, the Trichy OFB took up the challenge and extensively modified a Bulgarian AK-47. Called the Trichy Assault Rifle (TAR), reports indicate that it is as good as the AK series. Meanwhile, Ishapore OFB created an INSAS 7.62 mm version and called it Ghatak. Amidst some outcry, the army mysteriously blacklisted it after conducting hurriedly convened trials of the weapon. 
 
Based on the original blueprints first evolved at the shop floors of OFB Trichy, and as per the requirements of the new RFP, the ARDE has now come up a new rifle. Chastened by army’s constant merry-go round, ARDE has gone overboard and appears to have covered itself for all eventualities. The gun is called Multi Calibre Individual Weapon System (MCIWS) and is configured to fire 5.56x45mm, 7.62×39mm and 6.8mm Remington rounds. The MCIWS also includes an indigenous under barrel grenade launcher to fire airburst-type grenades which can take out targets up to 500 metres. Various sights can be mounted on the upper receiver. Made up of high-grade aluminium alloy, the modular design will help the soldier to strip and assemble the gun much more easily and the rivetless design will reduce heat and cold related jamming issues considerably. The army still hasn’t made up its mind, but MCIWS is an example of what can happen if you let a shop floor contribute in a creative and innovative manner.
 
Key Lesson 
Innovation is not the preserve of elite institutions or high-profile scientists. Indian shop-floors have loads of creative energy and all one needs to do is to find the right channels to leverage it.
 
Each story on its own tells a gritty tale about resilience, innovation, creativity and sheer engineering and technical prowess. When faced with self-doubts, naysayers, smooth talkers and global corporate muscle power, Modi and Sitharaman will just have to remember one thing: all these five stories are not just isolated tales, but are part of a narrative called India and its powerful willpower. Just give Indian science and engineering a chance and they will respond with all their might. 
 
Swaminathan is visiting research fellow at Uppsala University. He is an urbanist by training and predominantly writes about cities. As a deeply addictive hobby, he closely follows India’s military policy and defence studies and writes when he feels that a particular discussion requires a truly Indian and unbiased voice.

(The article appears in February 28, 2018 edition)

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