Sunday 20 October 2013

Forget nuclear, India and Japan should go cyber (Sunday Guardian)


An HF-24 MK II aircraft.
t is injurious to the health of a career in the armed forces for an individual to believe that India needs to be more self-reliant in defence equipment than the country presently is. The domestic private sector is ring-fenced away from bidding for major defence contracts. Not, of course, that any significant player is in the business of weapons manufacture. Even should an Indian-owned entity wish to get into defence production, it would not get sanction from the government for such a move. The only domestic outfit allowed into the field is the DRDO and state-owned enterprises, whose core function is to provide jobs for the boys. Why do the DRDO and its affiliates take so long to manufacture an item of equipment, such as a battle tank, an aircraft or even a rifle? Because members of the team formed for the purpose have, many of them, decades to go before they retire, and should the product come off the assembly lines before at least twenty years have gone by, what would they do with the rest of their careers? It needs to be said that after that length of time, several times the product is first-rate, the HF-24 aircraft or the INSAS rifle being examples. The problem is that the finished product is almost never developed further. There will be no HF-24MKII or III, nor will there be an INSAS MKII. The steady upgrade of the product that is the staple of manufacturing is discarded in the Indian public sector, which has to contend with those who want only to purchase equipment and services from hard currency areas. Unfortunately for the public interest, the media in India has thus far never overly bothered about why India-built equipment disappears into the ether soon after the first models come off the assembly lines.
Decades of neglect have meant that it is unlikely that domestic enterprises will be able to ramp up R&D to the level needed to produce world class equipment. Hence the need for international partners. Thus far, the only major overseas suppliers of defence equipment to India who are at least halfway willing to share the secrets of advanced technology with their local partners are the Russians. However, ever since the USSR collapsed into the Russian Federation in 1992-93, Moscow has been obsessive about the bottom line, focusing less on product enhancement than on how to gouge out more money from the customer. Hence the need to diversify. It is in such a context that Japan comes in. Since the 1960s, Tokyo has lavished assistance and investment on China, getting in return the continuing hostility of much of the Chinese populace. For the past three years in particular, there have been numerous anti-Japanese riots in China, in which Japanese companies and even personnel have been targeted. Of course, in sheer scale and viciousness of such attacks, none can compare with the way in which a section of employees of Maruti Udyog in Gurgaon rounded on their managers. While there may not yet be an exodus of Japanese investment from Gurgaon, there is unlikely to be any fresh investment in a location where Japanese investments are clearly not physically safe from action by vandals. However, because India is seen as a friend, whereas China is not, Japanese companies are still willing to invest in this country, if no longer in their once favoured destination, Haryana.
Given that both India and Japan are targets of the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China, it makes sense for Delhi and Tokyo to collaborate in ways that would strengthen their joint defence. While naval vessels and aircraft may help, an acute vulnerability is in the field of cyber warfare. Both China as well as the US routinely hack into information about companies competing with their own. While Chinese snooping into data that could help their companies beat the competition is well known, it took Edward Snowden to reveal something that ought to have been obvious. That the US too uses the excuse of the "War on Terror" to hack into emails that would give their companies the edge. Edward Snowden has exposed the fact that the data interception indulged in by the National Security Agency of the US is on a scale that is far too massive to be explained away on purely national security grounds. It would take a battalion of saints within the entrails of the US administration to desist from using such capabilities to boost US business by giving them details on the competition, perhaps through roundabout routes so as to retain deniability. Both India and Japan need to safeguard themselves against such corporate snooping by China and the US, and the way to do that is to cooperate in creating cyber networks that are immune from hostile interception. Neither Japan nor India acting alone has the capacity to ensure such defences of its corporate and national security secrets, but if both work together, the odds are that they will succeed in protecting their cyber networks. Rather than chase the mirage of nuclear cooperation with Japan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs to recruit Tokyo into joining hands with Delhi in the all-important field of cyber security.

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