Kalam’s failings

The dangers of elevating humans to superhuman status

Over on his blog, Manoj Joshi posts his Mail Today article on how the legend of APJ Abdul Kalam resulted in poor technological choices and ultimately, as sub-standard missile arsenal. Excerpts:

Whatever may have been his successes as SLV-3 project manager, his tenure as DRDO chief has been something of a disaster.

Because of (diversions caused by Kalam’s dogmatic insistence), India’s long-range missile deterrent has been delayed by about a decade and even today it depends on aircraft dropped weapons, not missile borne, for its credible minimum deterrent

Kalam’s very prestige became his, and his country’s, worst enemy. He had attained oracular status by 1998, and the result was that the governments of the day blindly accepted what he had to say. He was not willfully dishonest, but his fixations and whims led to diversions and delays for which the country has paid a huge price. Perhaps his greatest, and in a sense forgivable, weakness was his obsession on “indigenous” development.

But the argument that India’s missiles are “indigenous” and Pakistan’s are based on Chinese, American, North Korean or someone else’s technology is a meaningless one. Military acquisitions are not about the “purity” of solutions, but time-urgent answers to a problem. And who will deny that Pakistan has got more than enough “solutions” in the nuclear weapon delivery area, to any threat India can offer. [Mail Today/Manoj Joshi’s blog]

33 thoughts on “Kalam’s failings”

  1. Hopefully the aura and hero worship associated with Kalam will soon abate. He is definitely not willfully dishonest but almost embarrassingly naive and idealistic. And he has lots of platitudes to offer young people and children (usually delivered in less than admirable English) but very little actual practical advice. Nor did he have any serious policy recommendations for improving science research or education when he was President. Iattended two of his talks then and thought thay while they may have been inspiring in a naive sort of way to school children, they were utterly devoid of substance.

  2. So what was the problem (in the hind sight) with a decade’s delay? Dr. Kalam may be idealistic – given that he may have taken seriously Nehru’s doctrine on Swadeshi – rightly so on issues related to National Defense.

    Besides what are Mr. Joshi’s qualifications (his public profile does not list any, other than him being a Professional journalist interested in national security affairs) – to pass judgements on highly technical matters without asigning any source of his information?

  3. Milind,

    What’s wrong with a decade’s delay? It’s interesting that you say “hindsight”. In hindsight, the problem is opportunity cost. More importantly, without the qualification of hindsight—what if we’d stuck around with his dogma?

    Swadeshi is impractical and meaningless—as much in military as in non-military affairs. In six decades since independence, what’s the 100% genuine swadeshi component of the armed forces?

    Mr Joshi’s qualifications don’t really matter if he’s asking the right questions. That he was a member of the National Security Advisory Board is beside the point.

  4. Manoj Joshi’s criticism is founded on a very poor if not obsolete understanding of deterrence and warhead delivery. The ICBM and all land based deterrent missile systems are very well past its prime, horrendously expensive, and easily taken out. BR Forum has just completed a month long discussion on this very subject. Sadly miltary affairs continues to be the weak link in the INI webring.

    Kalam has been the most detail oriented political leader we have ever had. His talks are simple to the point and exhort to action. I have read almost everyone of his mammoth presentations to the many Vidhan Sabhas (he has visted every one of them) and his recommendations on the environment, education, healthcare and employment are non-partisan in character and eminently sensible. He is extremely sharp and no one’s fool in manner reminiscent (even if in a small way) of a very great person who despite all his intellect chose to think through every problem in his own way – Gandhi. Read Dr.Parvaiz Hoodbhoy’s account of his discussion with Dr. Kalam and you will realise what I mean.

  5. It can’t be said with certainity that any other decisions leading to import of materials or technology would have definitely caused rapid development of the missiles – with DRDO being in charge.

    Dr. Kalam might have made a decision in all his wisdom which people in DRDO or the Government with contrary opinion could not resist or could get any political backing at that point of time.

    Dr. Kalam is not involved with DRDO since he became President of India in 2002. Neither he is a political heavy weight. It need not take over 7 years to discover his alleged obstibnacy about indigenous development while arguing for “time-urgent” answers to a problem

  6. “Dr” Kalam has to be credited for torpedoing another idea that would have helped India. Granted as the author of the RISC idea, I could have a biased view of his PURA. But it is a seriously flawed model and I seriously resent his poking about in a domain that he did not have the slightest understanding of. It is clear that his mucking about in development issues is not an exception — he routinely reaches for things that are out of his intellectual grasp.

  7. Nitin, I have to disagree with your endorsement of Joshi’s post and other critics of Kalam.

    While it’s all well and good to say Kalam shouldn’t be held in mythical status, the arguments against him seems to be, to put it mildly, not based on reality.

    As for Ashutosh, I’d rather have Kalam’s Indian accent and simple English encouraging children to work towards a strong and developed country in a generation rather than sophisticated arguments by historians, perhaps in sophisticated New York or London accent, telling us why we shouldn’t even aspire to be one.

  8. Chandra writes: “As for Ashutosh, I’d rather have Kalam’s Indian accent and simple English encouraging children to work towards a strong and developed country . . .”

    That is what I find most puzzling about Kalam: he reserves his lectures for children. He makes them take an oath, for instance, to not be corrupt. I wonder why he does not take someone his own size — he does not lecture the thousands of corrupt politicians. He talks to people who cannot talk back, it would appear.

    I have been in two public events in which he was the keynote speaker. In both of them he arrived two hours late. Regardless of what was the reason, he did not have the decency or the humility to even say one word of regret or apology for having kept thousands of people waiting. He is either untutored in the ways of politeness or is arrogant and considers it no big deal that he is late.

  9. @Atanu: Yeah, talking to corrupt politicians is going to change them! As kaangeya said in the thread above, Kalam visited and talked at every Vidhan Sabha in the country. He has addressed our MPs several times. Looks to me like he spoke to every elected lawmaker in the country. I don’t know if they talked back at him (“no, we are corrupt and we love it”?), but I am not holding my breath waiting for them to change.

    Since talking is pretty much all an Indian President can do, Kalam’s model of talking to as many children as possible sounded quite sensible to me. They are future adults, and Kalam himself said that if he could influence one out of every thousand (or was it ten thousand?) kids to become a great citizen, he would consider it time well spent. He focused on kids not because they could not talk back, but because they were not yet set in their ways, because they could listen, because kids often take inspiration from role models.

    And since anecdotal evidence seems to be kosher, I have attended one public event where he was the keynote speaker. He was about two hours late there as well. He apologized profusely and explained why he was late – he was held up at the school where he was speaking before the event because the kids’ questions just kept coming.

  10. B.O.K:

    Though meaning well is better than not meaning well, it is not as good as acting out an accurate understanding of a situation. No doubt Kalam means well but I am afraid that he is completely out of his depth in too many matters, not just in rocket science.

    Take his haranguing (love the word – a long pompous speech, especially one delivered before a gathering) about corruption. Corruption is a symptom of a problem. One cannot get rid of corruption by telling people not to be corrupt any more than one can get rid of a fever by telling people to keep their body temperature down. To really get rid of corruption, he should have taken the time to figure out the causes of corruption and used his energies more productively.

    Perhaps he is not smart enough to figure out that bit about corruption. None of us are so smart as to know all the answers to all questions. But many of us are smart enough to ask others who may know better. There are always particular others that know the answers to particular questions. He was the president of India and I am sure that if he had wanted, he could have consulted dozens of experts who would have explained to him the causes of corruption.

    Though not an expert, even I could have told him the root cause of corruption. In one word: power.

    It arises from the misuse of public power for private gain. The more power public officials have, the greater the scope for corruption. An indirect route from power to corruption via the engineering of shortages.

    So power and its ability to create shortages is at the root of all corruption in India (and elsewhere.) That needs to be understood before one can tackle corruption. Lecturing people just does not cut it.

  11. “. . . not as good as acting out an accurate understanding . . .” should read ” . . . not as good as acting out of an accurate understanding. . .”

  12. Atanu,

    While you are a well qualified scholar of economics, from UC-Berkeley no less, Kalam is a homegrown engineer/project/program manager, a humble ferry operator’s son. Starting with none of the advantages that arguably everyone of us commenting on this blogpost has enjoyed in India, he has traversed many more hurdles than us and reached the highest office an Indian can aspire for. To this day over a period of 70 yeas he is never known to have either taken a bribe or offered one, not he, not even any relation or friend of his. So while he may not know as much as you do, and may lack your deep analytical skills, he is fully entitled to his idealism, for he is after all preaching only what he has practiced. And while this is India, and the last word on anyone’s character can never be uttered, Kalam to this date, you would concede, has earned the right to enjoy some shine on his armour. You may have concluded from deep thinking and analysis that power is the root of all evil, Kalam has concluded from his many years of service, that honesty is the only way to overcome the lust for lucre. There has never been a single Indian leader or intellectual in living memory who has had the knack of talking to – not talking at – children. Kalam is the first and only one to date.

  13. Chandra,

    After reading your post, I suspect you have not read Mr Joshi’s full article. Also you oversimplify the issue into one of “make vs buy”. The question is to what extent does the dogma of the indigenous determine the strategic options. Mr Joshi makes a reasonable case that the dogma damaged the pace/quality of the missile arsenal.

  14. Nitin, my post was regarding your endorsement of Joshi’s take on Kalam. Joshi’s post itself was a hit piece on Kalam which is hard to refute without being an inside man.

    I am not exactly sure what strategic options there were to indigenous development of missile weapon systems – I don’t think there were any, in 80s and 90s anyway – but that we should have followed China, or worst, Pakiland, doesn’t make any sense.

    To say that Kalam was singularly responsible for delays in development of missile systems seems to be a stretch, because DRDO hasn’t been very successful at developing any other weapons systems during the same twenty year period – not decent a battle tank or a decent fighter jet both of which were done halfheartedly with part make and part buy decisions.

    One can venture to guess, based on evolution of these others systems, that locally produced missile systems won’t even have gotten off the ground had not the decision to produce them completely indigenous was not taken, despite the delays and cost overruns, which is the norm, not an exception anywhere in the world. IGMDP may have been a partial success, but it was a better program than almost most other muddled programs that were undertaken before and since, except perhaps INS Arihant, another completely indigenous project. Seems like Kalam should be vindicated for his apparent indigenous dogma – a good dogma to have when it comes protecting national security. One would hope we have that dogma of indigenousness when it comes to tackling Islamic terrorists in Pakiland.

  15. @chandra,

    INS Arihant is completely indigenous? Was that before the Russians helped?


    What does Kalam-sir’s humble background and moral rectitude have to do with him making professional mistakes? Bad judgement is not the exclusive preserve of the privileged and the corrupt.

  16. @Atanu,

    Fine, power is the root cause of corruption. How do you propose to get rid of it? If you have a programme to get rid of corruption by curbing power, please, let’s hear it.

    “One cannot get rid of corruption by telling people not to be corrupt any more than one can get rid of a fever by telling people to keep their body temperature down.”

    And yet often times the human body, given a sufficient psychological incentive, tends to regulate itself. What Dr Kalam is trying to do is inculcate a revulsion for corruption among children, in the hope that they’ll be honest upright citizens when they grow up. A bottom-up approach, and far better than a rant about corruption deriving from power.

    “I wonder why he does not take someone his own size”

    Because by the time a person reaches adulthood, he is set in his ways and it’s very difficult to make him change.

  17. kaangeya,

    My grandmother too had none of the advantages that you point out that the present company on this blog probably had. She too, like Kalam, was from extremely humble circumstances, and she too never offered nor took bribes. She lacked deep analytical skills, not because she was stupid but because she never needed them to go through her simple and contended life bringing up her children and managing her family. She was a good person, kind at heart and would not hurt a sparrow or say an unkind word to another.

    But I don’t think she was in any sense unique. To be honest, her humble beginning puts her in the company of the majority of humanity. The class of people with humble beginnings must include every conceivable type of humans — saints, sinners, artists, doctors, engineers, politicians, criminals, singers, dancers, teachers, tinkers, tailors, soldiers, spies, etc. Humble beginnings do not set her apart. Nor does it confer on her any special ability to do what she was not trained to do. Though I loved her dearly, I would not have trusted her to drive me to school or teach me fluid dynamics. I would not have wanted her to formulate economic policy for the nation, nor advice the government on monetary or military policy.

    Being born in modest circumstances is neither necessary nor sufficient for being good at something specific as fighting corruption or formulating defense policy. How good a person is at a particular task should be determined by results, and not by reference to a person’s antecedents. Kalam could have been born in the lap of luxury and could have been as crooked as a pig’s tail — it would not have mattered if he competently did the job he was entrusted to do. Conversely, it matters little that his orgins were humble if he bungled up his job.

    Too distressingly often, people are judged by who they are and not by what they have actually accomplished. Too often we uncritically put some supposedly good leader up on a pedestal and refuse to inquire into what they did or did not do.

    There’s a Chinese saying which basically says that the larger the frontside, the broader the backside. You may not suspect it but many people who have had the opportunity to know more than what the media publishes about Kalam have concluded that he’s a shrewd politician and his climb up the ladder involved some clever manipulations of people and events.

    It is just my cynical nature that puts me on guard anytime I see a uncritical praise being heaped on anyone. The list of such people includes Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv, Teresa, etc. Kalam belongs to that list.

  18. Shaunak,

    As I mentioned before, corruption is symptomatic (and a consequence) of someone’s control over something or someone. The minister who has the power to allow or deny an industrial license has the opportunity for corruption. Show me an act of corruption and I will show you that it could not have happened had there been an asymmetric power arrangement in the deal.

    Often time, corruption is associated with chronic shortages. Chronic shortages, in turn, have to be engineered because they cannot occur naturally. Engineering shortages require power.

    I don’t want to hijack The Acorn for a treatise on how to remove corruption. But then I have already made the argument. As the man said, I am obliged to present you an argument but not obliged to find you a comprehension.

  19. @Atanu,

    “As the man said, I am obliged to present you an argument but not obliged to find you a comprehension.”

    I asked you to present recommendations based on your argument (which I accepted). You quip about being unable to find me a comprehension. That tells me that you don’t have any roadmap (for want of a better word) to eliminate corruption. And yet you grudge Dr Kalam for not having a readymade roadmap to uprooting corruption. I see a lot of asymmetry here.

    “Show me an act of corruption and I will show you that it could not have happened had there not been an asymmetric power arrangement in the deal.”

    How do you eliminate asymmetric power arrangements? You can do it for individuals by having other individuals keep guard. But finally who guards the guards? What prevents collusive behaviour on the part of, say, ministers and judges? What prevents ministers from co-opting, say, the CVC? Absolutely symmetric power-relationships cannot exist in real life.

    Please show me how they’re possible if you disagree. And until you do, you’re just abusing an asymmetric relationship where Dr Kalam doesn’t comment on this blog and thus can’t respond to your acrimony.

  20. “As for Ashutosh, I’d rather have Kalam’s Indian accent and simple English”

    Umm…my point was clearly not about the accent (it was about the grammar) but that’s not the important issue here. The real point was about the lack of substance in many of his talks, especially to children. Many of his speeches were highly repetitive and full of trite cliches. I am sure he is an inspiration to children but as one of the very few science-oriented Presidents he never really floated concrete policy proposals for improving the state of higher science education and research in India. For instance he will say things like “I expect India to win at least 10 Nobel prizes in the next fifty years” but then won’t back up such outrageous statements with actual practical policy recommendations.

  21. I never knew that Kalam was so incompetent. I mean, repetitive speeches! To kids who will only ever get to listen to one speech of his! How dare he repeat his speech to different audiences? Didn’t he know that we commentators will parse through every word of his?

    And don’t get me started on the cliches.. oh, the horror! True, the kids are too young to know a cliche when they hear one, and cliches have the advantage of being rather simple and easy to grasp, but how dare Kalam use them anyway!

    And corruption! Haven’t we commentators solved that already? Or we would, if only someone would put us on that supremely powerful post that is the Indian President!

    True, he acknowledged that he is only selling dreams, and daring the rest of us to dream with him. As he put it (quote from memory): Dream, because dreams result in thoughts, and thoughts result in action. But hey, how dare he talk about that half-baked PURA idea of his. We only accept ideas which are complete solutions, not just ideas that could lead to a discussion, which could, in turn, lead to solutions. That’s too far for us. We need it here, and we need it now.

    What else.. aha, DRDO. Going by the comment thread, I doubt if anyone is interested in the substantive issues raised in the original article and Nitin’s post. So, I’ll just rest here, comfortable in the knowledge that since Kalam’s departure from the scene, DRDO has been achieving one milestone after another. What a success story!

    Apologies for the rant.

  22. B.O.K.:

    I think the argument is NOT: Kalaam = bad. It is more: Kalaam = “not as great as the media hypes him to be”.

    Let us differentiate between “good” and “great”.

    And there might not be a direct one-to-one correlation between Kalaam and DRDO all the time. Other factors might be involved as well.

    And about his daring others to dream with him, we all love that old, slightly quirky, bungling, absent-minded, dishevelled-haired, always-talking-to-himself super-duper-genius scientist (Amitabh may be?) who inspires a young kid (master Darsheel Shafari anyone?) and the kid grows up and one day rides a rocket to Mars (since we already got the Moon once), dont we? Nice story.

  23. Shaunak:

    I do have a road map on what needs to be done to reduce corruption (note: it cannot be eliminated.) As I wrote before, I don’t want to use this platform to write at length on how to do it. It is available on my blog (see the category “corruption” where I propose that one should start at the top and impose exemplary punishment.)

  24. B.O.K.:

    It is not my case that Kalam is not a good person. The majority of humanity is good. Kalam held high positions (including being the president of India) and has to be held to higher standards. Legitimate questions can be asked such as whether he competently did the various high profile jobs he held, whether he demonstrated understanding of the domains that he frequently proposed interventions in, whether he added significantly to advancing the debate, etc.

    The very over the top accolades showered on him is unhelpful. For instance, in an NCERT textbook read by millions of school children, it lists Kalam as a scientist (in the company of Einstein, Galileo, Newton, and CV Raman.) He’s not a scientist by the most liberal definition of the word; he’s barely a technologist; at best he can be classified as an administrator — and some have even questioned his administrative skills.

    What he does not lack is the praise heaped on his head. I know pointing out the fact that the emperor’s new clothes are not all that they are cracked up to be does not make one very popular. So I am not surprised by your attitude towards this matter.

    In closing, allow me to quote from a blog post of mine where I did a bit of Kalam bashing:

    Kalam is charming. There is a naïve simplicity about him that is endearing. His eagerness and sincerity is almost childlike. Perhaps that accounts for why he is an able administrator; people like him. I sometime wonder: is it better to be very bright, extremely arrogant, supremely competent, and highly accomplished—but disliked—or is it better to be not too bright, quite humble, somewhat mediocre, charming—but liked? I suppose the answer depends on what job you want done. If you need a monumental work done, you need the first kind, the kind I would call “General.” (General Patton is the archetype.) But if you need to be inspired to be good, then you need the second kind, the “Grandfather.”

    . . . His introductory remarks lasted for about 10 minutes in which he panned IITs. . .

    Nanotech Genomic Economic Rural Development

    If Kalam had limited his talk to the introductory remarks, it would have been sufficient. But then he got on to his favorite hobby horse and rode off into technological wonderland. I am sure that there are those who upon hearing a long speech heavy leaden with a huge amount of scientific jargon (nanotechnology, bioinformatics, genomics, etc.) mistakenly believe that their incomprehension is an indication of the profundity of the thoughts expressed. These people eagerly lap up books with titles such as “Quantum Healing” (Chopra comes to mind) and “Nanotechnological Genomic Economic Rural Development” (Note to self: Finish writing that book already.) There is a market out there waiting to be exploited.

    Kalam exited stage right after receiving a flurry of bouquets and mementoes, amid much cheering and expressions of gratitude for his gracing the momentous occasion.

  25. Kedar, Atanu:

    I came across as bitter in that comment of mine, and I apologize for the acerbic tone my comment had.

    I don’t worship Kalam, or anyone else for that matter. He is not my emperor, but if he is to be criticized, I’d prefer that people criticize him for things that were within his domain. It is not his fault that some people hero-worship him (or, if it is, lets get some solid evidence out). Given the rubber-stamp nature of Indian presidency, I was just irked by comments with tangential criticism. It took the focus away from the important stuff, IMO.

    I am still waiting for that serious debate, because the original article that led to this Acorn Post raised some serious questions.

  26. B.O.K.:

    This being the comments on a blog, I am happy to engage in debate that sometimes may get a bit acrimonious but nevertheless brings different points of view to light. I don’t apologize for my bitterness for what I believe to be a very bad move by Mr Kalam. He strayed into developmental issues where he did not have the slightest competency by pushing his PURA model. I resent that because we have seen the devastating effect of famous people imposing their half-assed opinions on matters they don’t know much about and making an unholy mess of the whole thing. Millions suffer as a consequence.

    PURA has set back India’s development significantly as it has diverted attention from the real solutions. PURA is village-level infrastructure development. That costly and counter-productive. Any reasonable development economist would have told him had Kalam bothered to consult on that lagging areas require infrastructure that concentrate activities in specific locations, not disperse them.

    Anyway, Kalam is not unique. Nehru and all the other politicians routinely meddle in matters that they don’t understand. It is a real pity because it is not as if the solutions are not known. All they had to do was to get decent advice. But that option is generally not available since arrogance dictates that one knows it all and there’s no point in wasting time talking to people.

  27. Solutions need not be complete. But they should point to a concrete direction and indicate some kind of a practical roadmap to follow.

  28. The biggest mistake you are doing is assuming that what Manoj Joshi wrote is true, and second, that he actually understands defense technology. Nitin is also dead wrong when he asks “What is the swadeshi component of the defense forces”. The real question is – what do you guys really know of the indigenous R&D program across different sectors and what Kalam has achieved against the odds in India? Seen the Brahmos, seen the Godrej & Boyce airframe? Know how G&B got into defence against all odds? A certain missile program director approached them and personnally requested them, a private company, to join the IGMDP for Prithvi decades back. People like Atanu who run him down dont have the foggiest of what the man has actually done. They take his simplicity, his tendency to keep things simple for a wider audience as indicative that the man himself is shallow and does not have anything critical to his credit.

    People like Joshi are worse. In any other country with a wide well read and well informed audience of civilians who actually track defence issues (the United States for instance), Joshi would have been discredited a long time back and would have had to eat humble pie for the kind of rubbish he has been dishing out for a long time.

    Take for instance one of Joshis typical grandiloquent and idiotic pronouncements on his blog – “apart from a single sonar for the Navy and the INSAS the DRDO has nothing to show for its existence”.


    That must be why the single sonar is actually a family of sonars. The APSOH which was the first gave way to the HUMSA and now the latest IN Ships have the HUMSA-NG. Why our Kilo class subs have recieved the USHUS sonar derived from the Panchendriya system on the Foxtrot testbed and why the Arihant class has NPOL Sonars as well. Must be also why the Navy even cleared Indias first dunking Sonar the Mihir, for choppers and the Nagan towed array is in advanced user trials with the Navy with BEL ready for concurrent manufacture.
    About the INSAS, has he heard of the MINSAS, the F-INSAS program or even the MSMC?

    My point is this is the level of rubbish Manoj Joshi writes.

    He talks of the WLR.

    Did he even mention the fact that the DRDO gave clearance to the Army to buy an off the shelf WLR, and procurement was then stuck because the Army wanted nothing but the best available and nothing abroad met its QR- Qual Requirements? FYI- the BEL DRDO WLR does exist. In 2004-05, a Rajendra at Chandipore successfully tracked arty shells. Four years on, the radar has finally cleared FOUR yes FOUR phases of trials. Why four phases, because the Army had the radar reengineered for mountain ops. That means splitting up the hardware into smaller cabins for hoisting around mountain ops. Was the same “privilege” extended to the AN/TPQ-37, 12 of which were quickly purchased for the plains?

    Or does he mention the fact that DRDO’s original plans to build the Rajendra/WLR for mass manufacture were delayed when everything from phase shifters to other components they planned to acquire from the mass market like other manufacturers was denied? Ultimately, a joint DRDO civilian team made these items inhouse. Today they are in series production at Bharat Electronics.

    No. Such things are never mentioned, even in accident.

    The point is not just that the Army and the AF often hold much higher standard for local gear versus imported, the point is that people like Manoj Joshi know little of these efforts and even if they do, you wont have them admit it. Idealogy – in this case running down Kalam & the DRDO – trumps substance.

    Now, the Prithvi. Joshi says it was Kalam who drove the Prithvi and insisted that it be retained rather than solid fuel missiles. Is he honest, can we take him at his word? I doubt it.

    For Reference – check Weapons of Peace, R Chengappa. Clearly mentions Prithvi lineage from cancelled Project Devil, kept as DRDO did not want to waste DRDLs effort in the program and demotivate the scientific crew who worked on it.

    Ah, a bunch of slackers then? Wait – lets explore further. Note the recent ABM tests and the success thereof? Who led it? A certain VK Saraswat, who incidentally happened to be the earlier Director of Project Prithvi (and later Dhanush). And what platform does PAD-1 (the endo-atmospheric interceptor use) – the Prithvi, with its gimballed manouverable thrust vectoring liquid fuelled engines.

    So here we go again – Kalam, not responsible for Prithvi- thats clearly Saraswat, nor is Prithvi a failure since it has given the IAF, IA a useful tactical missile and its technology is now being used, as it is a mature workhorse, for the critical PAD (Project Air Defense) program.

    Then again – so Kalam scuttled the cruise missile program? Really. Lets examine what goes into a CM – you need some kind of propulsion, airframe tech, navigation tech, warheads and finally, you need to integrate it together. Now ask yourself, in the mid 80’s- where was India in all these? Did we even have a TENTH of the technologies required?

    Today, thanks to the IGMP, we do have most (not all) of these technologies. Some are still being developed, as the DRDO gets a pathetic 4-5% of our budget spend. Try putting up a series production facility for advanced seekers and gas turbine engines in that amount after deducting the regular (existing program spend).

    So does Joshi even analyse the tech gap,point out the spend analysis or what needs to be done?

    Thats the problem with Joshi – dishonest, unreliable and quite frankly, who couldnt point out the difference between a SAM and a SSM if his life depended on it.

    You guys are welcome to continue buying into his bilge. But I just couldnt resist dropping in and pointing out the other side of things which unfortunately, you’ll almost never hear from the media. The likes of TS Sub, R Prasannan, et al are disappearing and the Joshis, Aroors and Sengupta’s dominate.


  29. Finally, this takes the ultimate cake, and shows how mind bogglingly insane Joshi’s arguments are. I have long held – that our so called defence correspondents actually need to be from a technology background.

    Joshi states: Perhaps his greatest, and in a sense forgivable, weakness was his obsession on “indigenous” development.
    But the argument that India’s missiles are “indigenous” and Pakistan’s are based on Chinese, American, North Korean or someone else’s technology is a meaningless one. Military acquisitions are not about the “purity” of solutions, but time-urgent answers to a problem. And who will deny that Pakistan has got more than enough “solutions” in the nuclear weapon delivery area, to any threat India can offer.

    If Joshi had stated that India’s solutions should have been a mix of indigenous and Chinese style copy cat ones, or “Russian made in India” ones, then it’d be one thing. But may I ask, who pays for it?

    Kindly read any quasi-official literature on any of our defence projects. Grandiloquent statements about project plans and kickoffs apart, there is a clear acknowledgement that we were bloody broke during the early 90’s and could barely afford to hold our R&D together body and soul.

    So where would this dual source funding come from?

    So ok, lets leave that aside. Lets talk of Kalam’s “obsession with indigenous” and how Pak has countered everything India has made with imports.

    Have they been able to counter our ABM program then? Where did the technology for that come from? Wait- radar netting, could that be from the Akash, which served as a testbed? I mean after all, the Akash integrates 3 different radars together, has datalinks tieing them together…naah, too far fetched. Indians cant do these things, not the sarkari DRDO.

    What about AESA radars- oh the Israelis gave us the entire design (as compared to select consultancy on the architecture)? Then why is it that we seem to be making our own Tx/Rx modules? If thats the case, then who developed the all important software, the various modes, the signal processing. Saraswat said India did it. So where did we learn that from ?

    Could it be the experience from the Rajendra Radar, which – by quite a coincidence, happens to be an ESA?

    What about the missiles themselves, scoring a direct hit on the targets? Who gave us the datalinks? Could it be the Akash program taught us how to develop datalinks? No, surely too far fetched.

    And the navigation control? Could it be that making an accruate missile without a seeker finessed our actual proportional navigation control laws? Surely too far fetched, right?

    What about the target? Unlike Israel we didnt develop an air launched drone, so how did we get that? Wait, DRDO modified a Prithvi to fly higher and faster, to mimic a range of trajectories from a Tac missile to an IRBM.

    But the Prithvi, as the Hon. Joshi, Esq tells us, is useless.

    The sad part is that none of these obvious facts, which would be evident to anyone who has followed the Indian program for long are even known to Joshi. He wouldnt understand what I’m saying even if I were to attempt it. Its all about evil Kalam and his obsession.

    Gentlemen, nobody gives defence technology or critical technology on a platter. Not Russia, not US, not France. They give assistance as and when it meets their strategic goals and we have to pay in $$ amounts which we can but barely afford now, and certainly couldnt a few decades back.

    The kind of projects India is launching now, succeeding in, are built on the back breaking labour and elbow grease of a 100 Kalams and others like him who laboured in a restrictive system and did their bit. The least we can do is understand the magnitude of their effort and their vision. These people thought this in the mid-80’s when we couldnt even make a half decent car of our own design. Their timelines went for a toss by 5-10 years on account of several factors, but they did what they set out to in the vast majority of cases and set up the institutional baseline for the next generation (thats the kids in the colleges today) to develop on.

    That is something that totally escapes the Joshis. You cant “buy” power or tech, you have to earn it. Even if its given on a plate, you have to understand what it means.

    Please check what happened to the recent South Korean space vehicle with Russian assistance.

  30. Few seem to have read the comments on Manoj Joshi’s blog. After some knowledgeable commentators literally shredded his assertions, Joshi decided to close comments. Joshi plays fast and loose when the only alternative he holds out for India to indegenisation in the 80s and 90s is turning to Russia for reverse engineering their designs. Some suites of technology are simply not available for love or money. Only after hte breakup of the USSR has the country become more liberal with some of its knowhow, earlier it released very little. Take jet engines, an extremely complicated suite to master, fiendishly complicated. It took France >18 years to make its first design and that too with extensive licensing of tech from P&W and GE. GTRE even after 20 years has struggled with the Kaveri, but there is some benefit to be reaped now, with the Navy showing interest in the Kaveri to build gas turbine propulsion units for its ships. Kalam has a point in criticising the IITs, whose contribution to indigenous technology development isn’t much to write about, in contrast to their contribution to the development of the IT services industry.

  31. I find some of the comments quite interesting. Some of the knowledgeable appear to be straight out of the DRDO press handouts. I know them, because I have a huge collection of them going back 25 years. Anyone familiar with The Hindu and Frontline will know that I have covered the DRDO in great detail beginning from the mid-1980s, visiting their labs, talking to their people etc. I have an old association with Kalam, and some of the issues I have raised, I have done so with him, face to face.

    In the 1980s, I was also excited by the many new programmes and hopes of the organisation. For example, the GTX (now called Kaveri) would have been the first jet engine designed in a tropical nation. The variable bypass concept would ensure that it would not lose power in the hot conditions that prevail in India. But the fact is that it is a failure. As are Akash and the entire IGMDP.

    As for reverse engineering—missiles and atom bombs are 1945 technology. We got our SLV and Prithvi by derivation, the former from NASA’s Scout rocket, and the latter from a Soviet SAM.

    Ballistic and cruise missiles, combat jets, modern diesel-electric submarines came from German research in World War II and was developed on by the US and USSR. The point of reinventing the wheel is to ensure that you get a better wheel at the end.

    No one has pointed out, and that is for another post, that the DRDO did little or nothing for the country’s war against terror which began in the early 1980s. The first DRDO movement in that direction took place only after Nine-Eleven when I saw that DRDO laid out plans to make robotic equipment for defusing bombs. Ludhiana industry was armouring cars for the Punjab police well before DRDO even thought about it.

    Our jawans developed their own patka headgear and armoured their trucks by bolting bullet proof sheets and putting sandbags on the floor, but the DRDO could not develop a simple mine-proof vehicle because it was too busy making a tank that they have rammed down the country’s throat. If I sound angry, I am.

    It is not that we have achieved nothing—there are oases like ISRO whose slow and steady progress has been consistent and is now approaching world class. Any outfit that designed the PSLV when they did is first-rate. It is not surprising that they provided the solid-propellent stages for the Agni. They have perhaps been lucky with their leaders like Brahm Prakash and Satish Dhawan whose characteristic was modesty and an ability for self-correction. The space programme, you may recollect, was merely a subsidiary of the glamourous nuclear programme, but it has shown far greater stamina and achievement than the latter has shown

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