Pakistan is trying hard with its meagre resources to achieve self-reliance in military hardware needs. However, in this field, efforts are made only by the government, and private participation is insignificant and limited to sub-contracts for minor parts. Unless we attract private entrepreneurs, our defence production industry will remain a heavy burden on the national exchequer. A restricted local market and tough competition abroad for our indigenous defence products lead to under-utilisation of our plant capacities and consequent loss to the state. Against this backdrop, the Gulf States are heavily dependent on Western sources for military hardware. They seem to be unaware of the perils of total dependence on the import of weapons, and especially rapid consumption items like ammunition and spares, on Western sources.

There is a feeling that our inadequacy in defence is somewhat attributable to lack of integrated planning. For instance, there is absence of long-term policies for weapon system adoption; absence of a combat development institution at joint service level that should be carrying out an evaluation of the needs of three services; and absence of workable long-term plan based on the transfer of technology for the next 10 years or so.

Our defence services apparently lay great stress on research and development (R&D). There are R&D setups at the level of various arms within the army, then at services level and finally at inter-services level. But unfortunately, these organisations have not made any significant contribution so far. We have not even been able to develop a suitable pack-ration. There seems to be a need for direction and coordination of these efforts at the highest level to chalk out long-term plans and work out research and development strategies making good use of national resources, including universities and private sector.

We need to be self-reliant in the production of military hardware for various reasons. Weapon sources may dry up in the event of war like it happened in the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. We may not get exactly the type of equipment we need, while the purchase of imported systems complete with spares parts and maintenance base require huge capital outlay. Induction from different sources leads to non-standardisation. However, indigenous defence production is dependent on supply from a variety of industries; while a weak industrial infrastructure like ours imposes technological limitations.

Defence production is also affected adversely by high production cost, economy of scales, limited export possibilities and lack of latest production techniques and know-how.

The defence equipment producers can be classified broadly in four categories.

Weapon system manufactures, who sell fully assembled products like aircraft, helicopters, submarines, frigates, tanks and guns.

Sub-system manufactures, who produce major assemblies like engines, turbines, transmissions.

Special parts manufacturers, who manufacture gauges, instruments, computers and other electronic equipment used in weapon systems.

Lastly, the material manufacturers, who produce a host of materials and alloys used in the manufacturing industry.

Any industry established for defence production should have the capability of producing items of use in private sectors. Otherwise, the industry engaged in civil production should be so geared that it can switch over to defence production in time of emergency. Example of this is Hitler’s Germany where the civilian manufacturing industry was remodelled for defence production.

In Pakistan, although the private sector has been associated in defence production, its role has been nominal and limited to sub-contracts for manufacture of minor parts. It has not developed the high standards of technical proficiency required for defence technology.

The backwardness of the private sector in defence production can be attributed to the following reasons. The product and equipment required for military purposes generally have higher standards of reliability, close tolerances, greater ruggedness and higher standards in terms of quality and performance, which the private sector finds difficult to meet. Further, the government is sometimes unwilling to open this field to the private sector because of obsession with secrecy about defence production capabilities. Large capital investment, precise and strict quality control, sophisticated advance technology, time required for development and project maturity, adversely affect the profitability of the projects. Excessive red tape in the bureaucratic hierarchy of defence production departments discourages entrepreneurs. Restricted in-country market and tough competition for export lead to under-utilisation of plant capacity. Lastly, the lack of metallurgical base.

India manufactures its own aircraft, helicopters, frigates, submarines, tanks, armoured personal careers and missiles of various types and also sophisticated electronic equipment. To reach this stage, it adopted a three-pronged strategy.

Imported sophisticated weapon systems along with the transfer of technology and licences for manufacture.

Established extensive nuclear and space programme with latent military potential.

Developed a diverse military industrial complex with the help of foreign technology.

Currently, India has decided to modify its technical acquisition strategy of ‘emphasis on indigenous designing’ to having ‘licence agreement based on phased production programme’ under which equipment would be first assembled, followed by partial manufacture and finally leading to indigenous manufacture, except for some critical parts that would continue to be imported. Rather than working on new designs, R&D is focusing on modification of imported designs. Consequently, it is today believed to be the second largest exporter and producer of defence goods in the third world after Brazil.

Islamabad has been trying to obtain the cooperation of Gulf States for setting up defence industries in Pakistan or in their countries. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are already investing their capital in Pakistan in different civilian industrial enterprises and Pakistan has also been providing experts for the training of military personal to these countries. Pakistan and Gulf States would mutually benefit, if they were to invest in arms industry also. The rulers during their visit to Pakistan are invariably taken to defence industrial complexes, but so far no major defence industry has cropped up as a joint venture. These states prefer to buy high-tech defence equipment off-the-shelf from Western sources; they must realise that these sources can dry up during armed conflicts and even running spares and critical items may be denied to them in time of need.

The writer is a former general of the Pakistan Army.  Email: