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Vineet R. asked: How can the academia work with the industry in private defence R&D? What niche role do each of them play?

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  • Amit Cowshish replies: The initiative to engage with the academia in the field of defence R&D must come from the private and public sector defence industry, acting in tandem with the armed forces and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). This also requires an overarching organisation to coordinate the efforts. On the face of it, there are three specific areas for potential collaboration.

    One, to enable the industry to design and manufacture futuristic equipment, weapon systems and platforms, which is what will make India self-reliant in the true sense of the term, the academia can undertake fundamental research in critical areas identified by the industry to fill the technology-gap. The academic institutions are best suited for this purpose as fundamental research is experimental, risk-prone, and time-consuming, making it commercially less viable for the nascent industry to undertake it entirely on its own.

    Two, the academia can use applied research in finding innovative solutions to the problems faced by the industry in manufacturing or upgrading various systems or developing import substitutes. In doing so, the academia can also supplement the in-house R&D efforts of the industry with the latest technical knowledge in the field. This arrangement may be more cost-effective for the industry and ultimately the buyer.

    Three, in addition to running regular defence-related academic courses, the academia could conduct short-duration programmes for the engineers and scientists working with the industry so that they remain abreast of the latest technological and scientific developments in the related fields.

    The academia could also conduct customised programmes to cater to the specific short-term needs of the industry. As far as possible, these programmes should be conducted online as the number of participants would be typically very small and their absence from work minimised, making it attractive for the industry and convenient for the participants.

    A related, but inadequately explored, area is the training of the aspiring rookies in specialised skills that are needed by the defence industry. Additionally, there is a large pool of untrained or semi-trained technicians and mechanics out there which has long been involved in providing jugaad solutions to the armed forces. The academia can help by harnessing their intuitive knowledge and hand-on experience through appropriately designed training programmes. This will not only improve the career prospects for them, but also enhance the ready availability of a professionally trained and experienced workforce to the industry.

    Posted on 7 April 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.