X-posting: This pretty much summarizes the current status quo.
Karan, please drop the Sir. I am just not comfortable with it.
As far as the IAF is concerned, when I speak to my contemporaries who are senior Wing Commanders or fresh Group Captains (mid level) the feeling is very strong vis-a-vis HAL. I have not found a single voice in service and pro HAL and I also include the Engineering officers.
Secondly, the IAF, which may be 'import passand' etc, is very efficient in its work culture in things like discipline, timelines, punctuality (I am refering to rank and file and not the Air ranks or decision makers only). Folks in uniform almost as a rule expect PSUs of defence sector to be like them and no amount of argument gets them to see the other side - Unions, Worker issues, non military life style, etc.
I also felt that very few if any understood challenges of setting up Assembly Lines, Production, economic order quantity etc, even among the Engineers.
IMO, the disconnect is large and continues. A sustained effort is required to inculcate a culture which supports Indian production is. HAL and other PSU's need to turn a new leaf and learn some Marketing, Advertising, Brand Promotion, etc for once. Another step will be to stop time line slippages. Just last weekend I could not get folks to see how LCA would be available in quantities and on time given that the second aircraft has again missed a deadline provided by HAL.
Even today, the news or opinion folks in uniform digest or consume is not BRF style "Indic" but very mainstream Western style propagandized view points. This further increases the disconnect. Add to that the opinion of the likes of Air Marshal (Retd) Mathesaran and Col (Retd) Shukla tends to get more traction in military circles for obvious reasons.
HAL and IAF are two entities and while there are other players in this Military vs. Def PSUs debate, this one relationship probably embodies all the ills faced by the Indian MIC. If this relationship improves, I am sure all else will fall in place.
I think the Defence Ministries proposal of not allowing imports in certain sectors and in time increasing this list to cover more and more sectors will go a long way. Let Rafale be the last example of a weapon system where a generational equivalent Made in India was available but imports were allowed.
The above are my views and opinions based on a small sample of people I interact.
Agree & that's been my experience too.
Now to a few more controversial points.
One, I think the average IAF person/military person simply doesn't have the background or wherewithal (time, interest) to adequately look into issues that determine national industrial development. I was once told by a senior IAF guys - these "DRDO wallahs are asking millions for a simple bomb" - he neither cared nor understood that the components of a bomb, such as a seeker would require expensive production facilities by themselves. This sort of attitude is all very common. "We are on time, they are not". That "they" are developing things from scratch, is not really looked into at all. Another issue is that the limited amount of reverse engineering that has gone on at BRDs has been very useful, but even worsened this attitude "even my airman could do this" - never mind that the component being machined is a) to an existing form factor b ) uses metal already developed or ex-import c ) relies on commercial analysis often done by the private sector or DPSU/R&D labs themselves. The refrain is since we need to go to war, we need this now, no matter what. The question then is, why was this not raised earlier? And if it was, and the time taken is long, do they understand that cancelling the program/or not giving it adequate orders (as versus imports for the short term, but keep the program running) will lead to permanent reliance on imports? These sort of forward planning/analysis is almost completely missing when these programs are discussed.
The prior practise was to send a few people to the labs, a few stay, others spend as much time as is necessary (bare minimum), come back with a tick mark but not really aware of the issues in detail. How exactly does one become an expert on R&D or production by making a few visits? Yet, the IAF's empire building is such that it want's these folks to run all other organizations which is neither realistic nor will it give the desired results. IAF folks say "we sent xyz to fix HAL, govt didn't agree". Would a person who has spent a better part of a decade cursing HAL, with very little mfg awareness, be the ideal person to do this?
So to sum it up, until & unless the IAF creates a cadre of people who work on such programs & see the real issues, there will continue to be hand waving dismissals of national programs which are far more complex than the IAF cares for.
Second, coming to westernized viewpoints. This has long been a pet peeve of mine & most of my friends who have been on both sides of the divide (brats included) - reluctantly agree. The entire "sahibs in cantonment" versus "Civilians outside" culture deliberately done by the British to have an apolitical, and completely loyal force has served India well, in that the corruption and disorganization outside was kept at bay. However, it has also created an artificial is versus them divide wherein the view that the other side has bleddy civilians (mostly those associated with the GOI, the babus who must be obeyed but can be held in contempt) has poisoned relations with the DPSU structure. Have seen this wherein some services appointees come in with a chip on their shoulder & treat everyone on the other side of the fence with extreme disdain. The worst was at a public function where a gent from the IA (self described as India's foremost expert on offsets and acquisitions) went on a long rant about many of the people attending the function itself. Somehow, this sort of behaviour is NEVER done with the gora's or foreign OEMs, who are treated with stiff necked courtesy even if they are wrong. Those from the services who then work on the R&D/DPSU side are treated with contempt if they seek to have neutral viewpoints. The high(low) point being even the Std Committee on Defence being informed that officers who worked on the Arjun & disagreed with the Army had "forgotten the Olive green". This sort of stuff is almost unique to the Indian services & needs to be solved.
I cannot reiterate this enough. Calling your own people names in public is not done - it causes morale issues, it worsens relations & further more reduces the deterrence effect of our national programs. In 1999, the then ISI chief as much admitted that they went on newspaper reports about how "hollow" the Indian forces were. By constantly crying wolf and claiming to be weak, we invite war. By all means, flag issues in private, be consistent, don't dilute standards.
IMHO, this second issue is fundamentally the biggest issue dogging many critical programs. The problem is acute with senior brass of the age group of the AMs/Generals - but the issue is before they go, they make sure the same ethos carries over to the young guys.
Third, there is the extreme dysfunction in the Indian MIC wherein the MOD has basically been Nero fiddling. If ADA is to design the LCA, HAL to make it, IAF to procure it, why exactly did the MOD not crack the whip and get all to work together? IMHO, this is not merely happenstance but deliberate because it keeps the import gravy train flowing. Disinterested Defence Ministers & babus who could'nt care less & the system is what it has become. If its MOD which funds ADA, HAL, IAF why were HAL and IAF bickering over who funds production? If MOD runs both HAL & ADA, why was HAL not extending full support to LCA? If MOD runs both ADA & IAF, why is it that IAF could get away with zero involvement with the LCA & in turn, ADA could get away with promising unrealistic deadlines? All this because fundamentally, there is nobody to stand upto any of these groups & tell them, enough, work together.
Fourth, the increasingly distressing phenomenon of open lobbyists from the Armed Forces, rtd. They front multiple companies, act as agents, run magazines, run media shows etc. All this is fine but there are often conflicts of interest. Many of those who routinely mocked & denigrate our made in India efforts often have a commercial interest to do so. Whilst the Armed forces may justifiably point out they can't do anything to those who leave, the MOD should have ensured laws were stringent enough to avoid such overt & covert lobbying at the expense of the Indian national interest. Instead, the MOD had people who actively encouraged the media to go after its own groups. Such is the state of affairs.
All said & done, I still believe things will get better. But the manner in which otherwise respected seniors have let their personal perceptions affect national programs is often a hard thing to understand or even accept. That & they still attempt to influence policy & refuse to look at reason.
Having said this, I do believe the LCA will prove its critics wrong & the success of several other programs will gradually change opinions. And in that I think the AF's youngsters/mid-ranked staff (WingCos & so forth) will play a huge role. They come from a new generation & don't really buy into any superiority of the west or similar baggage. They'll do what it takes to get us ahead. There were IAF folks deputed to DARE for EW, others to CABS for AEW&C. These are people who are seeing the R&D effort first hand. Hopefully, they will continue to shape opinion & drive such programs forward.