The recent launch of the nuclear capable Babur cruise missile and its shiny new launch system was looked upon by many as yet another “trick up the magician’s sleeve”. The Tomahawk based Babur is a hybrid weapons system: a Chinese turbojet powering a reverse engineered fuselage of a BGM-109 Tomahawk, with its guidance system developed locally using American built microprocessors.
This is not an uncommon approach when it comes to the design of Pakistani weapons, but the process from start to finish is rarely smooth. Pakistan’s military has, does and for the immediate future, will continue to consider India its arch nemesis and existential threat. This fact seems to influence most major decisions that Pakistan’s establishment makes for the rest of the country, including blunders that have cost the nation dearly. Unlike India, with its booming economy and positive repute in world politics, Pakistan neither has the economic capacity nor the goodwill to update its military as it wishes. While its self-declared all-weather friends, the Chinese, are always ready to supply Pakistan with military hardware on deferred payments or soft loans, their electronic systems are still maturing compared to their western counterparts.
The result is that the Pakistani Military have to scrounge around the secondary arms market and work with the Chinese to come up with alternative solutions. Many of these solutions end up being co-developed or totally indigenous, and while most are surprisingly effective and sometimes better than their western alternatives, not all attain the success they set out to achieve. The acceptance of mediocrity allows such solutions to pass as no other alternative is present. The organizations that perform military research in Pakistan are mainly under the control of the establishment, with strict control of who is employed and what they are doing. Even a low level employee goes through a tedious check with the intelligence agencies.
But is this a bad thing, considering the hostile environment Pakistan survives in? Many enemies and “allies” of Pakistan are prepared to pay top dollar to penetrate these organizations, to know the secrets or to sabotage crucial programs. With that in mind, it is perhaps best that the strict checks in place stay. But what of the strict control when it comes to the bureaucracy involved? Is it constructive or destructive? There are many projects that have fallen prey to the lots of the proverbial “red tapes” that line the halls of Pakistan’s infrastructure. It is not just red tape that is the problem. Many a shrewd middleman has found a way to exploit the loopholes in this system and get away with crimes from simple illegal tenders to more heinous acts of mass embezzlement.
Such corruption is considered deplorable in the civilian setup but is simply unforgivable when it comes to institutions that contribute to Pakistan’s defense and scientific progress. The local defense industry is mostly comprised of military subsidiaries which are confined to the rules and thinking of a military setup. While they are responsible for some ingenious solutions to military requirements, they are also extremely prone to the shackles of bureaucracy and a general lack of vision. An example would be a local project initiated in the mid 90’s to build a simulator for the nations prized F-16 fleet, which was suffering under the US embargo after Pakistan’s refusal to halt its nuclear program. Spares were running short and so were pilot hours. It was decided by PAF to tackle both goals together by issuing a selective tender for a simulator which would also give physical feedback to the F-16 pilots. A highly motivated team was selected after preliminary bidding and given time to prepare a study, at the end of which they presented their results.
Not surprisingly, the study suggested that the visual aspect of the simulator would be fairly easy to reproduce and could have even involved networked F-16 simulators being able to duplicate most combat and training scenarios. However, to be able to replicate all the forces a pilot experiences, including but not restricted to the forces of acceleration, the team would need to tap the nervous system of the pilots which required the input of a reputed neurologist as part of the development process. PAF simply denied the request of the team stating financial and security reasons. Thus what had the potential for being a groundbreaking project, not just for Pakistan but possibly for the rest of the world as well, was orphaned before its birth.
The oft repeated mantra of Pakistanis being a talented people may not be exaggerated at all, but any talent is useless if not tapped correctly. Many brilliant Scientists and engineers that were part of Pakistan’s research community have left for greener pastures. Some left for financial reasons, but most left after being frustrated with the bureaucratic maze that they encountered in their careers. What is it that plagues the system? The research organizations in Pakistan do have priority when it comes to the black budget and also take a good share of the mainstream funding. Perhaps a thorough review of the bureaucracy that runs within these systems needs to be performed, including specially the people who control that bureaucracy.
There is a lot more that is achievable by this nation if only there were leadership competent enough to channel all the potential that Pakistanis have much more effectively than at present. It is time these organizations reviewed the structure of their bureaucratic setup and refined the management that governs them. The story of Pakistan’s research and development sector holds secrets to admirable achievements earned by sweat and blood, and it would be sad indeed if the structure standing on the foundation was not as strong and innovative as the foundation itself.