ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani government is promoting aims to increase public-private cooperation and develop a self-reliant, self-sustained defense industry. But the private sector is skeptical.
The aims were outlined by Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in a government-hosted seminar earlier this month, which included public and private sector representatives.
The seminar recommended establishment of a task force to develop a roadmap for aiding indigenous defense production, establishing a raw material industry in conjunction with the private sector, utilizing surplus production capacity for export, and establishing ‘digital parks’ to exploit software industry potential and promote university level research and development.
However, Shehzad Ahmed Mir, managing director of Bow Systems Ltd, a private sector defense contracting company, says bureaucratic resistance needs to be overcome.
“Army chiefs come and go, only policies stay. So far there is no government policy to support such repetitive statements made by many an armed forces chief,” he said.
Mir blames Pakistan’s civilian bureaucracy for resisting change.
“The problem lies in the acceptance of the bare fact that private industry can do the job far better, and at much lower cost than these bureaucrats. Unless the defense ministry in Pakistan seriously invites the private industry to sit across the table, go through a lengthy and complex process of negotiations to formulate a standard policy for such matters, such statements are worthless in the business world.”
Exports are a key aspect of the drive, but the problems Mir highlights have already taken their toll. For example, one of Pakistan’s main defense equipment exporters is state-owned Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF), but its main focus is meeting domestic military requirements. Only when these are fulfilled is any spare production capacity given over for commercial orders, which private defense contractors and even POF officials highlight as restricting export potential.
Also noteworthy, Pakistan may already have killed off a golden egg laying goose.
The head of UAV firm Integrated Dynamics (ID), Raja S Khan, says the once thriving private UAV industry essentially collapsed when state bodies took their projects in house.
ID has had notable export success, including with U.S. Border Patrol. It is most renowned though for developing the Burraq armed drone (later used as a basis by the government’s Air Weapons Complex to develop the Shahpar UAV). China weaponized Burraq, further developing and successfully exporting it as the CH-3/5 series, for which Pakistan appears to receive nothing.
Khan believes the “major element” required to revive the industry and make it an export competitor is a UAV regulatory policy to “allow private sector entities to develop and test their designs.”
“India has recently introduced its UAV regulatory policy and is far more proactive in allowing its private sector a foothold in the global UAV industry by freely allowing test zones, development and access to regulatory permissions for registered users," he noted. “Nothing of the sort exists in Pakistan and even a company with the track record of ID is at a loss to test new developments in the absence of regulatory permissions and no accessible or designated flight test zones.”
He is not optimistic for the future.
“The future of development and our export potential looks bleak unless these issues are addressed with policies formulated with UAV professionals on board.”
“Pakistan has the defense production equation all wrong and for the wrong reasons," he said. "Unless that changes for the better and the private sector is not only asked to take the lead, but also the defense setups invest in conceptual programs, our defense needs will remain slave to the ‘no cost no obligation basis’ mantra of the military as a user.”
Usman Ansari is the Pakistan correspondent for Defense News.