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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Indian Defense Equipment strategy

India needs to up its defense game. India is dealing with potential conflicts on two fronts. On both these fronts we have belligerent neighbors engaged in asymmetric multi-dimensional confrontation. Pakistan is more of warfare and China is more of competition. Yet, India must prepare for the potential conflict. And in this we need to improve our preparation substantially.

Just cursory look at the Air force in the region will set us back. Pakistan Air Force generally known combat strength is about 500 aircraft. China is about 1600 aircraft. India is about 600. While the numbers are not exactly a way to differentiate - but considering the length of border and our defense requirement India should aim for 2000 combat plane air force.

This means HAL cannot produce 16 aircraft per year. It has to produce 16 aircraft per month. Using private participation we need to improve this number quickly. Second, it appears we need full Rafale deal AND a F16 manufacturing line at the same time.

IAF should also think of getting larger number of combat drones. These drones should be able to manage to fly with manned aircraft. This one manned aircraft (M) -coupled with around 10 drones (D) or more. Thus one mission unit with M-D combination. Then you can add mission units with xM-yD.

These mission units will need to collaborate and coordinate with share intel. That will require a robust ICT interface.

Airforce needs support from ground and space in the form of missiles and information. We should develop mechanism for coordinated launch of missiles controlled by the aircraft pilot herself. We can augment it with coordinator based ground support too.

The future soldier will be an augmented information soldier. 

We need to up our game in terms of equipping the soldier with top-class equipment. AK-203 is a step in the right direction. But we need to lighten the soldier and get every soldier a robo-buddy. The buddies could be in multiple form - carrier mules, terrain mapping drones, communication bots and combat drones (sniper buddy). For this we need very intense development in robotics and again the ICT component will also play a role.

We should experiment with augmenting the soldiers with exoskeletons and other techniques to improve battleground performance.

Air-cover has been neglected part of the army. Apache helicopters in air support is essential. 

Future of navy is stealth platforms. As the US stealth ship Zumwalt goes for a maiden mission, China is developing aircraft carrier buster missiles. The Chinese missiles are hyper-sonic and thus almost impossible to intercept. In this context any above surface ship will find it difficult to beat the defenses. Hence reliance of submarine platforms should be increased.

Sub-marine drone tech is actually quite interesting. It can be used on sink-and-forget  wait mode. Thus we should be able to plant and move around many depth assets on wait and watch basis. Without humans on board this is (a) easier and (b) safer. It also improves the counter-strike and defense capability. These drones should be easy to manufacture in large numbers and low cost. These drones need not be large they can simply be attachments to ammunition that can help the ammunition to navigate and activate.

Deep sea surveillance and AGAIN ICT is also going to be critical.

So Navy must develop platforms but also develop choking -technologies for anti-ship systems.

Space wars
Space is important front for information wars. The satellites form critical part of the ICT infrastructure we need to deploy across the forces.

Satellites should be able to perform twin functions - jamming enemy satellites and keeping ICT infrastructure working for our forces.

The ability to quickly and rapidly restore downed satellites is very important. We should also explore possibility of smaller satellites that can last only for 5/6 months and then disintegrate. The smaller the satellite the costlier it is to destroy. Also because of size, you can build for redundancy. It is also possible to launch 100 satellites in one launch. These satellites are more relevant for theater coverage rather than country coverage.

Cyber war
Most of modern warfare is quite destructive and hence preventive techniques are more important than remedial measures.Cyber war allows for information and processing delays in enemy retaliation and gives us additional time and information to respond better.

Many times it is better for cyber initiatives to operate in bleeding mode than in crippling mode. Thus, it is better for cyber initiatives to delay the enemy communication rather than cripple it. Thus introducing delays and errors is better than crippling the infrastructure for short time. These cyber initiatives can also provide advanced information about enemy maneuvers. The aim is to destroy combat assets of the enemy.

Indian Foreign Policy

Since last month's attack on Indian Security forces in Pulwama by the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist group, I have been thinking about the changes required in the national policy. Today we get the news that China once again blocked the proposal to declare Masood Azhar, the leader of JeM as a terrorist. In light of these developments here are some thoughts about Indian policy. 

Note: Many sound quite conflicting but that is the reality. I miss Narasimha Rao.

With Israel
India MUST announce a proper strategic deal with Israel including multi-faceted cooperation including defense, technology, agriculture, business, banking etc. 
We must improve integration with its defense network. A Multi-track developments must take precedence -
    1. Designed in Israel, made in India, (avionics and defense info-tech subsystems)
    2. Jointly designed and made by Israel and India,  (missile, interception & drone tech)
    3. Designed in India and made for Israel - (aircraft and other equipment)
    4. Joint Cyber warfare development cell.
    5. We should have joint training - allowing Israeli forces to train in various conditions and set up training with them in Israel too.
We should aim for Agriculture and water management technology collaboration. We should explore policies that should allow Israel-India manufacturing companies to go global - compete across the world. We need to have 3 such companies be global brands like say ikea.

With Russia
India MUST announce a proper strategic defense deal with Russia as well. Russia is a long-term partner and we must improve the interaction with Russia. We must engage with Russians for heavy equipment - fighter aircraft, ships and submarine.  We should further the missile development cooperation and aim for joint technology development in defense space.

Economically, we have to help Russia ween itself from Chinese dependence. Russia should be able to stall and deny China without a huge economic cost.

With United States
That India and US are not friends is first the fault of India and then the fault of US. Unfortunately, today there a little bit of mistrust still left. 
India MUST have strategic partnership with US and must join the Quad.
    1. This will include setting up bases
    2. We must join the information sharing treaty with US
    3. We must have/develop defense ICT that is interoperable one with US. 
    4. We need cyber defense cooperation with Quad.
    5. We need to step-up and take our responsibility in Indo-Pacific. 
    6. We also need deeper collaboration and joint exercises between US and Indian defense forces.

With Japan
India must enhance partnership with Japan on following fronts:
    1. Fighter aircraft development
    2. Ship-building tech.
    3. New Drone tech
 With Japan, India must set up ventures to develop infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region. Japan has the capital and technology and India will need to give its man-power.

In general, it is not well-understood that France has been a long-standing defense ally of India since independence. More than Britain which somehow finds more sympathy than France. India and France need to improve the cooperation on defense as well as non-defense sectors.  We need to improve the status of France in the Indian economic and defense scheme.

South East Asia/ Asean / Asutralia New Zealand
We have to play very pro-active role in this region. We can work on the food side trying to reduce the cost of food and other goods in this part of the world.

About Pakistan
Pakistan will continue to remain an irritant unless we take proactive effort to eliminate the terrorist setup. It can be eliminated by imposing very high economic costs on the Pakistani Army. To this end, India needs to be part of Afghanistan solution. If US cedes Afghanistan to Taliban or to Pakistani Army backed group, we will soon have trouble on Indian soil.

Working in Middle East
India must UNDERSTAND and ACT on the fact that we are Hindu majority country AND we are the largest democracy of Muslim at once. India must use this to influence a lot of things in the Islamic sphere and give it a better direction. We must champion the reforms taken up by other middle eastern countries and overcome the regressive developments taking place. 
India should be able to collaborate with Africa much better than any other country. We should provide the institutional support and help African companies develop as suppliers to India. Japan and other countries will surely help us in this process. We have to showcase a credible alternative to Belt and Road but with good clean reformist credentials.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Time Travel effect of Debt

Generally in Time Travel movies the actors go back in time to change some minor thing to alter the future dramatically. Debt does this in reverse.

Debt pulls value from future and alters the present in such a manner that more value is created in the future than estimated.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

One problem with Indian capital risk return matrix

One problem with Indian corporate and their regulation can be summed up in the chart below.

Ideally a simplistic capital risk return matrix looks like this (click picture for larger version). In the best of places it comes close to this. Note that this is a simplistic depiction.
Ideal Capital Risk-return matrix

In India, it looks like this:
Indian Capital Risk return matrix
This is law enforcement issue as well as information issue. There is lack of regulation on conflict of interest between promoters and investors (small and big), there are many issues related to corporate governance. There is paucity of information to ratings agencies and these days the rating rigour is under a cloud with intense competition.

The chart also tells us why India does not have a deep bond market. Since my days in CRISIL, we have been harping on the improving the depth of bond markets. But so long as the risk-return profile continues there are no incentives for it.

The dispute resolution mechanism is abysmal. It is particularly unwieldy, long winding, costly and infructuous in the end. This has hurt investment in the country. Once this is fixed India will have unprecedented growth in equity and bond investments.

Monday, February 18, 2019

How Low interest rate can be bad for small business - 2

In a 2012 post with same title, How Low interest rate can be bad for small business, I had explained mechanics of how small businesses are denied capital BECAUSE of lower interest rates. This was summarized from my book Subverting Capitalism and Democracy. Over the years few readers have asked for further explanation. So here goes.

Demand for projects
Let us look at the following schematic.
Capital Quantum and return
The diagram shows the amount of capital demanded and its possible rate of return. The distribution is made from capital requirements of various businesses of various sizes. The financed part is the blue rectangle. The width of this rectangle and its location is determined by various factors.

Now our experience tells us following details - (1) smaller businesses have higher risk profile whereas larger businesses have lower risk profiles; (2) smaller businesses have smaller quantum requirement whereas larger businesses have diverse capital needs; (3) as a corollary projects with large quantum of capital requirement and low return are dominated by large corporations.

Therefore, let me quote what I said earlier:
How low interest rate leads to mal-investment
A bank takes risk by investing in a venture. Interest rate is also a reward bankers get, for taking the risk. Ideally, even in lower interest rate scenario, those projects with best risk-return trade-off should get financed.

However, in reality, lower yielding large borrowings backed by reputed corporates get access to financing more easily than new ventures. This means, irrational mega-projects or mal-investments of large corporates get financed at the cost of genuine investments of new ventures.

Typically, such irrational mega-projects consume a lot of credit requiring load syndication. This has twin benefits for bankers. First, there is a higher degree of comfort in being with the herd. Secondly, bankers do not have to go through credit appraisal of many small entities of questionable risk profile. This makes them assign a lower risk to these projects than appropriate. Intelligent investors will find that this contradicts with the "diversification as risk management" strategy. But being with herd has a stronger lure and is treated as risk mitigation (though wrongly).

Further, at lower interest rates, debt starts being used as an instrument to amplify equity returns

Thus the second blow to new ventures comes from crowding out. It implies that even in a low interest rate environment, small businesses and entrepreneurs may not have access to lower cost capital. Therefore this impacts the long-term strength of the economy.

The Mechanics
When interest rates are low this rectangle starts more towards the left. This is space where there are weak business models, those that are viable only in low return scenario. This space has irrational mega-projects of large businesses like debt financed share-buybacks etc. With the superior credit rating of large businesses these projects crowd out the smaller businesses.

As the interest rates rise the rectangle is pushed rightwards. In high interest rate scenario, the irrational mega-projects seem less promising. Hence, contrary to popular belief, it may be easier for smaller businesses to compete in high interest rate scenarios. 

Are few projects with consortium lending more risky?
The answer to this question is easy if you understand it from banks perspective and not from bank manager's perspective. From bank's perspective more the number of projects it finances the more the diversification possibility and thus lesser the risks.

But this has higher risks for bank manager who has to stick out her neck for each of these projects. From bank manager's perspective fewer the projects and more the number of borrowers approving the project as credit-worthy lesser the risk for bank managers. But this means more the risk for the bank (concentration risks).

In sum
The cumulative effect of all these is that at low interest rate the credit is denied to small borrowers at the expense of irrational mega-projects of large businesses. When the interest rates rise, as they always do, these projects turn bad and become a drag on the economy.