When you have grown up  listening to war stories from your grandfather, have held a hunting rifle in your hand and have competed in athletic events at divisional level, you know your career is going to be anything but ordinary! Life is going to throw everything at you to test your will power, resilience and never-say-die spirit.

Jaison Deepak, our next pathbreaker, Land Warfare Analyst at Jane’s, talks about his initial foray into a software career, unable to drag himself to work everyday, leaving the Indian Military Academy due to an injury and finally landing his dream career as Defence Research Analyst.

Jaison tells Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal how his initial years in short distance sprinting and passion for defence helped him deal with challenges while persisting towards his career goals and landing his current job of researching military weapons used in Land Warfare.

Students who want to get motivated by initial failures should read Jaison’s story …

Jaison, tell us about our background?

I was born and brought up in Vellore, Tamil Nadu. My father is a retired Tamil Nadu State Government school headmaster and my mother is an assistant postmaster at the Department of Post. I was physically active in my school and competed in short distance sprinting (100m, 200m) at the divisional level and interstate CBSE level. As a result, I also held some leadership assignments at school. 

I grew up listening to war stories from my grandfather who was a Subedar in the British Indian Army. He taught me how to aim a rifle with his old hunting rifle and made me sit with him as he cleaned and oiled it. The rifle’s simple yet intricate design fascinated me. My grandfather would describe how his service rifle differed from his hunting rifle, which at a later stage I came to know, was one of the finest bolt action rifles of WWII, the Lee-Enfield. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I could not visualize a clear path for myself in the defence field even though I was passionate about it and put in a lot of effort learning quite a bit. So I took my parent’s advice and pursued engineering. I graduated in 2012 with a bachelors degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Panimalar Engineering College, Chennai, a period which I can barely remember due to low morale and lack of interest. As cliched as it might sound, i joined Wipro as a software engineer as I couldn’t crack the competitive exams to get into the DRDO, OFB and the DPSU’s. Joining the Armed Forces never occurred to me.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

The time at Wipro was intense and brought back some of the confidence that i had lost since my school days, but I soon realized that I was somehow dragging myself to work on monday mornings. I would finish work as soon as I could every day and started reading about defence equipment and designers. This was when my cousin Saravanan sent me a newspaper clipping of an MBA degree in Defence Technology at Hindustan University in Chennai and my mind lit up like a Christmas tree. 

I took a day off from work and went to the University to enquire about the course and met the HOD and one of my mentors Mr.B. Rajagopalan who was the project director for Arjun Chassis & Automotive systems (CAS) and was later the director of R&D Establishment (Engineers), Pune. We spoke for hours on the current defence policy, industry and equipment. I was impressed and felt like I found my species at last. I was desperate to join as I did not want to financially overburden my parents with an overseas education in defence studies but did not want to continue my career as a software engineer. After a long physically and mentally tiring debate with my parents and relatives, I decided to bite the bullet. I resigned my job at Wipro and pursued the MBA in Defence Technology between 2014 and 2016.

Tell us about your experience studying the MBA in Defence Technology at Hindustan University

My lecturers at my masters program were distinguished, knowledgeable and kind. They were like father figures to me. Along with Mr.B. Rajagopalan who introduced to me to the nuances of armoured vehicle design I am in immense debt to Colonel Angusawmy (Retd) (My ballistics, systems integration and small arms guru), Commodore R.S. Vasan (Retd) (My Geopolitics and Anti-Submarine Warfare guru), Air Marshal Varthaman (Retd) (Fighter jock of immense repute and the father of Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman).

I learnt about defence platforms, sub-systems, acquisition procedures, geopolitics, the nature of warfare and visited facilities and ships very few civilians have visited. I gained experience on tanks, armour, power packs, large caliber weapons, countermeasures, fire control and optics. The Russian Arjun/T-72/T-90 tank designs taught me the elegance of mechanical simplicity combined with lightweight and terrific firepower put into a package on which even soldiers with little education can be trained on. could elaborate more but I would have to kill you 😊

In my sparetime, i read about military designers Eugene Stoner, Stanley Hooker, Edward Henry Heinemann, Willy Messerschmitt and Mikhail Kalashnikov. I was not the greatest of engineers but I could fathom their design philosophies and choices when it comes to small arms and aircraft design. The design, development and testing of the AR-15/AR-18/Stoner 63, AKM, PKM, MP 40, A-4 Skyhawk, Bf-109 were intriguing. I heard the same words of simplicity, durability, low cost and ease of manufacture again and again. Perhaps my biggest influence in defence theory was Colonel John Boyd whose theories transformed me and helped me understand the nature of conflict, the importance of people and decisions, advantages of unpredictable military tactics, decentralized command and control, relentless training, cost-effective manufacturing of weapons which can be produced in numbers and maintained effectively.

My parents had continuously supported me financially and mentally in my pursuits even though we strongly disagreed at times. I have no doubt my father’s unique way of analyzing things and my mother’s relentless conviction have rubbed off on me in my pursuits.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? 

Honestly, I did not plan much, but I do not recommend that approach to anyone. My lecturers at my MBA were convinced that I had what it takes to join the armed forces and advised me to look at it as a career option. I attended my first ever SSB for the Technical Graduation Course of the Indian Army at Bangalore. The selection procedure was nothing like I had seen before, it was rigorous, and comprehensive testing of the candidate’s physical, mental and psychological fitness. I got through the selection and was shortlisted to get trained at the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Dehradun and upon passing out I would become a Lieutenant in the Indian Army. It was a dream come true and my parents, lecturers and relatives were elated. I started training at the IMA in 2016 as a Gentleman Cadet and the sight of the iconic Chewode building is something I can never forget. To say that the training was rigorous would be a major understatement and the Gentleman Cadets got their bodies, mind and egos broken to forge them into warriors of impeccable physical and mental toughness. Three months into training I got my ACL knee ligament injured in training. I just could not keep going and had to drop out. My dreams came crashing down on me. I underwent a surgery at a hospital in Chennai and it took me a year to fully recover from it. The regret of quitting the IMA along with the pain and immobility of the surgery put me into depression. My confidence was at my lowest. With the immobility I was putting on weight and with both my parents working, even doing simple things was tough. I was doubting my ability, and I was in no way looking like the athlete I was, and I felt like I was a burden to my parents who had such high expectations of me. 

I decided that I had to do something, so I turned to my old friends, my rusty old cast iron dumbbells. I started working out against the will of my parents as they feared I might get reinjured. Exercise has its way of strengthening the body and mind and in a few weeks, I started scouting for career opportunities and internships online. As my knee got better, I wrote hundreds of emails to private defence manufacturers in India but received no response. I physically visited a lot of the firms and they wouldn’t even let me in. Disappointment at a time when my course mates at IMA were passing out with flying colours. My cousin Saravanan let me stay at his home in Bangalore and supported me in my search and I am indebted to him for helping me when I was down. 

How did you get your first break? Tell us about your career path

Common sense would say that the entry into the Indian Army was the big break due to the extremely competitive nature but I would consider the recovery from my leg injury and depression post IMA to starting my internship at Tonbo Imaging as my biggest break. I was in a situation where I could have been lost forever or would have gone back do something unrelated to the defence field, but I persisted and it paid off. Now I don’t drag myself to work on a Monday morning which is what I always wanted. 

My first inroads into a defence career was the internship at Tonbo Imaging in Bangalore. The company designs and manufactures advanced Image Intensification and Thermal Imaging based night vision devices for the Armed Forces and security agencies. I got valuable experience in defence procurement bids, testing of imaging equipment. 

I then was recruited as a correspondent for Force National Security and Aerospace Newsmagazine where I worked under Mr.Pravin Sawhney and Ms.Ghazala Wahab who are well known in the defence journalist circles and I can say they don’t mince words when it comes to expressing their strong opinions. I was given a free hand in writing articles and doing analyses and not one word was changed before publishing to please certain interests. I wrote articles on the pros and cons of the current defence acquisition policy, interviewed test pilots and engineers of aircrafts being developed as well as manufacturers on the characteristics of the products they are developing and how they enable the warfighters.

I then joined Frost & Sullivan as a Research Analyst for Aerospace and Defence vertical. I was responsible for making reports, market models for various functional segments (especially Artillery), providing consultancy to defence clients on market forecasts, entry strategies, technology, industry/procurement policy and regulations. I worked on a consultancy project for a major western defence manufacturer and had to engage with their experts directly, which gave me insights into their approach to new markets and how they evaluate their own technical capabilities vis-à-vis their competitors. 

What were the challenges? how did u address them?

Challenge 1: When everyone around tells you that you are going down a very risky path it’s your conviction that helps you stay on track. Building conviction is not an easy task, it takes a lot of reading, hard work and validation of your learning from a mentor who is already established in your field of interest. 

Challenge 2: Managing Interpersonal relationships are as important as your ability to work if not more. Your colleagues should find you disagreeable but not unlikable. One cannot be liked by everyone, but I try to convey my disagreements in a patient but compelling way with a smile. The idea of a debate is to persuade someone but not to make them look bad in front of the others.

Challenge 3: Complacency has taught me hard lessons in sports and career. If you want to be among the best in your craft, never be complacent.

Where do you work now? 

I currently work at Jane’s Information Group as a Land Warfare Analyst. Jane is considered the bible of defence information and open source intelligence with more than 100 years of experience. This was a major step in my career as I grew up reading Jane’s information on weapons and equipment starting from days of the dial-up internet. I work primarily on analyzing armaments, fire control, survivability and mobility technologies on Tanks, Infantry Fighting vehicles, Armoured personnel carriers, Artillery, logistics and other specialized military ground vehicles around the world. The work requires a fair understanding of systems integration, ballistics, ammunition, armour, signature management, active protection systems, communications, battle management systems, simulation & training, logistics, supply chain management. I also provide market, technology, competitor and equipment related intelligence to defence clients who would wish to use the information to optimize their business strategy, develop or adapt their products, enter into new collaborations or to update their threat profiles to address emerging business and security requirements. The thing I most love about is that I have access to a huge database which dates back many decades on equipment profiles and specification on all land vehicles, precision weapons, C4ISR, aircraft and ships. I am sitting on a goldmine of information I have always wanted to read and know.

For the benefit of young readers, what is the role and responsibility of a Defence Analyst in the sector?

The Defence sector is an amalgamation of different stake holders. The Government, the Armed Forces and other security agencies, equipment manufacturers and their lower tier suppliers. The Government usually sits at the top of the ecosystem framing procurement policy, industrial policy, assigning budgets to the procurements and above all providing political direction to the armed forces and other security agencies. Based on the political direction and other operational matters the Armed Forces decide on what equipment they want to acquire. The manufacturers develop products to meet qualitative requirements. One of the biggest challenges for the stake holders is to understand and communicate to each other and it is the job of the defence analyst to facilitate this communication. A defence analyst should thus be good with policy, geopolitics, equipment, tactics and finances. A defence analyst creates seamless cooperation between the stakeholders and creates transparency by making the public aware of the non-classified information. Public perception of defence procurements are critical to national security not only to make efficient utilization of resources but to hold the stakeholders accountable in their endeavor of providing the war fighters with the best possible equipment.

How does your work benefit the society? 

As the late President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam said “In this world, fear has no place. Only strength respects strength”. Strength is necessary for peace so my job is to enable good intentioned or relatively good intentioned people to become strong. In today’s world of global extremism, civil war and oppressive political power, the values of liberty, peace and freedom can only be protected by accurate intelligence and understanding threats.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

When my work is appreciated or responded with something like “I didn’t know that” or “We would like to know more about your views on,,,” by Gulf War veterans and established defence manufacturers it puts a smile on my face.  

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Being “kind of interested” in pursuing something and being serious about it are two different things. If you want to pursue a mainstream career then “kind of interested” is good enough but it is not mainstream then you need exercise caution. Passion is not enough, your research should back it up. Listen to your parent’s opinions, weigh it against how serious you are about your interests, take a call and don’t look back.

Pick a sport or hit the gym at least 4-5 days a week.

Future Plans?

I want to continue to strengthen my learning of technology and markets. I would love to support Indian Defence Industries. I also want to start a think tank to compile and convey the opinions of interested and able civilians on defence and security issues. There are think tanks with retired armed forces officers, MOD officials and government-owned defence agencies but one with the opinions of common but interested and knowledgeable citizens would be a breath of fresh air.