The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is pushing hard to indigenise defence equipment to reduce imports. At present, India is the largest arms importer in the world.
The ministry is in the process of modernisation of defence equipment and overhauling the defence manufacturing sector in the coming 7-8 years, ministry sources said. Due to the increased presence of Chinese armed forces along India’s land and naval boundaries, and the ever-present threat from Pakistan, the MoD wants to modernise and indigenise the defence manufacturing sector to increase security and reduce reliance on imports.
“Upgrading India’s military hardware is critical for us as India’s border disputes with Pakistan and China have increased in the past few years. With increase in numbers of the Chinese army and navy along the India-China border and in the Indian Ocean, we are at a crucial junction. Also, Pakistan remains a threat. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has pushed for increased in-house research and manufacturing in the defence sector. Also, budget spent on capital acquisition stands at over 30%. However, you have to also account for revenue expenses, maintenance, spares, which significantly increase the money spent on imports. It is the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that we are moving forward in every sector and striving to match the might of developed nations,” a source in the MoD said.
However, foreign original equipment manufacturers are hesitant on transferring advanced technology to India even after the cap in FDI in the defence sector was increased from 26% to 49% this year. This reluctance has pushed the MoD to focus more on indigenous research and manufacturing. “Major foreign defence manufacturers are still reluctant to transfer advanced technology to India with the existing cap on FDI in defence. They want at least 74%. That is what makes better business sense for them. However, we need to strengthen our manufacturing capabilities. Until we establish the capacity to manufacture and fulfill military hardware requirements, we have to meet short-term demands through imports. India plans to spend over $130 billion in the next 10 years on defence imports,” the source said.
Over half of the defence equipment in India falls under the ageing and obsolescent category and it needs urgent overhaul if we are to counter any foreign threat. Experts believe that the government is on the right track by pushing for “Make in India” in defence. “Our fast-obsolescing military equipment has made this thrust crucial. The ageing of our military hardware has been exposed by a flurry of Air Force and Navy accidents during the past few years along with the rapidly decreasing numbers in our Air Force squadrons, with old aircraft being phased out and delays in inducting their replacements. By pushing for the ‘Make in India’ initiative in defence, we can fast-track the fulfillment of requirements by the armed forces. Also, it is even more serious for the infantry as they work in high tension environment and in battle situation, they have to fight with arms that are at times older than the soldier. The safety gear is of no use in front of advanced assault rifles. It is commendable that the soldiers jump into battle with unreliable gear,” B.N. Chugh, Air Commodore (retd) and a national security analyst, told The Sunday Guardian. “The government of India has diligently pursued the agenda of modernising and indigenising the defence sector by fulfilling several long-standing requirements for defence equipment for the armed forces. Only 15% of the defence equipment of the armed forces can be classified as state-of-the-art, and over 50% is old, dangerous to use and not at par with the armed forces of developed countries. It is time we stop comparing our defence preparedness in terms of Pakistani threat. We need to look to China. It will be outlandish to say that we are prepared for a conflict with them,” Chugh said. “By 2020, Indian government plans to reduce India’s component of arms imports, which is over 60% at present, to about 30%. Then, India will be able to get rid of the title of the “world’s largest arms importer”. In the 2015-16 budget, Rs 94,588 crore was allotted on the capital account for the acquisition of modern weapon systems, including initial payments for 126 medium range, combat aircraft, 197 light helicopters and 145 ultra-light Howitzers, among others,” Chugh added. Defence manufacturers in India also believe that there is increased strategic and economic importance of self-reliance in India and the government needs to create a strong manufacturing environment to enhance security, reduce reliance on foreign suppliers and possibly tap export markets as well.
“A vibrant domestic defence manufacturing sector can significantly help in realising the vision of making India a super power in the defence sector. The defence production policy 2011 underlined the strategic and economic importance of self-reliance in the area of defence. Developing a strong manufacturing environment enhances security as it reduces reliance on foreign suppliers, provides opportunity to create IP and domestic technologies and capabilities which often have significant civil applications, provide a platform to tap export markets. Most importantly, it has a potential to create millions of jobs,” Javed Alam, advisor to the Association of Defence Companies in India, told this newspaper.