By Sri Krishna
From being the world’s second largest importer of arms between 2014 and 2019 at US$16.75 billion, India now aspires to become self reliant in defence sector, and has even drawn up an ambitious plan spelt out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
With increasing threats along its Northern and Western borders and the repeated raising of spectre of two front war, the government has been using the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic to focus on this objective and moving steadily in the direction of self reliance.
As part of this, the government recently drew up a list of 101 weapons embargo created by the newly set up Department of Military Affairs (DMA) headed by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat.
It was done after detailed consultations with all the stakeholders including Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and public sector and private industry.
According to the list released by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who said it is likely to grow, 69 have an indicative embargo of December 2020. Another 11 have an indicative embargo of end of next year. Twelve more are likely to be embargoed by December 2023, another eight by the end of 2024 and one item, Long Range – Land Attack Cruise Missile will not be allowed to be imported by December 2025.
-Baba Kalyani, CMD, Bharat Forge
The move has been seen by the defence industry as “a big step towards self-reliance in defence offering a great opportunity,” to it to rise to the occasion to manufacture the items in the negative list.
Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM) applauded the major initiative saying the country’s defence industry will rise to meet the challenges and the opportunities.
“This strategic step will accelerate the Atmanirbhar Bharat narrative and bolster Indian defence equipment manufacturing industry,” said Baba Kalyani of Bharat Forge.
With this embargo, it is estimated that contracts worth almost Rs four lakh crore will be placed upon the domestic industry within the next five to seven years. Of these, items worth almost Rs 1,30,000 crore each are anticipated for the Army and the Air Force while items worth almost Rs 1,40,000 crore are anticipated by the Navy over the same period.
The list also has some high technology weapon systems like artillery guns, assault rifles, corvettes, sonar systems, transport aircraft, light combat helicopters (LCHs), radars and many other items to fulfill the needs of the Defence Services. The list also includes wheeled armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) with indicative import embargo date of December 2021, of which the Army is expected to contract almost 200 items at an approximate cost of over Rs 5,000 crore.
Similarly, the Navy is likely to place demands for submarines with indicative import embargo date of December 2021, of which it expects to contract about six at an approximate cost of almost Rs 42,000 crore. For the Air Force, it is decided to enlist the light combat aircraft LCA MK 1A with an indicative embargo date of December 2020. Of these, 123 are anticipated at an approximate cost of over Rs 85,000 crore. Hence, there are highly complex platforms that are included in the list.
This move is part of the government’s efforts to boost domestic defence equipment manufacturers and the prime minister’s “vocal for local” and place Indian goods in the world market.
With the emphasis on self-reliance in defence, an exercise in this direction took place when in 1990 Self Reliance Review Committee (SRRV) under then Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister (later President) Dr APJ Abdul Kalam formulated a 10-year self-reliance plan under which, the self-reliance index (SRI), (defined as the percentage share of indigenous content in total procurement expenditure), was to be increased from 30 per cent in 1992-1993 to 70 per cent by 2005. This target has not been achieved till today.
The indigenous efforts were not adequate to meet the requirements of the armed forces, leading to the focus moving towards co-development and co-production in partnership with foreign companies.
A beginning was made in 1998, when India and Russia signed an inter-governmental agreement to jointly produce BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.
Apart from Russia, India has also partnered with other countries such as Israel and France for a number of projects.
The irony in the indigenous defence equipment manufacturing sector is that though the country has the fifth largest defence budget in the world; it procures 60 per cent of its weapon systems from foreign markets.
In the present day scenario, Indigenisation in defence is critical to national security also. It keeps intact the technological expertise and encourages spin-off technologies and innovation that often stem from it.
Having porous borders and hostile neighbours, the country needs to be self sufficient and self reliant in defence production.
The creation of two defence corridors in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu is also expected to give a boost to the defence industry as it would encourage defence manufacturing which will lead to the generation of employment opportunities.
The government announced investments of approximately Rs 3,700 crore by Ordnance Factory Board (OFB/Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) & Private Industries for Uttar Pradesh Defence Corridor and investment of about Rs 3,100 crore were announced by OFB/DPSUs and private industries for Tamil Nadu Defence Corridor.
Further, Government has also appointed a consultant for the preparation of policy and Detailed Project Report (DPR) for these two Defence Corridors. Incentives to private players and foreign companies are provided under the respective state policies.
It is expected that the setting up of the two Defence Industrial Corridors would catalyse indigenous production of defence and aerospace related items, thereby reducing reliance on imports and promoting export of these items to other countries. This will lead to achieve India’s goal of self-reliance in defence, generation of direct and indirect employment opportunities and growth of private domestic manufacturers, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and Start-ups.
As per government estimates, a reduction in 20-25 per cent in defence related imports could directly create an additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India.
But, what is of utmost importance in the path to indigenisation in the defence sector is the implementation that needs to be fine tuned including setting up of Permanent Arbitration Cell to deal with all objections and disputes.
-The writer is a senior journalist and media consultant. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda