New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India is shedding its image of being a major importer of military hardware and carving an identity for itself as a defence exporter, at a time the government has taken several measures to boost self-reliance in the key sector as well as tap the potential of defence markets globally.
He said the world had taken note of the strides made by the country in defence manufacturing with locally produced equipment ranging from modern grenades, assault rifles and drones to fighter jets and warships.
Modi made the comments during a ceremony to lay the foundation stone of Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh State University at Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh.
Aligarh, is one of the six nodes of the UP’s government’s ambitious defence industrial corridor project aimed at boosting indigenous defence production and the Make in India initiative. The other five nodes in the state are Agra, Jhansi, Chitrakoot, Kanpur and Lucknow. In the Aligarh Node, land has so far been allotted to 19 firms who will together invest ₹1,245 crore. The Centre has also set up a defence corridor in Tamil Nadu.
India is wooing foreign partners to invest in the defence corridors for co-development and co-production of equipment.
The Prime Minister said the hundreds of crores of rupees being invested in the Aligarh node will create thousands of jobs. He said the new industries coming up to support the manufacture of small arms, armaments, drones and aerospace-related products would give a new identity to Aligarh and its nearby areas.
The defence industrial corridors will go a long way in creating much-needed manufacturing hubs in the country that will further help India’s transition from a weapons importer to exporter, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“These corridors, along with other steps taken to boost self-reliance, will not only provide fillip to the Make in India initiative but also create an ecosystem that will allow us to strengthen our position as an exporter globally,” Chopra said.
The Prime Minister’s comments come at a time when the domestic defence sector is poised for big leaps in several areas including fighter jets, helicopters, airborne early warning systems, missiles, drones and other weaponry.
State-run Defence company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has set a March 2022 deadline to carry out the first flight of the LCA (light combat aircraft) TEJAS MK-1A jet. The defence ministry awarded a ₹48,000-crore contract to HAL for 83 TEJAS MK-1A jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) in February. The first MK-1A aircraft will be delivered to the air force by March 2024, with the rest slated to join its combat fleet by 2029.
Earlier this month, the PM-headed Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) cleared two big Make in India projects worth ₹33,000 crore. It cleared the much-delayed purchase of 56 C-295 medium transport aircraft to replace the IAF’s ageing fleet of Avro-748 planes. The C-295 project is estimated to be worth Rs 22,000 crore.
It also cleared a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) proposal to develop new airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft for the IAF using Airbus jets bought from Air India. This project is estimated to be worth around Rs 11,000 crore.
Last week, the IAF inducted a medium range surface-to-air-missile (MRSAM) system capable of knocking out aerial threats such as enemy fighter jets, missiles, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles at a range of 70 km. India and Israel have jointly developed the MRSAM or the Barak 8 air defence system.
Last month, the Indian Army accepted the delivery of the first batch of multi-mode hand grenades manufactured by a private sector firm. The defence ministry signed a contract with Nagpur-based private firm Economic Explosives Ltd (EEL) last October for supplying 1 million hand grenades to the army. These will replace a World War-II vintage hand grenade design being used by the army.
The government has taken several measures to boost self-reliance in the defence sector over the last two years. These include raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing, creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware and notifying two lists of 209 defence items that cannot be imported (ban to be implemented progressively from 2021 to 2025).
The items that cannot be imported include AEW&C systems, light combat aircraft, missile destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, long-range land attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, specified types of helicopters and artillery guns.