Self-Reliance as a Pragmatic Strategy for India’s Defence Sector

Self-reliance in the defence sector will reduce dependence on foreign sources for essential defence equipment and technology, assuring future stability. It will create jobs, foster innovation, and boost technical growth. It will also assist the country in creating deeper partnerships with other nations. Self-reliance, however, demands major investment in R&D, infrastructure, and human resources

By Prof (Dr) Dinesh Kumar Pandey

Independence Day

Many compelling rationales underscore the imperative of fostering self-reliance within the Indian defence sector. Strategic autonomy encompasses the notion of self-reliance within the defence sector, allowing a nation to uphold its independence and refrain from relying on external entities for its defence requirements. This holds significant importance for India, considering its geopolitical positioning and its persistent contentions with its neighbouring nations.

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Ensuring self-sufficiency within the defence sector assumes paramount significance for national security. Safeguarding the integrity and well-being of a nation is vital. During strife, a nation must refrain from relying on external entities for its safeguarding.

The defence sector is pivotal in bolstering a nation’s economic landscape by making substantial contributions. By espousing the principles of self-sufficiency within the defence domain, India has the potential to engender gainful employment, foster ingenuity, and bolster the nation’s holistic economic advancement.

The promotion of technological advancement can be facilitated through the cultivation of self-reliance within the defence sector. By directing its attention towards indigenous research and development, India possesses the potential to cultivate avant-garde technologies that can be effectively harnessed not solely for defence endeavours but also for the advancement of civilian applications.

Why Aatmanirbharta?

The importance of self-reliance in the Indian defence sector cannot be overstated for many reasons. Strategic autonomy pertains to a nation’s ability to achieve self-sufficiency in the realm of defence, enabling it to uphold its independent decision-making and avoid reliance on external entities for its defence requirements. The significance of this matter is particularly pronounced in the context of India, considering its geopolitical positioning and the persisting conflicts it faces with neighbouring nations.

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Economic Advantages: The defence industry plays a substantial role in bolstering a nation’s economy. Promoting self-reliance in the defence sector can generate employment opportunities, foster innovation, and facilitate the overall economic advancement of India.

The Indian defence budget frequently garners criticism for its inadequacy, particularly considering comparisons with other prominent global powers. This phenomenon engenders protracted project timelines, a stagnant rate of progress, and reliance on external sources for imports

The promotion of technological advancement can be facilitated by self-reliance in the defence sector. By prioritising indigenous research and development, India has the potential to cultivate state-of-the-art technologies that can be utilised not only for defence objectives but also for civilian applications.

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The importance of national security necessitates the establishment of self-sufficiency within the defence sector. During periods of conflict, a nation cannot depend on external countries to fulfil its defence requirements. By advocating for self-reliance, India can establish sufficient preparedness to safeguard its borders and ensure the protection of its populace.

International Reputation: Cultivating self-sufficiency in the defence sector can bolster a nation’s international reputation, establishing it as a formidable and competent entity.

The Challenges in Developing Own Defence Capabilities

The formidable obstacles encountered by India in the pursuit of bolstering its indigenous defence capabilities. One of the primary obstacles encountered by India in the purpose of maintaining its indigenous defence capabilities lies in the need for more sufficient financial resources. The Indian defence budget frequently garners criticism for its inadequacy, particularly considering comparisons with other prominent global powers. This phenomenon engenders protracted project timelines, a stagnant rate of progress, and reliance on external sources for imports.

One of the formidable obstacles encountered by India pertains to the limitations imposed upon technology transfer by foreign nations. Numerous nations exhibit a certain degree of hesitancy when disseminating cutting-edge technologies to India, primarily due to apprehensions surrounding the potential infringement upon intellectual property rights and the safeguarding of national security interests. This impedes India’s access to state-of-the-art technologies and poses challenges in cultivating its indigenous defence capabilities.

The Indian defence procurement process frequently garners censure due to its protracted, intricate, and bureaucratic nature. This predicament presents a formidable challenge for domestic enterprises to rival foreign suppliers, thereby impeding the progress of cultivating self-reliant defence capabilities. The procurement process is susceptible to corruption and malpractices, exacerbating the intricacies involved.

One of India’s prevailing challenges is the need for more proficient human resources within the defence realm. This predicament can be attributed, in part, to the meagre remuneration packages extended to individuals serving in the defence sector. Such modest compensation makes enticing and retaining skilled personnel a formidable undertaking. The absence of proficient human resources impedes the advancement of domestic defence capabilities, given the imperative need for a profound technical understanding.

The Indian government has taken various measures aimed at fostering self-sufficiency in the defence industry. The ‘Make in India’ initiative, implemented by the government, seeks to boost domestic manufacturing; and diminish the nation’s reliance on imported defence equipment

India is confronted with the formidable predicament of insufficient infrastructure for producing defence apparatus. These factors include a shortage of testing and certification facilities, adequate research and development infrastructure, and constrained accessibility to raw materials and components. The absence of proper infrastructure poses a formidable challenge to developing and producing defence apparatus within the Indian context.

The mentioned challenges represent a mere fraction of the myriad difficulties encountered by India in its endeavour to cultivate indigenous defence capabilities. To effectively tackle these challenges, it is imperative that both the public and private sectors collaborate synergistically. This entails a comprehensive approach encompassing augmented financial resources, facilitation of technology transfer agreements, optimisation of the procurement process, allocation of resources towards skill development and infrastructure enhancement, and fostering a climate conducive to indigenous innovation and entrepreneurial endeavours.

Successful Indigenous Defence Projects in India

Tejas LCA: The Tejas fighter jet was created by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) as a lightweight, single-engine multi-role fighter. It will upgrade the Indian Air Force’s ageing MiG-21 aircraft. After more than 30 years of development, the Tejas entered service with the Indian Air Force in 2016. Its performance and features, like its sophisticated flight control system, electronic warfare suite, and weaponry, have won high praise.

Arjun MBT: The Heavy Vehicles Factory in Avadi, India, produces the Arjun main battle tank, designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The Indian Army’s ageing T-72 tanks will finally get a worthy successor. The Arjun has cutting-edge equipment like a laser rangefinder, thermal imaging sights, and a computerised firing mechanism. It is one of the world’s most modern tanks, and the Indian Army now uses it.

INS Vikrant: Cochin Shipyard Limited constructed the INS Vikrant as the first Indian-made aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy. It has a length of 262 metres, a width of 62 metres, and a displacement of about 40,000 tonnes. Fighter jets like the Tejas can ride on the carrier with up to 29 other planes. The Indian Navy ship INS Vikrant was launched in August 2013 and entered service in 2022.

Akash SAM: The DRDO created the Akash, a surface-to-air missile with a medium range, in 2004. The Akash missile system comprises a launcher, control centre, and radar system, and it is meant to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft and missiles at a range of up to 25 km. After extensive testing, it entered service with the Indian Army and Indian Air Force in 2015.

BRAHMOS Missile: DRDO of India and NPO Mashinostroyenia of Russia collaborated to create the BrahMos, a supersonic cruise missile. It can reach speeds of Mach 2.8 and was dubbed after the Brahmaputra and Moskva rivers. The BrahMos missile has a range of 400 km and may be launched from land, sea, or air platforms. It has passed rigorous testing and is now used by the Indian armed forces on land, sea, and air.

These are just a few of India’s many successful homegrown defence initiatives. The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), the Tactical Communication System (TCS), and many other projects are also in various phases of development.

The government Initiatives

In recent times, the Indian government has implemented various measures aimed at fostering self-sufficiency within the defence industry. The “Make in India” initiative, implemented by the government, seeks to boost domestic manufacturing; and diminish the nation’s reliance on imported defence equipment. In addition, the government has augmented financial support for indigenous research and development endeavours while concurrently fostering collaborative alliances among governmental entities, academic institutions, and industry stakeholders to facilitate the advancement of innovation and technology dissemination.

  • Increasing the defence budget. The budget allocation for Aatmanirbhar Bharat for Defence: Considering the recently announced Union Budget for the fiscal year 2023-24, India intends to embark on a path of modernisation and indigenisation for the Indian Armed Forces. The allocation provided to the Indian Defence Ministry in the most recent Union Budget has experienced a 13 per cent rise compared to the preceding fiscal year.

The Ministry of Defence has been allocated a budget of Rs 5.94 lakh crore in the Union Budget, representing an increase from the previous year’s allocation of Rs 5.25 lakh crore. Per the Union Budget of 2023, the funding for public enterprises in the defence budget stands at Rs 3,100 crore. The public enterprises encompassed in this list are Hindustan Shipyard Limited, BEML Limited, Bharat Electronics Limited, Bharat Dynamics Limited, Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited, Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited, Goa Shipyard Limited, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The government should create a favourable policy framework for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the defence sector, such as simplifying the procurement process, providing incentives and tax benefits, easing the regulatory hurdles, and ensuring a level playing field for all players

During the fiscal year 2021-2022, the Indian government acquired military equipment valued at Rs 702.21 billion from domestic defence contractors produced within the country. In fiscal 2022-2023, the expenditure allocated towards domestically-manufactured military equipment reached Rs 845.98 billion. This signifies the government’s efforts to enhance India’s national security.

The allocation for construction projects in the Indian Army has been increased by Rs 6,789 crore, up from the previous amount of Rs 5,596 crore.

Additionally, the Indian Navy has experienced a significant increase in the allocation for equipment procurement, resulting in a substantial boost. As per the Finance Ministry, there has been an increase in the budget for the Indian Navy from Rs 6,000 crore in the previous year to Rs 9,500 crore for equipment. Nevertheless, the allotment for the Indian Air Force has experienced a decrease in the most recent Union Budget. The allocation for Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft and aero engines has been reduced to Rs 15,722 crore compared to the previous year’s allocation of Rs 18,966 crore.

  • Promoting Domestic Defence Production. To foster self-reliance in the defence sector and reduce dependence on imports by the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), the Ministry of Defence has approved the fourth positive indigenisation list. This list comprises 928 strategically significant Line Replaceable Units (LRUs), sub-systems, spares, and components, including high-end materials and extras. The total import substitution value associated with these items amounts to 715 crores.

According to officials, a total of 2,500 items from the preceding three lists have undergone the process of indigenisation. Additionally, 1,238 items have been designated for phased manufacturing in India until the fiscal year 2028-29. Out of the total number of 1,238 items, a current count indicates that 310 items have undergone the process of indigenisation.

  • Easing Regulations for Defence Exports. The government streamlined defence export authorisations. The government also removed some components and parts from the export control list.  The administration also targeted US$5 billion in defence exports by 2025.

Measures for Encountering the Challenges

  • Investing in research and development. The government should increase the budget allocation for defence research and development (R&D) and encourage the participation of the private sector, academia, and start-ups in defence innovation. The government should also create a conducive environment for technology transfer, joint ventures, and collaborations with foreign partners, especially in areas where India needs more expertise or experience. The private sector should invest more in R&D and leverage its information technology, electronics, aerospace, and engineering strengths to develop cutting-edge defence products and solutions.
  • Promoting innovation and entrepreneurship. The government should create a favourable policy framework for promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the defence sector, such as simplifying the procurement process, providing incentives and tax benefits, easing the regulatory hurdles, and ensuring a level playing field for all players. The government should also support the development of defence industrial corridors and clusters among its employees, partners, and stakeholders and explore new opportunities for creating value-added products and services for the defence market.
  • Fostering collaboration between academia, industry, and the government. The government should facilitate collaboration between academia, industry, and the government by creating platforms for dialogue, exchanging ideas, sharing best practices, and joint problem-solving. The government should also encourage the involvement of academia in defence R&D by funding research projects, providing scholarships and fellowships, creating centres of excellence, and enhancing the quality of education and training in defence-related subjects. The private sector should partner with academia to access talent, knowledge, and resources and to provide internships, placements, and consultancy opportunities for students and faculty. The private sector should foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship

Conclusion

Self-reliance in the defence industry can lessen our dependence on foreign sources for essential defence equipment and technology, assuring future stability. A country can increase strategic autonomy, decrease vulnerabilities, and meet its security demands even under global instability by creating indigenous capabilities and technology.

Self-reliance in the defence sector may create jobs, foster innovation, and boost technical growth. As a trusted defensive partner, it can also assist a country create deeper partnerships with other nations. Self-reliance in the defence sector demands major investment in R&D, infrastructure, and human resources. To establish capabilities and maintain a strong defence industry, the government and business sector must commit long-term. Self-reliance in the defence sector boosts strategic autonomy, economic growth, and international cooperation, ensuring future stability.

References:

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-The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies. Prior to this he was Group Captain in the IAF. He served the IAF for more than three decades in various capacities. He was Director Air Staff Inspections and retired as Director, Joint Control and Analysis Centre. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda