The Quest for Defence Autonomy

India aims to strengthen its indigenous capabilities, and reduce reliance on foreign sources for arms and armaments. Amidst this transformative journey, global players perceive promising prospects for collaboration, while India grapples with the complexities of a multifaceted geopolitical landscape

By Vaibhav Agrawal

Independence Day

India, a land renowned for its ancient wisdom and innovative spirit, has a long and storied history of self-reliance in the defence sector dating back millennia. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, the nation has displayed unwavering resilience, adaptability, and ingenuity in protecting its borders and sovereignty.

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Ancient Roots of Self-Reliance in Defence

Stretching back to the times of the Indus Valley and the Vedic period, India demonstrated impressive indigenous advancements in military technology and strategies. Epic texts like the Mahabharata and Ramayana provide glimpses into ancient warfare, showcasing the use of sophisticated weapons and military formations.

Innovation in Ancient Warfare

During the Mauryan and Gupta Empires, celebrated for their political acumen and cultural achievements, defence self-reliance continued to flourish. The ‘Arthashastra,’ an esteemed treatise on statecraft written by the ancient scholar Chanakya, emphasised the significance of a strong military and the use of indigenous technologies in warfare.

India’s maritime prowess was equally impressive, with shipbuilding techniques rivalling the best in the world. The Cholas, in particular, possessed a powerful navy that employed innovative tactics and advanced warships, establishing dominance in trade and defence.

Reliance on Indigenous Tech in Medieval Period

Throughout the medieval era, India persistently pursued self-reliance in the defence sector. The Rajput warriors, Marathas, and various regional kingdoms showcased exceptional skills in manufacturing arms and armour, devising unique combat techniques, and fortifying their territories.

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Challenges of Colonial Era

The advent of colonial rule in India posed challenges to its self-reliance in defence. The British aimed to undermine indigenous industries, resulting in a decline in traditional arms manufacturing. However, despite these obstacles, India’s rich heritage of military knowledge and local craftsmanship persevered beneath the surface.

Pursuit of Self-Sufficiency Post-Independence

Since gaining independence in 1947, India has faced significant dependence on foreign military suppliers, relying on post-sale support and training from these partners. This reliance was a response to the urgent need to defend against external threats, jeopardising India’s hard-earned independence. Remarkably, even though India inherited Ordnance Factories and boasted a vibrant private manufacturing sector that actively supported the Allies during both World Wars, pursuing indigenous options for military equipment proved challenging.

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Since gaining independence in 1947, India has faced significant dependence on foreign military suppliers, relying on post-sale support and training from these partners. This reliance was a response to the urgent need to defend against external threats, jeopardising India’s hard-earned independence

The hurdles in embracing indigenous solutions were rooted in capacity deficiencies within the domestic manufacturing and research sectors. These shortcomings hindered the Indian military’s ability to explore and pursue self-sufficiency in military equipment. Furthermore, decision-making processes surrounding military procurements often excluded the military’s input, leaving little opportunity for advocating indigenous options, and even when consulted, their advice was often overlooked.

The post-independence era witnessed a regrettable diversion of domestic defence production capabilities in India due to immature political decisions and unrealistic diplomatic idealism. Instead of prioritising military hardware production, the inherited defence facilities were used for non-military purposes. This short-sighted approach severely hampered the importance given to the defence sector, and the consequences of such decisions should serve as important lessons for decision-makers and the support system.

The 1962 conflict with China exposed vulnerabilities in India’s defence sector, leading to increased reliance on imports. Additional Ordnance Factories and Public Sector Undertakings were established, often with foreign assistance. However, issues related to pricing, quality, and delays became prevalent, causing distress to end-users and resulting in avoidable losses for the nation. Subsequent wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 were fought using a combination of imported and domestically produced military equipment.

Fortunately, the Indian Armed Forces demonstrated remarkable resilience and determination, compensating for the relatively inferior equipment compared to adversaries with better Western technology. The success achieved in these conflicts was a testament to the commitment of our forces. However, it also became apparent that military gains alone were insufficient to achieve desired political and diplomatic outcomes. Over dependence on foreign imports granted undue influence to world powers over Indian decision-making processes, undermining the country’s autonomy in policy formulation, military functioning, and post-conflict negotiations.

To safeguard India’s sovereignty and strategic interests, there arose a pressing need to reduce dependency on foreign suppliers and bolster indigenous defence capabilities. This realisation sparked a renewed commitment to promoting self-reliance and nurturing a robust defence industry within the country

To safeguard India’s sovereignty and strategic interests, there arose a pressing need to reduce dependency on foreign suppliers and bolster indigenous defence capabilities. This realisation sparked a renewed commitment to promoting self-reliance and nurturing a robust defence industry within the country. The Agni missile, a symbol of India’s commitment to indigenous technology, showcases the nation’s capability to develop advanced ballistic missiles.

In the complex realm of global politics dominated by military hardware economics, India faces the challenge of charting its own course. With a perpetually troubled neighbourhood and intricate geopolitical dynamics, decision-making for India becomes a multifaceted task. However, in recent years, the government’s focus and determination to pursue the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) mission have gained momentum.

The journey towards indigenisation must be understood along the milestones of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, as they hold distinct significance in the execution of plans. It is crucial for users, suppliers, researchers, decision-makers, and analysts to discern the difference between these terms, as they are often mistakenly used interchangeably. Indigenisation involves multiple initiatives aimed at reducing dependence on foreign sources, while self-sufficiency implies the capability to fulfil all defence needs domestically.

Challenges and Opportunities for Global Players

Competition from Indian Players: Indian manufacturers, including MSMEs and established companies, are posing competition for global players.
Adherence to Indian Regulations: Global players must navigate and comply with India’s regulatory landscape, which can be complex and specific to the defence sector.
Upskilling and Training: For certain niche areas, upskilling the local workforce may be necessary to meet specific technological requirements.
Long-term Commitment: Establishing a manufacturing and maintenance facility in India requires a long-term commitment, which may involve some initial challenges.

Benefits and Positive Indicators

Joint Ventures and Partnerships: Collaborating with Indian partners enables global players to access local networks, expertise, and government support.
Indian Start-Ups: The emergence of Indian start-ups indicates a dynamic and vibrant innovation ecosystem, attracting serious investors.
User Acceptance: A positive attitude from Indian defence forces towards adopting domestically manufactured goods encourages further investments in indigenisation efforts.
Cost Benefits: India’s competitive cost advantage, along with abundant and skilled human resources, makes it an ideal destination for manufacturing and maintenance facilities.
Predicted Long-term Demands: Both in India and globally, there is a projected long-term demand for military equipment across kinetic and non-kinetic domains.

 

The Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative presents significant opportunities for global players in the defence sector:

Access to a Vast Market: India’s defence market is substantial, and with the focus on indigenisation, global players have the opportunity to cater to the country’s growing demand for military hardware.

Joint Ventures and Partnerships: Collaborating with Indian partners through joint ventures allows global players to leverage local expertise, resources, and market knowledge.

Investment Opportunities: The push towards self-reliance in the defence sector has created an environment conducive to increased investment in India’s defence industry.

Rising Global Demands: Conflicts in various regions have led to a surge in defence budget allocations worldwide, presenting opportunities for global players to meet the increased demands for military equipment.

Limited Global Production Capacities: With limited production capacities in several regions, India emerges as an attractive destination for setting up manufacturing and testing facilities.

To swiftly enter the Indian market, collaboration with its vast manufacturing sector, vibrant academia, and robust R&D ecosystem, backed by government support, is the fastest route. India offers a favourable production and marketing ecosystem with global demand, making it a major consumer and preferred trade partner for exports.

Joint Ventures (JVs) within public and private sectors hold tremendous potential. The government is actively open to choosing meritorious options, deviating from the previous focus on the Public Sector alone. State Governments are enhancing skilling with government assistance for a productive youth bulge.

Realities to consider for smooth change management include ensuring a realistic level playing field between domestic bidders, curbing white labelling, preventing crowding out of smaller innovators, and discouraging human capital flight. A comprehensive national approach is essential to foster the growth of self-reliance in the defence sector and position India as a key player in the global landscape.

-The writer is an independent journalist covering defence and aerospace. He can be reached out at vaibhavmag1@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda