istory bears testimony to the fact that all nations with strong military industrial set up had developed a strong military force, resulting in a strong and vibrant foreign policy.
It was the military industrial set of Germany which enabled it to launch its offensive practically against the entire western world in the First World War and repeat the same performance once again with very close to success during the Second World War too. The point to note here is that the real strength of the military industry of Germany was obtained through its total industrial capacity and further capability of self-reliance in the field in question.
This is now true of America, France, Germany, Russia and close on their heels is China, which though not fully self-reliant in defence, has dreams of emulating the others mentioned above. However, at this juncture, one must be very clear that all those countries which took full advantage of the Industrial revolution, got the necessary opportunity to develop their own Defence industry, or in other words, got self-reliant in the field of defence, unlike the Asian and African countries which were under the colonial rule of European nations, and India itself is a clear
case in issue.
India’s Defence Indigenisation
Talking of the development of modern defence industrial systems as a result of the Industrial revolution, the first Indian Defence industrial set up was the establishment of a gun factory in Cossipore close to Calcutta by the British in 1801.
Ever since then, India has set up a fairly impressive defence industrial network, with 41 ordnance factories, 9 DPSUs (Defence Public Sector Undertakings), 52 Defence Research and Development Lab (DRDL), and a fairly small private defence industrial set up. These laboratories till recently were responsible for designing and developing small arms and ammunition Light field Guns, foreign fighter aircraft under license, tanks, submarines, Frigates, and radars none of these as cutting edge weapons to dominate the war, but good for export.
This industrial set up which has a work force of over, 20,000 people, though has produced military equipment worth $15 billion, yet India remains the second largest importer of military equipment in the world after Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps the most serious shortcoming in the defence set up of India is it’s very poor capability in defence indigenisation sector. Defence indigenisation is the capability of developing and producing any defence equipment within the country for the dual purpose of achieving self-reliance and reducing the burden of imports.
So backward is India in this aspect of self-reliance in defence, that since 1947, it has not produced an acceptable Rifle for the Infantry, or a Main Battle Tank, a satisfactory Field Arty gun (155mm), any fighter aircraft, (except for HF24 which was grounded due to external political pressure on our Govt), Advance Jet Trainer, it’s engine, submarine, Attack Helicopter, or other major weapons support systems. However, we have always been the top two or three defence importers in the world.
Only now in the last 7 to 8 years, India has got under the wave of self-reliance in the field of defence and has taken an unshakeable decision to become self-reliant in the field of defence as soon as possible. This is quite evident from the result achieved in developing the near abandoned Tejas fighter, developing our own artillery field gun, various missiles, and naval weapon systems.
When the Army and the Air force of India started moving to forward locations confronting Chinese forces in Ladakh from April 2020 onwards, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had visited Russia to place orders for immediate delivery of 12 SU30 MKI and 22 Mig-29s fighter aircraft. This otherwise routine purchase, as per the Indian government, set the people all over asking questions on this apparently last minute purchase and comparing the military strength of India and China along with comparison of defence manufacturing capability of both the adversaries.
It was sadly realized that India is near totally dependent on imports of all major weapon systems, be it the fighters or transport aircraft, the arty guns, the tanks, air defence radars, and other tactical signal, and communication equipment. According to a report by SIPRI, in the period 2007 to 2011, India had met 80% of its defence deals through importing nearly 12.7 billion dollar worth of military hardware.
However, the latest report by SIPRI states that there is a considerable decline in the India’s dependence on arms import. The data reveals that India’s arms import declined 11% between 2013-17, and 2018-22, mostly to in home sourcing of defence items. Yet SIPRI still ranks India as the largest defence importer in the world.
It goes without any doubt that as mentioned above, the Indian military industry consisting of nine PSUs like HAL, BEL, naval ship yards etc, along with 41 ordnance factories, have not been able to meet even the basic demands of the defence, due to late deliveries and cost overruns, which has forced the national defence set up to depend upon the foreign defence corporate sector, making us a puppet in their hands.
Comparative Glance at Chinese and Indian Defence Development
The Chinese, along with India, in the early 60s, went in for Soviet weapons in a big way when India got its Mig-21s from Soviet Russia along with China in 1963, and further India went for Sukhoi 7 in the late 60s along with Tanks and Arty Guns, and Air Defence Radars.
However, by mid to late 80s, the Chinese literally stole a march on India when they, to the utter dismay of Soviets, threw away all rules and norms of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and went on to reverse engineer the Soviet Mig 21 and made it into their own F7 M. This was supplied to Pakistan as F7P and further to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Development of J11 from Russian Su 27 is a similar story, and now the Chinese are boasting of J10, the reversed engineered Israeli Lavi, and their own stealth J20 or fifth generation fighter at par with the US F22.
Indigenisation of Defence Set-up is the Answer
In 1995, when former President Abdul Kalam was the senior advisor to the government, he had propagated the requirement to involve the private entrepreneurs in defence manufacture. Though much effort has gone in this since then, nothing much has come out of it.
Now, with the government talking of FDI with suitable offset arrangements also suggested by the late President Abdul Kalam, it must be appreciated that the defence manufacturing capability must come to India, and Indian manufacturing process should not only be able to sustain the supply for the demands forwarded by the three services, but be able to export defence equipment and arms to other countries as well. This, China is doing in a very large quantity.
Hence, when we look at the official Chinese military budget as it was announced this year, it stands at $225 billion, which is a 7.2% increase from the previous one against the Indian defence budget announced by Nirmala Sitharaman, which stands at only $72.6 billion. On comparison, we now realise why we are in such a situation. We can begin with at least allotting 3% of our GDP towards defence, from approximately 1.52% as it is now.
With this situational background in view the Ministry of Defence’s release of Draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP 2020) had come as a very pleasant surprise. The draft DPEPP stated that its aim is to reduce dependence on imports and take forward “Make in India” through domestic design and development, as also promote export of defence products as part of the overall “Atmanirbhar Bharat” policy.
A number of achievements have come to the credit of India’s indigenous defence programs, some of which are as follows.
Tejas LCA, completed successfully after great initial reluctance, though still using the American GE 404 engine as Kaveri engine is yet to be fully developed.
INS Vikrant or 40000 ton IAC Indian Air Craft Carrier. The larger one ie 60000 ton on the planning board. Has completed sea trials.
Project 75, of the naval submarines was scheduled to build 6 scorpene class attack submarines. The submarines delivered are INS Kalveri, INS Khanderi, INS Karanj, INS Vela, INS Vagir and INS Vaghsheer.
India has developed nuclear submarine INS Arihant. INS Chakra is underway with active support of Russia. In the Artillary Gun Program, the first indigenously built Dhanush long range gun (38kmplus) has been introduced. Main battle tank: 3rd generation Arjun has been developed by DRDO, successfully introducing composite material to reduce weight and improve power to weight ratio—Pinaka MBRL. Built at ARDE, with near zero error probability.
In the field of missiles, Agni and Prithvi series are there. Agni V is considered in ICBM category. The other missiles are Dhanush, Nirbhaya, and Akash. Brahmos missile has already earned fame and great appreciation. Being an Indo-Russian joint venture supersonic cruise missile with range now increased to over 500km, is already on the foreign demand list.
In a very important step, the Defence Ministry on 14 May 2023, approved and announced a fresh list of 928 components and sub systems, with import substitution value of Rs 712 crore.
These items shall only be procured from Indian firms. For this, a total of five-and-a-half year import ban shall be imposed upon starting Dec 2023.
Earlier, three such lists were put up in December 2021, March 2022 and August 2022.
Wing Commander Praful Bakshi (Retd) is formerly of Indian Air Force.