Self-reliance in the defence sector has been a long cherished goal of the Indian policy makers. Efforts have been undertaken in this regard but India still imports a sizeable amount of military hardware from other economies. The spiralling defence budget can largely be attributed to these imported military equipment and hardware. However, India is trying to reduce its military dependency. According to the Draft of Defence Production Policy, 2018, Indian indigenous defence production increased from Rs 43,746 crore in 2013-2014 to Rs 55,894 crore in 2016-2017. According to the Draft of Defence Production Policy, “India is aiming to achieve a turnover of`1,70,000 crore in defence goods and services, involving additional investment of nearly Rs 70,000 crore and to achieve export of Rs 35,000 crore in defence goods and services by 2025.”
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) recently established and developed around 52 defence labs to strengthen research in defence. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been promoting and undertaking research in defence aeronautics whereas the Mazagdon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd. (MDL), Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) have been pioneering research in maritime defence. The Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL) and the Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. (BEML) have been pioneering research for the army.
Currently, India has the fifth largest defence budget in the world as it obtains 60% of its weapon systems from the foreign market. The Indian government is focusing on strategic tie-ups for enhancing self-dependence in the defence sector. The Chapter-VII of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), 2016, includes a chapter on ‘Revitalising Defence Industrial Ecosystem through Strategic Partnerships’.
Under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model, there are four segments identified for acquisition, namely, fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) or main battle tanks (MBTs). Since the new policy was announced, the Indian government has invited and studied proposals for developing six stealth submarines costing around Rs 75,000 crore under its ‘Make in India’ policy. The country has also commissioned the procurement of two types of helicopters, namely the naval multi-role helicopters’ (NMRH) with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and the armed light ‘naval utility helicopters’ (NUH).
The two contracts are estimated to cost nearly Rs 65,000 crore. Though these two deals would strengthen the air force, it will not fulfil the overall requirement of helicopters. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is building nearly 400 helicopters under two separate projects. One of these projects is working on Russian collaboration whereas the other is completely an indigenous project. The government is planning to facilitate domestic defence manufacturing by pushing the issue of industrial licences which are needed to start production. In keeping with the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the defence ministry has asked the DRDO to create a “master list” of its technologies that can be given to private Indian industries for manufacturing defence equipment. The government expects this to have a positive impact on the export market as well. The ministry is also looking at tax concessions for domestic producers. During the recently concluded ‘Defexpo 2018’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emphasised “the urgent need for indigenisation in the manufacture of weapon systems and the government’s commitment to transform India into a defence industry hub.”
‘Make in India’ in defence projects is being carried out largely under the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This organisation is involved in creating new designs and is responsible for development of indigenous defence systems. The organisation produces equipment like missiles, radars, sonars, electronic warfare, engineering systems and surveillance and recce systems. Some successful projects by DRDO are mentioned below.
Supersonic Cruise Missile BrahMos
‘BrahMos’ (2001) is a two stage supersonic cruise missile with a solid propellant booster as its first stage and liquid ramjet as the second stage. The missile has a flight range of up to 290 km with supersonic speed all through the flight.
Air-to-Air Missile Astra
‘Beyond-visual-range’, ‘air-to-air’ missile ‘Astra’ (1998) was developed by DRDO to engage and destroy highly manoeuvring supersonic aerial targets.
Smart Anti Air Field Weapon (SAAW)
SAAW (2016) is a long-range and stand-off precision air-to-surface weapon (125 kg class) capable of engaging ground targets for launch from Jaguar and Su-30 MKI aircraft.
New Generation Anti-Radiation Missile (NGARM)
DRDO has designed and developed NGARM (2016) which has a range of 100 km. The AKU-58 launcher after some modifications will be used for missile integration on Su-30 MKI aircraft.
Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas
Indigenously developed (LCA) ‘Tejas’ (2016) is an advanced supersonic, light weight, all-weather, multi-role fighter aircraft designed for multiple combat roles. Currently, there are 13 Tejas aircraft undergoing flight trials (including the naval version).
Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QRSAM)
QRSAM weapon (2017) is capable to search on move, track on move and fire on short halts while engaging multiple targets at ranges of about 30 km with two vehicle configuration for air defence.
Anti-Tank Missile Prospina
The third generation ‘Fire and Forget’ Anti-Tank Guided Missile ‘Prospina’ (2017) which was earlier known as ‘Nag’ (1980) was back for trials in the desert ranges in Pokhran. It is deployed on a specially modified Infantry Command Vehicle (ICV) BMP-2 called 'NAMICA'.
Apart from depending on the DRDO for the design and development, the naval services are building an well-equipped in-house design base by the Naval Design Bureau for producing equipment and technologies which can be made within the country. The army has already initiated its own Army Design Bureau in 2016.
Shankar Roychowdhury, Former Chief of Army Staff, Indian Army
Why are we not successful in producing bulk items like good rifles? The users of our rifles are not satisfied with our own products. We are dependent on imports. Actually, the idea of making defence products in India is not new. It is known as import substitution policy. As of now, India has 41 ordnance factories, 8 PSUs and 66 DRDO laboratories. In spite of that, why are we not successful in making sophisticated, high-tech defence products? In some cases, we have tasted success. But in many cases, we have failed. I think we have talented resource persons. But why are they not being successful? It might be because that the salary structure is low in the public sector and we fail to retain them. There is other also problems like poor quality control in India.
Dr Rajib Chakraborty, Former Senior General Manager, Cossipore Gun & Shell Factory
If the right opportunity is given, the defence PSUs can survive on their own strength. I can remember two incidents from my professional life. When I was appointed as the General Manager of Ordnance Clothing Factory, Avadi, Chennai, the organisation was a losing concern. Users were not satisfied with the clothes that were produced by this unit. The production amount was huge as it was the only factory to produce almost the entire requirement of the Indian defence. Outside supply was increasing. But within my tenure, the Avadi unit turned to be a profit generating sector. That is a burning example of success. Lt. Gen. Ravi Thodge, the then Master General of Ordnance, recognised it and wrote an official letter on May 12, 2016 and mentioned, “I have no hesitation in stating that OCF Avadi is an island of excellence amongst all ordnance factories.”
Another example is linked to the manufacture of the 0.32 pistols in our Cossipore Gun & Shell Factory. It is a very high quality pistol named Ashani Mark 2. The same quality pistol made by foreign manufacturers costed around Rs 2 lakh. We produced it in half the cost while maintaining all quality indicators. I would like to reiterate that we have the capacity to produce sophisticated defence products provided we are given the responsibility and resources.