India’s armed forces, the third largest in the world, have the eighth largest defence budget. Indigenously developed weapons have contributed to the country's arsenal. India focused on defence innovations after it achieved independence. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which is the flagship organisation responsible for defence innovations was formed in 1958. Before that, the Defence Science Organisation aimed to provide scientific and technological support to the Indian Armed Force. DRDO currently operates through a network of around 47 laboratories and establishments located nationwide and are manned by over 34,000 personnel, including 16,000 scientific technical persons.
In the context of developing new indigenous technologies, India is working on its research and development (R&D) and getting a robust technology transfer system. The ‘Make in India’ initiative must boost indigenous initiatives. A brief account of various defence innovations in India is given below.
The military hardware of the erstwhile British controlled Indian armed forces was divided between the newly created states of India and Pakistan. After independence, the Indian government adopted a five-year planning approach that also focused on the promotion of indigenous technologies. During this period, the Indian armed forces were involved in a number of significant military operations, notably, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 and the Operation Polo. From the 1950s, numerous contracts with foreign firms enabled the production and development of vehicles and guns, battle tanks, infantry combat vehicles, fighter and trainer aircraft, and frigates and submarines. Such development was carried out by the state-run agencies that collaborated with foreign firms and carried out the bulk of this production in the Indian ordinance factories and defence public sector undertakings.
Arjun Tank Project
It was sanctioned in the late 1970s but could not be used as it had become too weighty. Now DRDO is working on using composites to decrease the weight and is looking to implement it.
The first indigenous nuclear submarine was introduced and developed by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in collaboration with the DRDO in this period. But it cannot be used for long deployment and further enhancements are required.
BrahMos - India created the BrahMos missile in collaboration with Russia. It is one of the best equipment in its class and air. It has land and water variants. It was tested in 2001.
AGNI V - This project was started in 1983. On its successful completion, India achieved the status of owning an indigenously developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). It has also significantly developed the ‘Dhanush’, ‘Nirbhaya’, ‘Prithvi’, and ‘Akash’ missiles.
The ‘Smiling Buddha’ was the first nuclear bomb that was tested by India in 1974.
Tejas is an indigenous fighter aircraft jointly developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The development process was initiated in the early 1980s. It was one of the smallest, lightweight,
multi-role, and single-engine tactical fighter aircraft in the world and was being developed in single-seat fighter and twin-seat trainer variants for the Indian air force and the Indian navy.
This phase was characterised by an intense upgradation drive of the Indian armed forces and successful development of an indigenous nuclear arsenal.
It is a series of five nuclear bomb tests conducted by India that was carried out at the Indian army’s Pokhran Test Range in May 1998. This was a watershed event in India’s defence trajectory as India graduated as a nuclear nation following the successful completion of these tests.
Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP)
India developed its missile capabilities based on its indigenous space programme. The Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) was formed in 1983. The aim of this programme is achieving self-sufficiency in missile production and development. At Present, it includes some important missile programmes which include the Agni ballistic missile, the Prithvi ballistic missile, the Akash surface-to-air missile, the Trishul surface-to-air missile, the Nag anti-tank guided missile and the Nirbhay cruise missile.
Prospective Air Complex for Tactical Air Forces
India participated in the development of Russia’s “Prospective Air Complex for Tactical Air Forces” programme in 1997.The primary objective was to develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The Su-47 prototype flew its first successful test flight in 1997.
The F-INSAS project intended to provide the infantry with equipment of enhanced lethality, survivability, sustainability, and mobility. Most of the equipment under this programme is being developed by the DRDO.
INS Kolkata: Largest-ever warship to be built in India
The 6,800-tonne INS Kolkata, the largest-ever warship to be built in India, was commissioned in August 2014. The warship is the country’s biggest and most powerful guided missile-destroyer. The INS Kolkata is 60% indigenous and has very good stealth capabilities and includes state-of-the-art surveillance and weapon systems.
Light Combat Helicopter (LCH)
LCH is an indigenous attack helicopter development programme that has been undertaken by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. According to HAL, the LCH TD-3 is going to be an effective weapon platform to deliver precision strikes at high altitude.
Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)
A Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Prototype 1 is an indigenously designed and developed combat aircraft that is meant to operate from the decks of aircraft carriers. It had a successful test flight from a shore-based test facility in Goa.
Astra: DRDO's Air-to-Air missile
India’s first indigenously developed Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air-to-Air missile ‘Astra’ was tested successfully in 2014. The indigenously developed missile from DRDO is an all-weather weapon with active radar terminal guidance.
The Indian Navy has two aircraft carriers at sea after over 20 years after the successful commissioning of the INS Vikramaditya. This aircraft carrier is expected to boost India’s maritime capabilities.
Though India has a number of achievements in defence innovation and technology, the data from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that India was the world’s largest importer of major arms between 2012 and 2016. India’s military expenditure is around 2.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is higher compared to the global average, which is 2.2% of the global GDP.
Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme has stated that India remains dependent on weapons technology from many willing suppliers, including Russia, the US, several European nations, Israel and South Korea while China is increasingly able to substitute arms imports with indigenous products. The “Make in India” initiative has boosted indigenous military development to a certain extent. From a strategic perspective, this policy is well-poised to reduce dependence on military import for India.