No general would GO into battle without a map or war plan. Campaigns have been lost for want of these. This is exactly what befell the government’s Make in India vision for the defence sector.
When unveiled six years ago, Make in India was meant to turn the country from a net importer of armaments to self-sufficiency in weapons production. But the idea had no roadmap, no time-bound plan with deliverables and no generals to steer its course. The result was a foregone conclusion.
India has consistently maintained its place as the world’s second-largest arms importer, buying military hardware worth over $100 billion (Rs 7.5 lakh crore) from the US, France, Russia and Israel between 2013 and 2019. Over 60 per cent of India’s military hardware is imported.
Every year, the armed forces pay over $10 billion for importing defence hardware. The government aims to change that. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s May 16 announcement of a bold new reforms package aims to create a robust defence industrial base.
Defence is crucial for a self-reliant India, but without action on the ground, Make in India 2.0 stands a very real risk of floundering like its earlier avatar.
The key drivers announced by Sitharaman include creating a negative list of defence equipment imports and a lowing foreign companies to own 74 per cent stake in defence joint ventures (up from 49 per cent).
Forty-one ordnance factories will be corporatised and a special budgetary provision will be made for domestic procurement in defence.
Several of these measures were outlined by the Lt Gen. D.B. Shekatkar committee’s report on reforms in the armed forces, submitted to the ministry of defence (MoD) in 2016.