India’s defence shopping to go desi

A nuclear-weapon state with the world’s fourth largest military depending overwhelmingly on imports to maintain its armed forces: this is the irony that India seeks to overcome on the eve of its 74th Independence Day. The declaration of a list of banned defence imports by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is a good first step in this direction.

On August 10, the MoD announced an “import embargo” on 101 defence platforms, ranging from bulletproof vests, artillery pieces and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to radar systems, missile destroyers and light transport aircraft (LTA). Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that this will result in the domestic industry gaining new contracts “worth almost Rs 4 lakh-crore within the next six to seven years”.

To help Indian companies manufacture defence equipment on the embargoed list, the MoD pledged a “coordinated mechanism for hand-holding of the industry by the defence services”. This is obviously also intended to help policy-makers gauge current and future capabilities of the domestic defence industry “for manufacturing various ammunition and equipment within India,” as the ministry observed.

This means the country’s defence industry now has two options: one, it could design and develop the systems in the negative list on its own; or, it could manufacture the systems by using the technologies developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to meet the requirements of the armed forces.

The MoD’s announcement of this negative list, however, need not push up many eyebrows. Last February, at the 11th Defence Expo in Lucknow, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set a $5 billion target in defence exports for India by 2025. The Prime Minister invited private businesses to invest in the country to realise “handsome returns on investment” and, in the process, make India self-reliant in defence manufacturing.

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