Nearly two decades after Sukhoi aircraft were imported, India received a fleet of five French-manufactured Rafale multi-role combat jets last week. The acquisition of the Rafale fighter jets is a much-needed capacity booster for the Indian Air Force (IAF), given the aircraft’s proven combat capabilities in air defence, electronic warfare and ground support. Their induction into the IAF will also support India’s management of the ongoing border stand-off with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh where India has already deployed multiple weapons platforms hardware including Sukhoi-30 and Mirage fighter jets.
India has got defence upgrade over the last 15 years mostly through imports. Since 2014, the country also started a massive programme to build domestic defence-industrial capabilities which have yielded slow but steady results. Defence-industrialisation is critical for India as it is linked to national security and the country’s profile in the Indo-Pacific region. The significance of building such capabilities is evident from the Chinese example. Till two decades ago, China was one of the largest arms importers. Nowit is the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2019. This has implications for India as Beijing has assiduously exploited its role as a defence supplier to entrench itself in India’s neighbourhood.