A single defence deal is emblematic of the delays affecting India’s defence modernisation plan. On September 8, the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared a Rs 20,000 crore proposal to buy 56 C295 military transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force from Airbus Industries.
The deal, cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council in 2015, has been waiting for the green light for six years. After a contract is eventually inked, Airbus will assemble 40 of the 56 military transport aircraft in India with its partner, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL).
It is a significant step because the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is the only Indian company that builds military aircraft. But momentous as this deal might be, it will not instantly spur defence indigenisation within the country—what the government calls ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, where it wants Indian defence firms to not just produce military hardware but export them as well.
TASL, for instance, will not be able to build copies of the C295, upgrade it or even export it without its foreign partner because it does not own the design. The inability to break out of licensed production is a problem that has bedevilled India’s defence indigenisation process.
The reasons range from a dysfunctional military industrial complex dominated by the public sector and a lack of indigenous defence R&D to produce indigenous design, to patchy support for such products from the armed forces.