Urgent arms requirement in Ladakh puts “Make in India” on back seat - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 15 July 2020

Urgent arms requirement in Ladakh puts “Make in India” on back seat

An AMX-13 light tank of 8 Cavalry at Nathu La in 1962 (Photo courtesy: Maj Durga Dass, then OC C Squadron, 8 Cavalry)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th July 20

With the ministry of defence (MoD) clearing the emergency import of arms and equipment to help the military deal with Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh, the “Make in India” and “Atmanirbhar” programmes would be one of the quiet casualties of that crisis.

The planned import of several categories of weapons – specifically light tanks, Israeli Spike LR anti tank guided missiles (ATGMs), Israeli Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), US-made Sig Sauer assault rifles and MiG-29 fighter aircraft – will undercut Indian programmes to develop indigenous alternatives.

Light tanks

A key overseas procurement the MoD has initiated is for light tanks. The army needs these key battlefield weapons to be small enough to be transported in aircraft; light and manoeuvrable enough to traverse narrow, twisty mountain roads and engineered to operate in sub-zero temperatures at extremely high altitudes. User trials would be required to identify the most suitable tank.

The procurement of light tanks has been initiated after surveillance satellites detected large numbers of Type 15 tanks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Type 15, also called the ZTPQ, is not strictly a light tank since it weighs close to 33 tonnes, while light tanks traditionally weigh up to about 25 tonnes.

In fact, the T-72 tanks that equip an Indian armoured brigade in Ladakh weigh about 42 tonnes – only slightly heavier and less agile than the PLA’s Type 15.

The army has long pitched for an indigenous light tank to equip an armoured brigade raised to defend Sikkim. The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) says its armoured fighting vehicle laboratory – the Combat Vehicle R&D Establishment, which developed the 66-tonne Arjun tank – can quickly deliver an indigenous 25-tonne light tank for use across India’s mountain borders and in jungle terrain.

Indian armoured regiments have a unique history of taking light tanks into battle at altitudes of over 14,000 feet. In 1948, the tank regiment, 7th Light Cavalry, took its Stuart tanks into battle at Zojila Pass between Kashmir and Ladakh. In 1962, 8th Light Cavalry took its French AMX-13 tanks to the Nathu La pass in Sikkim, though they were not involved in actual battle.

Anti-tank guided missiles

Sources also say the MoD has green-lighted the purchase of an unspecified number of man-portable Spike ATGMs that can destroy enemy tanks at ranges up to 4 kilometres.

Expressing regret at this decision, senior DRDO officials say the indigenous project to develop a man-portable ATGM – officially called the MPATGM project – is “very successful” and that the missile has successfully completed five rounds of trials. Further trials are scheduled for later this month.

“If the services are going to buy overseas, it’s unfortunate. We are in an advanced stage of development and are offering them the missile,” says the DRDO official.

The MoD backed the DRDO in February 2018, when it told parliament that it had cancelled plans to build the Spike missile in India “on account of indigenous development of 3rd-generation MPATGM system by DRDO.”

Last year, announcing the “third series of successful testing of MPATGM”, the MoD stated: The test paves the way for the army to have developed third-generation MPATGM indigenously.”

Fighter aircraft

On July 2, the MoD approved the procurement of 21 MIG-29 fighters and the upgrade of 59 existing Mig-29s in the Indian Air Force  (IAF) fleet for Rs 7,418 crore, and the production of 12 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) for for an estimated Rs 10,730 crore.

Officials in DRDO and HAL say that, rather than buying old MiG-29s, the MoD should have allocated funds for ramping up production of the indigenous Tejas Mark 1 and Mark 1A fighters, which are entering service too slowly.

However, the DRDO has scored a major indigenisation success through the IAF’s order for an estimated 250 indigenous Astra air-to-air missiles. This order will inevitably increase as the Astra is progressively integrated into other IAF fighters.

Assault rifles

An earlier “fast track” order for 72,400 Sig Sauer assault rifles for Indian infantry battalions has been boosted with another similar order for the US-made weapons. The first order is currently being discharged.

Meanwhile, there is slow progress on the project to build 700,000 AK-203 assault rifles in India in a joint venture between Russian rifle maker Kalashnikov and India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The project was to come on stream in 2020, but is being delayed partly due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.

With the Indian Army requiring close to one million rifles, there is space for an indigenous weapon too. However, the INSAS 1C, which has been designed and built by the DRDO, has not yet cleared the army’s stringent “user trials”.

Heron UAVs

The need for long-endurance surveillance capability that has been underlined in the on-going Sino-Indian confrontation in Ladakh has led the MoD to clear the acquisition of Heron high-altitude long endurance (HALE) drones, which will supplement the existing fleet of Herons.

The DRDO’s indigenous UAV, called the Rustom-2, is still under development and has not yet entered user evaluation trials.


  1. What about the 5th generation AMCA, why no one dares mention the delay in that project or the fact that we don't "MAKE IN INDIA" the equivalent of RAFALE?

    Good read :)

    1. Why not IIT or other reputed graduates do research and help the country instead of running away to us or other countries citizens have equal responsibilities Lockheed Martin like companies invest heavily on research and develop the arms

  2. What ever maybe the urgency india should be self reliant step by step .make in india and be continued to remain a great country for us

  3. Col. Ajai Shukla is a defence strategist I admire. His article is informative, but for once I wonder if there was need for him to juxtapose it with Make in India. Defence requirements and Make in India are two issues that should not be connected by simply joining the dots. The former is an essential to which the latter will always remain subordinated, and I do not see anybody refuting it.

    1. Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat are much wider concepts. Considering the emergency that exists, this procurement is justified. Col Shukla is not being objective. His aim continues to be negative.

    2. Ajai Shukla writes more like an politician. His objective is not to mention the gaps but something else

  4. Instead of reporting "he said, she said' stories between drdo and army you guys should tell us who is wrong and why.

  5. You never answer questions that readers post in comments, i hope you do....

    Actually, my exam is tomorrow and I have ordered the book today. Will I pass?

    1. Who will benefit when we buy anything in the 11th hour? is it the buyer, seller or middlemen.

  6. Col. Ajai Shukla, much as I admire your incisive views on defence strategies, I am surpised at your attempt to connect defence requirements with Make in India. The former is an essential to which the latter will always remain subordinated. Procuring defence equipment from foreign vendors does not pose a comedown to Make in India. The need of the hour mandates the purchase of the equipment on matters of defence. It is a different issue that we should in the future Make in India the equipment that our forces may possibly need, but to belittle the campaign in these exigent times is trying to connect the dots with the ink having run out of the pen.

    1. Scylla & Charybdis18 July 2020 at 04:07

      Are not some persons being obtuse when they miss the larger point being made by Col.Ajai Shukla that were the defense provisioning systems & logistics to be in place over the past half decade, there would have been no need to scamper around and be stampeded into accquiring the weapon systems referred to in the article at costs not yet in the public domain ?

      A flag and signpost is being placed by him for the future.

      Reaction implies a phase lag.

  7. These two GOI initiatives aren't only limited to the defence sector so there is no question of taking a back seat of being casualties of Chinese border incident.

  8. When DRDO can't stay with the timelines or budgets in most of their projects, don't we ever feel the need to relook at the planning stage.

  9. When we feel thrusty we will start digging a well...INDIA IS MY COUNTRY

  10. Assault rifle
    Indian Army ka sab se jaruri hissa infantry hai aur infantry ka personal rifle INSAS rifle hai,per is weapon me jawan ka bharosa kam hai.jab hathiyar per bharosa nahi hai to ladai ki maiden me josh kaise hoga?
    Ek taraf make in India Ka bahut jaruri kadam govt kadam hai, nahin toh kab tak ham dushre bharosa me rahe.
    Abhi INSAS rifle ki kami ko dekhte hue govt dwara sig sauer assault rifles kharida hai, isme mujhe thorasa mistake laga kyoki is hathiyar ki handling Indian army ke lie kafi Muskil hosakta hai. Iske handling me mahir hone me kafi samay laksakta hai. Abbi achanak China se ladai hone par iska pura faida nahin uthapayega. Kyonki ladai jit hassil karne Kelie simple plan, easy to use equipment chahiye tabhi diya hua aadhesh ko action me badal sake. Agar kharitna hai to AK family ka wpn kharitna chahiye tha, mere hissab se kyonki yeh hathiyar Indian army ka har ek jawan isko handling achhi tarha kar sakta hai.aur yeh hathiyar world best wpn me se ek hai, waishe bhi Indian govt Ak family ka wpn purchase /bana raha hai.
    INSAS rifle itna bhi bura wpn nahi hai. Iska kaam karne ka principle AK ke saath bilkul milta hai.phir iska problem kahan hai - iska problem isko banane wala materials hai johki iski principle par adhik samay kelie kaam nahi kar sakta. Kya ham accha quality ka steel product nahin kar Santa? Ya kharcha Zaida?
    Isliye govt ko mere request hai ki research and development me thora khar bharaye, make in India campaigns bhi pura hoga, paisa bhi batchega, aapana scientists, aapne logg, jawan ki moral bhi uncha rahega.
    Bharat mata gi jai.

  11. The urgent requirement of fighter planes and armament for the army is precisely because of the current situation in the Ladakh Border .How does emergency purchases undercut the Make in India program which is an ongoing process? Too much he said she said stories just like your obfuscation on where the LAC is and your insinuations how the Indian army has acquiesced to giving up territory in the current impasse..

  12. Indian shall apply focused policies for Making of India to succeed.

  13. SURENDRA SHARMA16 July 2020 at 16:02

    There always has been a great decision of making and buying.
    Things that are needed immediately are bought and those which can be delayed for you need are made.
    Here all those resources which are necessary for the immediate defence requirements must be bought.

  14. Indian Army should present their bare bottoms to the msters of Ajay Shukla = the Chinese and say Tohfa Kabool Karo Sarkar . Shukla ne bola hai.... loser

  15. Make in India means making only Ambani and Adani prosperous and rich while making others beggars and bankrupt. Gujarat's textile and Diamond industry which were No.1 in the world till 5 years ago... Now Both these industries have been collapsed and devastated by this government.. 60% textile export market was captured by Vietnam, Bangladesh and Pakistan while India's Feku government remained sleeping...What is Atmanirbhar... Atmanirbhar means making all Indians dependent on Atma(soul).... nothing else

  16. War machine cannot make you great and powerful, better this money is to diverted for the benefit of common folk. Actually, it is not the but the man behind the gun, who fights. All these are,a lamb in a lion skin.

  17. the following is a 12 year old article...have the structural issues of DRDO been remediated? There needs to be some accountability, not just lobbying through social media...https://m.rediff.com/news/2008/jan/15guest.htm

  18. All this panic buying will come too late, anyway. It will take years, for example, for the MiG29s and Su30s to be delivered. All these press releases about arms buying are to fool the public. We needed these arms yesterday. The armed forces and the bureaucracy have been taking their own sweet time over the years while the DRDO has been making unrealistic claims of developing indigenous systems in a bid to increase their budgets. Now that the enemy is at the gates, we have this ridiculous spectacle of running around scrambling for arms. After this hullaballoo is over, I hope they hold those responsible for the delays accountable. People need to be sacked and punished for incompetence and dereliction, otherwise nothing will change for the better.

  19. We need the rafale immediately..seven will not do. We need to buy 24 more as wet lease to stop chi pak in november 2020

  20. The Lag in Defence purchase that you are at pains to point out did NOT happen over half a decade much more like 3decades.And NO Col Shukla is Not raising any Red Flags for the future.He is questioning the emergency purchases of armament and Juxtaposing it with the make in Ibdia Program..Bith are not contradictory .if fingers have to pointed and blsnr apportioned it should be to a systemic failure and too many organizations overlapping each other in defence purchase in not surprised that Ajai Shukla doesn't raise these fundamental questions because his articles are written with a political agenda rather than a strictly military viewpoint. Before calling others obtuse you had better re visit the thrust of the article on purchase vs Atmanirbhar Bharat

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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