"Atmanirbhar" (self-reliant) should not come in the way of combat readiness - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 9 August 2020

"Atmanirbhar" (self-reliant) should not come in the way of combat readiness


By Ajai Shukla

Unsigned edit in Business Standard

10th Aug 20

As promised in the recently released draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy and draft Defence Acquisition Procedure, the defence ministry has issued a list of weapons platforms and defence equipment that will be embargoed for import, with year-wise timelines, from now to 2024. This is intended to provide the domestic defence industry the confidence to develop import-embargoed defence equipment, using their own technology or capability sourced from the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), with the assurance that the military will not eventually import those.


True, the military is already acquiring most of the equipment that features on the import-embargoed list indigenously. Self-propelled artillery guns are being built by Larsen & Toubro, while the DRDO is developing towed artillery guns and multi-barrelled rocket launchers in partnership with private companies. The vast majority of the navy’s warships and submarines are being built in Indian shipyards, while Hindustan Aeronautics builds the Sukhoi-30MKI and Tejas fighter in India and upgrades the Jaguar, Hawk and Mirage 2000 aircraft. Similarly, the Ordnance Factory Board builds India’s entire requirement of tanks at its T-90 and Arjun line in Avadi, and infantry combat vehicles at its Medak factory. With India’s automobile industry capable of supplying world-class ground transport vehicles to the military, there is little import in that category. 


While the new list serves a purpose in formalising these existing arrangements, there should be greater emphasis on indigenising the high import content in platforms that are built in India under transfer of technology, many of which have more than 50 per cent of their content imported from the original equipment manufacturer abroad. It is misleading for the defence ministry to take credit for bifurcating the defence capital procurement budget and reserving Rs 52,000 crore this year for domestic procurement, when over 50 per cent of that flows out to foreign sub-vendors who provide the systems and sub-systems that go into the “indigenous platforms”. 


The defence ministry must also ensure that the import of urgently needed weapons and equipment is not held back just because an indigenous solution has been promised by the DRDO or private industry. There are numerous cases of the military having to do without essential kit – fighter and trainer aircraft, tanks, warship sonars and torpedoes, air defence weaponry, infantry personal protective gear and small arms, to name a few – because domestic development agencies have been unable to deliver within their promised deadlines. 


There is an inherent conflict in pursuing the dual goals of equipping the military with the best weapons in a short time frame, while also pursuing self-reliance and import substitution; one goal or the other is likely to be compromised. When delivery is delayed, the navy has ships without proper sonar; infantry troops without proper carbines, etc. Import ban means import substitution takes precedence over ensuring timely weapons delivery, leading to delays and sub-standard weapons because they must be made locally.


Therefore, for implementing an import embargo, it is crucial for the defence ministry to put in place technology development structures to ensure equipment delivery in the planned time frame; and also the oversight organization that will provide early warning of delays and development failures, enabling a timely shift to import of equipment so that the military does not find itself facing a void in combat capability.


  1. Yes,current capability must not suffer.We've had the ignominy of warships commissioned without vital ASW helicopters,subs without torpedoes,etc. There should be a gradual weaning away from importing weapon systems and ordnance which are "low hanging fruit" for the DRDO and production by the DPSUs .Abovd all,the accountability factor to be imposed upon DPSUs,same penalties as for foreign OEMs,as they cannot take for granted a captive market and monopoly of end-users,the armed forces,and remain within budget and delivery schedules.Local corporate giants can tie-up with foreign OEMs for advanced systems we cannot produce or develop in time,but manufactured in India with a high % from local raw material as we are now seeing in SU-30 MKI manufacture.

  2. You have made a pertinent point that the MoD should not hold the import of urgently needed weapons and equipment just on the premise of indigenous substitute promised by the DRDO or such organizations. We have dragged our feet on procurement of such basic equipment like assault rifles, sniper rifles for the infantry. The emphasis on 'atmanirbharta' should not be an excuse for delay. In the current backdrop of the looming Chinese threat, such tardiness in defence acquisition is simply unacceptable, however camouflaged it may be in crowd pleasing semantics.

  3. We have licensed production of SU MKI BUT the same was STOPPED even though we had limited number of fighter aircraft


    What about the engine for LCA ....IS THAT NOT FROM GE USA

    will we in next 5 years make a turbo fan engine?,

    1. HAL licensed produced around 272 sukhois and 12 more recently ordered.for fighter jets tgis is very high number.fighter engine is indeed f404 US one but its very complicated tech and not a lot of countries made in house engines.

  4. Stop overtime clause at HAL NAL DRDO Dockyards... Stop singing useless support contracts with manufacturers. Start a public shame if naming the asset under public's name and getting public pay the cost of purchase and maintenance. No better as than seeing companies name over fightetaircraft or ship or submarine

  5. Only blaming PSUs are not correct.our forces mindset was completely in favor of imported weapons which is changing now thanks to our govt indiginization efforts .I really feel that defence ministry should be taken care by someone from defence bcoz the political defence ministers simply arw not good for tbis role.someone who know what is needed to import and what can be made in house.

  6. "HAL licensed produced ..." ??? --
    To my info HAL assembled. Can anyone please correct me if I am wrong. There is a vast difference between "indigenous production" and assembling!

  7. When will HAL Tejas fire the gun ?

    The 70 year old TOT was a scam. You know when old Arts graduates and Lawyers like shourie & blushan start eugolisinb it.

    Only way is to sweat it out to create.


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