Atmanirbhar Bharat: Quest for indigenous weaponry - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 29 March 2023

Atmanirbhar Bharat: Quest for indigenous weaponry

“Guns versus Butter” 

The second of a five-part series takes a close look at the military’s push for acquisition of defence equipment from domestic sources rather than from overseas. 


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 30th Mar 23


The 37th Report of the 17th Lok Sabha’s Standing Committee on Defence, which was tabled before Parliament on March 31, reveals that, despite the government’s encouragement of defence procurement from domestic sources, almost 40 per cent of the defence capex budget has been expended on foreign military equipment over the preceding decade.


Extrapolating from the report, which scrutinises defence expenditure from Financial Year 2012-13 (FY13) to FY22, the expenditure on foreign vendors exceeded 35 per cent in seven of those 10 years. In the remaining three years, foreign capex exceeded 40 per cent – on one occasion going up to 49 per cent.


The defence ministry furnished the Standing Committee with the following information on the import of defence equipment: During the last five financial years (FY 2017-18 to 2021-22) and the current FY 2022-23 (up to December 2022), 264 capital acquisition contracts have been signed, of which 88 contracts, worth about 36.26 per cent of the total contract value, have been signed with vendors from foreign countries including Russia, USA, Israel, France etc for capital procurement of defence equipment -- helicopters, aircraft, radars, rockets, guns, assault rifles, missiles and ammunitions (sic).  


Amongst the measures the defence ministry has announced to boost domestic procurement includes the target of increasing domestic procurement from the existing 68 per cent to 75 per cent in Financial Year 2023-24 (FY24).


The defence ministry also announced that private industry will be allocated 25 per cent of the budget for defence research and development (R&D). In addition, Rs 1231 crore would be allocated for indigenous prototype development under the “Make” category in FY24.


“For ensuring Atmanirbhar Bharat, certain policy alignments have been carried out. The government has taken out four positive indigenisation lists since 2020 which, as on today, account for 411 items which range from guns, rifles, to submarines etc. which are kept on the Import Embargo List. That means these items will not be imported in the future. Also, some 3,738 items have been identified for the DPSUs which will be sourced only from the Indian industry,” the defence ministry stated during briefings, according to the Standing Committee report.


The defence ministry also responded to the Standing Committee’s inquiries about dependency on foreign players, specifically the reports in various publications, that 84.3 per cent of the major conventional arms procured by India in FY2016-20 were of foreign origin, of which licensed production accounted for 57.8 per cent. 


In response, the Defence Secretary stated: “Yes. We do not have certain technologies like jet engine technology. We even have to depend (on other countries) for power packs for ships. We are making efforts. The government’s policies are helping our efforts. As has been pointed out, we are entering into licensed production.” 


“That itself will transfer enormous amount of knowledge into the country, and because of the new decision of the government in 2021 that imports will be limited, we will be able to get several technologies into the country through technology transfer. But we will be dependent in the short term for certain critical equipment, especially power packs, and we are making all efforts to overcome that,” said the defence secretary. 

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