All great powers and aspiring powers are supposed to be self-reliant in weapons production.
India still remains a large arms importer. However, signalling some good days for India’s weapons production capacity, its domestic military-industrial complex (MIC) is slowly metamorphosing into a success story. This is evident in India’s declining arms imports and, concurrently, increased booking for domestic manufacturers. The larger challenge, however, is to sustain and proliferate this paradigmatic change.
Several statistical statements allude to the new reality. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPR I) figures show that India’s arms import during 2016-2020 decreased by 33 per cent compared to 2011-15. India’s share in global arms imports came down from 14 to 9.5 per cent. During the same period, India also slipped down from being the largest arms importer to the second-largest after remaining at the helm for embarrassing years.
The SIPRI figures also hint, albeit indirectly, of India being the culprit for the decline in global arms trade during the same period by 0.5 per cent.
While an upward trend in domestic procurement has been visible for the last couple of years, the armed forces already spent 64 per cent of capital budget funds of the Ministry of Defence for the fiscal year 2021-22 on India-made equipment
But the most pleasing statements are coming from our own defence budget figures. Though an upward trend in domestic procurement has been visible for the last couple of years, the armed forces already spent 64 per cent of capital budget funds of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the fiscal year 2021-22 on India-made equipment.
While the actual figures may vary after the final accounts are available for 2021-22, this is a revolutionary turnaround. Only a few years back, we were perpetually importing 70 per cent of arms from foreign suppliers.
SIPRI would like us to believe that India’s imports decline was largely due to “its complex and lengthy procurement processes”. This is at best, a hilarious proposition since the MoD has really worked hard to streamline and simplify procurement procedures in recent times. Also, such a casual diagnosis does not adequately explain India’s higher imports in earlier periods.
The actual reasons for the imports decline are, in fact, attributable to national resolve and public policy initiatives in recent times. The Modi Government has taken several measures through a mission-mode approach under different schemes to bring down imports.
For instance, several editions of the defence acquisition procedure have certainly provided more favourable platforms for indigenously designed, developed, and manufactured category (IDDM) weapons.
Similarly, the strategic partnership gateway, several lists of restrictive items for imports, enhancement of FDI to 74 per cent, the establishment of new defence industrial corridors, and above all, corporatisation of ordnance factories are aimed at consolidating and expanding the domestic MIC.
India has already registered its presence in the SIPRI list of top 100 arms-producing companies with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, ordnance factories and Bharat Electronics ranking at 42, 60 and 66 respectively.
While India aims at expanding the MIC size to $25 billion by 2025 along with a $5 billion weapons export basket, the road to self-reliance is long and more public policy efforts are needed to accelerate the momentum.