Though the defence industry in India came up more than 200 years ago with Gun and Shell Factory coming up at Cossipore, the Department of Defence Production was created only post the conflict with China in 1962. However, after the 1965 war with Pakistan, India’s trust on the United States got backstabbed when the US, without any justifiable reason, went ahead and put embargo on arms sale to India.
Thus, a new era of friendship began with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) when India, left with no other choice, entered into a long-term defence relationship with Soviet Russia. Though, over a period of time, India slowly developed number of ordnance factories, several laboratories, R&D centres etc but, somehow, it continued to remain one of the largest importers of defence equipment and the thirdlargest in military spending.
It is an undeniable fact that technology is the backbone of any military power and together with economic strength; it helps the nation to emerge at the global level as a dominant power. Despite India being blessed with no dearth of talented workforce, natural resources and favourable climate and above all, having a great geographical advantage of jutting into the Indian Ocean Region, the nation still could not rise up enough to be identified as a regional power in the last 75 years of independence.
While today, Russia is still India’s main supplier of arms followed by France, but now, the drive towards ‘Make in India’ has started to generate major visibility in the growth of defence production. Notwithstanding the budget constraints, the current Government under the Atamnirbhar Bharat scheme, which is a vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has initiated major military modernisation programmes utilising the emerging technologies.
In the year 2014, the country was fortunate to see a bold and decisive leadership taking over the reins of power. As a result, within few years only, India has managed to turn into a fastest growing major economy globally. Today, with a GDP of $3.37 million and with defence and technology related exports touching Rs 13,000 crore, India is now seen as the fifth largest economy in the world.
What has brought about this big change? Undoubtedly, it was the Atamnirbhar Bharat, under which the defence sector finally got a longawaited big boost. This big push was given under a well-planned roadmap, treating it as a critical sector for boosting the Indian economy. The road to indigenous defence production has the potential for tremendous growth which will promote indigenous design, development and manufacturing of defence equipment, platforms, systems and sub-systems. It also helps to enhance the role of MSMEs in the defence industry. The defence sector has been opened for participation by the Indian private sector with FDI coming through the Government route and refining Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 as well.
The Prime Minister’s big push to ‘Make in India’ is a reality for all of us to see where defence export has risen to almost eight times compared to what was just five years ago. While India is now seen as an emerging major arms supplier at international level and at the same time making arms for itself, thus reducing imports, one major issue which the current Government identified and has handled well, was the involvement of middlemen.
The Prime Minister did accept the indispensability of agents for defence imports, but now these agents have to register themselves and help the Government in processing the deals through laid-down process and transparency in the best interest of the country. This can be called as one of the major and bold reforms which has enforced transparency and accountability on the part of the so-called middle men. As a result, an effective check has been put on corrupt practices in making any deal for purchases and individuals making massive money which was a wellknown prevailing ecosystem till few years ago.
(The author is a former Army Commander of South Western, Eastern and Central Army Commands)