Modi government’s self-reliance goals for military compel India to attempt impossible task | Techno Glob

gGandhinagar of Ujarat hosted DefExpo 2022, on 12e edition of the defense fair organized by the Ministry of Defense from 18 to 22 October. In keeping with the spirit of Atmanirbharta, for the first time, only “Indian” participants were permitted – defined as Indian companies, subsidiaries of foreign original equipment manufacturers, divisions of Indian registered companies and exhibitors with joint ventures with Indian companies. “Path to Pride” was the adopted theme.

The event aimed to showcase the country’s progress in achieving self-reliance in defense requirements. It also set a record for the largest number of attendees – totaling over 1,300. Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the event and spoke eloquently in his inimitable style about India moving away of its reliance on defense imports by leveraging its scientific potential, human capital and entrepreneurial spirit – a process it deployed earlier and dubbed Atmanirbharta.

In reality, Atmanirbharta in defense must be interpreted as a quest that can never be completely rid of its dependence on foreign entities. This is because one simply cannot produce all of the military systems needed to equip India’s armed forces as part of its national security preparations to deal with the rapidly expanding array of technological advancements and geopolitical threats. . Most major military platforms – planes, missiles, ships, submarines and tanks – would require major and minor subsystems to be purchased overseas. There is also a complex set of dynamic, strategic and market forces that intersect to shape and restrict access. But there can be no argument against minimizing dependency as much as possible within the constraints imposed by national research and development capabilities, the industrial base and the availability of fiscal resources.

Import ban is a ‘worrying’ initiative

A multitude of initiatives have been undertaken to promote Atmanirbharta, such as boosting private sector participation, including micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), revising defense procurement procedures, promoting innovation through projects such as Innovations for Defense Excellence (iDEX), the corporatization of public sector munitions factories, the Defense Test Infrastructure System (DTIS) and the evolution of production policy and Defense Export Promotion Program (DPEPP) 2020. However, these announcements should not be confused with achievements, which should be the index to measure achievements.

Above these and other initiatives is a growing list of items prohibited from importation, called the “Positive Indigenization List” (PIL). The first list, consisting of 101 items, was promulgated in August 2020, and the fourth list was announced at the opening ceremony of DefExpo 2022, covering an overall total of 411 items. The lists, it is said, were drawn up after consultation with all stakeholders, in particular the armed forces and the public and private sectors. Each item has a time limit at which import restrictions would become applicable. These elements, it is hoped, will be developed and introduced during this period. This is an expectation that may not be met in many cases and which already concerns the armed forces.

The time frame for the import ban must take into account the design, development, production and, more importantly, must pass through the complex processes of the procurement system before it is finally introduced. Take the example of the army’s operational need for a light tank that only received attention after the 2020 Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh. The tank is needed immediately, but is on the third list promulgated in 2022 and has a three-year deadline.

Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) chief G. Satheesh Reddy claimed in 2022 that the light tank was in advanced stages of development with Larsen & Toubro and should be ready for production. ‘by 2023. For connoisseurs, such a time frame is a pie in the sky. Since operational necessity demanded it, there was every reason to import a minimum number – which was and still is available – from Russia. But now, with the restrictions imposed by the ban, in all likelihood, the light tank will take at least five to seven years to be inducted, and one can only hope that its absence during this period will be mitigated by other means. . This would certainly be the case for many items on the list, including helicopters, planes, tanks, and ships, among others.

It could be argued that the list will concentrate the efforts and concentration of the entities involved and, therefore, provide the ballast to accomplish the Atmanirbharta mission. While this is true, development and induction are time consuming processes and not easily predictable in terms of delivery as has been in the case of major/minor systems associated with artillery guns, sub -marines, aircraft carriers, armored vehicles, armed helicopters and light vehicles. combat aircraft (LCA). The risks of not being able to meet demand from the private and public sectors could have serious repercussions on the operational effectiveness of the armed forces, which could find themselves in possession of equipment that needs to be replaced urgently.

Read also : Indian defense companies will receive orders worth Rs 8 lakh crore in next 7 years, says army chief

Why autonomy should be staged

If the arc of India’s near to mid-term military challenges require equipment availability to be of a high order, then this is definitely not the time to rely on self-reliance promotion. by bans. No wonder, then, that the 2020 Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh saw a wave of emergency purchases. And this has happened over the years. The major effect of the ban list is that several critical assets are not subject to the acquisition process even when the user requires it because they are on the list. This is certainly preventable.

It is obvious that the ambitious goals of Atmanirbharta compel us to attempt to accomplish what, in essence, is an impossible task. This is especially the case when the complex dynamics of the arms trade, now associated with rising global tensions, play out through sanctions and technology denial. Based on economies of scale, indigenization also requires developing the capacity to be an arms exporter. This has been recognized and efforts are being made in the appropriate directions. But it would be clear that the MoD’s export target of Rs 35,000 crore ($5 billion) by 2025 is unrealistic and will impact suppliers who would need some degree of assurance regarding the estimated order volumes to cover their investment in production infrastructure.

The quest for Atmanirbharta must be an ongoing and long-term endeavor which must take due account of its negative impact on the short to medium term operational effectiveness of the military. It cannot be an end in itself and must be considered as having only an instrumental strategic objective to escape the possibility of foreign suppliers disconnecting military systems and subsystems at critical moments for reasons beyond our control. will. The need of the hour is a change of perspective on the issue that must emerge from continued and balanced civil-military interactions. Civilians are not always right and as a result if the military voice is chained or shy, operational readiness could suffer – a reminder of this historic lesson is provided this week as we mark the 60th anniversary of the India War -China of 1962.

Lt. Gen. (Dr) Prakash Menon (Retired) is Director of the Strategic Studies Program at Takshashila Institution; former military adviser, secretariat of the National Security Council. He tweets @prakashmenon51. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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