• Radha Parvate

Indigenisation of Defence Production

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

With the induction of the new Rafale fighter jets into the Indian Air Force on September 10, 2020, the Indian Military has doubled up on efforts to modernize, revitalize and induct newer forms of artillery, weaponry and technology into the three services- Army, Navy and Air Force. An important part of this transformation process is the stress on self-reliance that is echoing from India’s indigenisation plans. Indigenisation of Defence production is important to the subcontinent, not just militarily but at the politico-diplomatic level as well. As of 2020, India stands as the world’s second largest arms importer, only behind Saudi Arabia, and has the third largest military expenditure in the world. For a country that houses the world’s second-largest standing military and the world’s largest ground force, this statistic is worrying. Our heavy dependence on international powers to fend our borders can prove to be a disadvantage in an increasingly polarized world. Thereby, self-reliance in Defence production is the need of the year, if not hour. The following article traces the journey that brought the Indian Defence establishment to where it stands today.

After its separation from the Royal Armed Forces of Britain post-independence, India continued to utilize the Defence Forces and artillery passed down by Great Britain. With India’s defeat in the Indo-China war in 1962 and USA’s refusal to provide high-tech weapons because of the ongoing Cold War, India had no option but to partner with the Soviet Union and since then, Russia has been one of the major exporters of Defence equipment to India. Up until 2013, India imported 75% of its defence equipment from the Russian industry along with France, United Kingdom, USA and Germany.

As India grew as a nation, it moved on from being entirely-dependent upon these foreign countries to accelerating joint partnerships with them. Thus, today we can see a number of equipment manufactured in collaboration with India’s foreign partners. For example, INS Kalvari (France), INS Sindhughosh (Russia), BrahMos (Russia), Dassault Rafale (France), BAE Systems Hawk (UK), were some of India’s ambitious partnerships with other countries. In light of globalization and international trade, these items were co-developed and manufactured by the aforementioned countries.

The first batch of the Rafale fighter jets land at the Ambala air base in India. Source: The Financial Express.

The Indian Navy has also initiated a submarine programme called Project-75I. It involves the construction of six conventional submarines with better sensors and weapons and the Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP). The submarines under this project such as INS Kalvari, INS Khanderi, INS Vela and INS Karanj are being constructed by Mazgaon Dock Shipbuilders Limited in collaboration with France’s DCNS.

To build its way towards complete indigenisation, the Indian Government established two important institutions - the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

DRDO was formed in 1958 to realize the benefits of amalgamating Defence Science and technical development enterprises, and was the result of a union of the then already functioning Technical Development Establishment (TDEs) of the Indian Army and the Directorate of Technical Development & Production (DTDP) with the Defence Science Organisation (DSO). DRDO mainly focuses on the development of missiles, advanced computing and simulation, naval systems, radars and electronic warfare systems. In fact, the DRDO has very recently been in the news for successfully testing the Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle. This is significant because it grants India entry into an elite club of the hypersonic regime of the 21st Century. India is only the fourth country in the world, after the US, Russia and China to have demonstrated the feat. This comes as a massive boost to India’s self-reliance program.

The logo of the Defence Research and Development Organization. Source: The Deccan Chronicle

The second important institution is the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a pioneer in India’s aerospace and Defence production. With the establishment of the HAL, India undertook the licensed production of aircrafts and engines of foreign design and make such as Prentice, Vampire and Gnat. It also undertook the design and development of aircrafts indigenously. The Government of India, in 1963, incorporated Aeronautics India Limited in 1963 as a private company, primarily to launch into the manufacturing of MiG-21 aircrafts under licensed production. Today, we have several aircrafts, naval ships and artillery equipment solely manufactured and developed by India. These items are being manufactured by using designs, technologies adopted and developed by DRDO & HAL, few under a procured license whereas others independently.

The Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jet built by HAL being handed over to the IAF. Source: DNA India

India has some commendable equipment built indigenously within the subcontinent. Let’s shed light on a few through the picture series depicted below.

- INS Vikrant is the first aircraft carrier to be built and developed in India. The work on its design began 21 years ago, in 1999, and is expected to begin sea trials in February next year. It is also known as Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1 (IAC-1).

India’s first indigenously developed aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. Source: The Economic Times

- HAL Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is a single-engine, fourth-generation, multirole light fighter developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. According to a statement by HAL in March, 2020, the IAF is in the process of inducting more advanced Aircrafts, which imbibe many manufacturing improvements.

Light Combat Aircraft Tejas. Source: The Deccan Herald

- INS Arihant, inducted into the Indian Navy in 2016, is a 6000-tonne submarine, 110m long and 11m wide. It is an indigenously-built nuclear-propelled submarine, capable of carrying 12 K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missiles having a range of over 700 km.

Indian Naval Ship Arihant- India’s only operational nuclear ballistic missile submarine. Source: Business Today.

- Apart from this, Agni V, Dhanush, Nirbhay, Prithvi, Akash missiles are a few other names that have been instrumental in cementing India’s process of self-reliance.

The goal of self-reliance has broader implications in line with the Indian Government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat program. The process will diminish the fiscal deficit as high import directly correlates to high fiscal rate. The expenditure on import can, in turn, be used on strengthening India’s production pillars and give them more mileage.

In a world that is increasingly conflict-ridden, military might characterises a nation’s power and asserts its dominance in the international arena. This has been manifested first-hand in the recent Chinese transgressions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where two of the world’s strongest militaries are on the brink of a heated onslaught. It is imperative for India to fend, supply, procure and protect its own Armed Forces who, in turn, will guard her borders, safety and sovereignty.


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