Mak­ing arms in In­dia

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

In yet an­other front-page news item, the coun­try was in­formed about the gov­ern­ment’s sup­pos­edly un­re­lent­ing drive to make de­fence equip­ment in In­dia. We may revel over the ded­i­ca­tion of the Kalams and the Natara­jans to their craft, but the hard re­al­ity is that In­dia re­mains brack­eted with Saudi Ara­bia as the world’s lead­ing im­porter of mil­i­tary hard­ware. Ex­haus­tive re­ports by suc­ces­sive par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tees have laid bare the cup­board of In­dian R&D in mil­i­tary. Hence, the drive to some­how in­vei­gle for­eign de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ers into set­ting up shop in In­dia. The lat­est gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to pro­mote do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing of mil­i­tary hard­ware is to make the li­cences valid for life­time and scrap­ping the sys­tem of re­newal.

This lat­est tweak­ing of rules is not a good ad­ver­tise­ment for the gov­ern­ment’s avowed in­ten­tion of mak­ing the coun­try a hub for de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing. A gov­ern­ment with very lit­tle dis­trac­tions that come from hav­ing a com­fort­able ma­jor­ity in the Lok Sabha should not be en­gaged in break­ing down in­ter-min­is­te­rial si­los in its third year in of­fice. The same is the fate with mak­ing big ticket items like fighter planes, tanks and war­ships in the pri­vate sec­tor. The mu­si­cal chairs with the De­fence Min­is­ter’s of­fice con­trib­uted to de­lays in choos­ing com­pa­nies that will part­ner global de­fence giants to make their equip­ment in In­dia. But for a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions, the “cho­sen” In­dian part­ner is a novice in the com­plex field of de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing and may not en­cour­age the for­eign part­ner to test the wa­ters for fear of be­ing scalded.

In­ex­pli­ca­bly, the Modi gov­ern­ment has dragged its feet on an over­haul of the ex­ist­ing pub­lic sec­tor-heavy de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try. A com­pany like Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited should have been hived off into spe­cialised units — he­li­copters, fighters, trans­ports, drones etc — and pri­va­tised. A for­eign part­ner would have felt more com­fort­able join­ing hands with com­pa­nies that have do­main knowl­edge about de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing. The only suc­cess on the hori­zon is for mak­ing Rus­sian he­li­copters in In­dia. For the real high-end items, the gov­ern­ment’s game plan of rop­ing in friendly cor­po­rates with no past record of high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ing will not yield quick re­sults.

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