Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said that India is on its way to have a self-reliant or ‘atmanirbhar’ defence sector. “Tejas light combat aircraft is a shining example of India’s self-reliance in the defence sector”, said the Prime Minister. His statement came during a webinar held for effective Union budget implementations in the defence sector. The online event was hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry along with the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers.
In his statement, Prime Minister Modi said that before Independence, the nation used to have hundreds of arms and ammunition factories. Using these factories, India used to export arms and weapons on a large scale during both the World Wars. However, this system was not strengthened and over the years the condition was so bad that India had to seek the help of other countries to procure small arms.
The PM said that as of today, India is one of the biggest defence importers in the world which should not be a matter of pride. He stressed that the reason for this is not because Indian citizens have a lack of talent or skillset. He highlighted that the nation did not make ventilators before the COVID-19 pandemic, but after the pandemic occurred, India started to manufacture ventilators.
Prime Minister Modi said that India has had the skills and talent to reach Mars, and thus, could also have made modern weapons and could’ve strengthened its defence sector. However, as it was easy to just import arms from abroad, it never turned out to be the case.
He said that now his administration is working towards changing the situation and India is committed to enhancing its capabilities at a faster pace. According to Modi, initiatives like deregulation, delicensing, export promotion, foreign investment, etc, are introduced by the government to give the Indian defence manufacturing sector a push. He also said that with the new Chief of Defence Staff, a uniformity in defence procurement process has been in place.
It should be noted that the position of Chief of Defence Staff was originally suggested in 1999 after the Kargil war. However, the long-talked-about position finally came into an official existence when Prime Minister Modi made the call during his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2019.
In his speech on Monday, Prime Minister said that the centre has made a list of 100 items for import embargo to push for indigenisation of defence manufacturing. This will make India ‘atmanirbhar’, as it will increase the nation’s manufacturing capability, lessen the reliance on other countries.
In the event, the Prime Minister also urged private Indian companies to take initiative in not only manufacturing of defence components, but also in its design and development.
Modi’s statement comes after last year when he set the industry a task of exporting $5 billion of made-in-India military components by 2025. This measure was taken alongside other measures of kick-starting the Indian economy after the COVID-19 induced lockdown. The government had also announced a 74% foreign ownership in Indian companies to attract foreign private investments.
The Current State of Indian Defence Sector
Throughout 2015-19, India was the second-largest importer of arms in the world according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report. Moreover, the report also noted that the supply of defence equipment to India had dwindled over the course of years.
In August 2020, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced a complete ban on the import of 101 items for the next 7 years. The same month, PM Modi also announced that a self-reliant India will boost its position by being the net security provider on the Indian Ocean.
This move would make India a defence exporter to other friendly countries along with strengthening its strategic ties with them.