Monday, November 28th, 2022 16:38:02

DefExpo For An Atmanirbhar Bharat

Lt Gen Abhay Krishna (Retd)
Updated: October 29, 2022 6:22 pm

The year 2022 saw India celebrating her 75th year of independence, which was described as “AzadiKaAmritMahotsav”. The current generation needs to be aware that for over few centuries before India attained Independence, the nation suffered from countless foreign attacks, colonialism and exploitation. This period was of hard toil, destruction, loot and suffering which was finally overcome by true resilient Indians through their determination and courage over many generations of sacrifices.

Independence in 1947 saw the country being partitioned to create a separate nation for the Muslims of Hindustan which were named as West and East Pakistan. The remaining portion of the nation turned into the secular India which was identified as an economically poor and non-industrialised country and started to be referred to as a third world country. Post-independence, thus, began the tough journey of reorganising India and to take it forward at the global level to attain some recognition. India suffered from high rate of poverty due to unproductive and illiterate population, gender inequality, fractured character of society based on caste, sub-caste, community, region and religion, thus, lacking one Nation identity and sense of pride. India saw many ups and downs in trying to reorganise and rebuild herself post-independence till the late 1970s. By early 1980s there was a noticeable reduction in poverty and infant mortality which indicated a sharp break from the colonial mindset stagnation prevalent since the British Raj.

A Turning Point in 2014

Later, in the early 1990s, India began to encourage the growth of the private sector. Though India started to turn into a mixed economy, there were many ups and down due to, perhaps, lack of a focussed governance till the beginning of 2014 when the current Government took charge. The country then got to see a bold and visionary leadership which decisively set in well-defined long-term goals. As a result, within a few years only, India turned into one of   the fastest growing major economies surpassing China. Today with a GDP of $3.37 trillion, India is considered the fifth largest economy. As far as the country’s defence and technology related exports are concerned, it has touched the highest ever figure of nearly Rs13000 crore last year, which is double the rise over the previous year and nearly eight times more than what it was five years ago. So, what made this significant jump happen within seven years of the current Government coming to power, also despite a period of two years of Covid ordeal phase in between?

Atmanirbhar Bharat

Atmanirbhar Bharat, a great vision of our Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is the sole reason for this big jump. The defence sector which had the potential for tremendous growth to ensure self-reliance, got a big focussed push. This sector, which was traditionally reserved only for the public sector, was opened for the Indian private sector participation. Under the initiative of major reforms, the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020 was revised and amended with the thrust on attracting Investment and Technology for defence manufacturing. As a part of major reforms, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the Defence Sector was enhanced to 74 percent through the Automatic Route for companies seeking new defence industrial license and up to 100 percent by the Government Route wherever access to modern technology was seen. The Department of Defence Production of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) also launched a portal called, srijandefence.gov.in, as “Opportunities for Make in India in Defence”, essentially to enable the private sector to become partners in Indigenisation efforts of Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and the Indian Armed Forces. Another portal namely SRIJAN, was launched for DPSUs, OFB and the Services with an industry interface to provide development support to MSMEs, Start-ups and industries for import substitution. Side by side, a Defence Investor Cell was also created as a single point contact for providing all necessary information as also enabling addressing queries related to investment opportunities, procedures and regulatory requirements for investment in the sector. These initiatives and reforms led to a focused intervention and resulted in developing a holistic defence manufacturing ecosystem. Therefore, the result of our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s (PM’s) unfolding vision is for all of us to see on ground. Today, the nation’s defence export has risen to almost eight times of what it was about five years back. ‘Make in India’ is, thus, a reality for all to see where India is now seen as an emerging major arms supplier at the international level while at the same time making arms for itself, thus, eschewing imports.

Growth in Defence Exports

While addressing the 117thAnnual session of PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry (PHD-CCI) on 30 September 2022 in Delhi, Hon’ble RakshaMantriRajnath Singh while exhorting the Indian defence Industry to make new investments and lay greater emphasis on research and development to scale new heights, he added that their  contribution would  lead to overall growth of the entire country,’ The defence industry sector of India has, therefore, now taken the shape of a strategically important sector with India having one of the world’s largest military forces with a strength of over 14 lakh active personnel. It has the third largest annual defence budget behind the United States (US) and China. A couple of years ago, India was the second largest defence importer, but now with enhanced domestic manufacturing, arms export will increase and import will significantly reduce.  the nation’s defence manufacturing has started to take major steps to promote indigenous design, development and manufacturing of defence equipment, platforms, systems and sub-systems. The Indian Navy is focused on incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in critical mission areas. The role of MSMEs is increasing in the defence industry.

As of now, Uttar Pradesh (UP) is fast emerging as the major hub of defence equipment manufacturing. In collaboration with Russia, AK 203 assault rifles are now being manufactured in Amethi. Few months ago, our Hon’ble PM laid the foundation for Rs400/- crore Bharat Dynamics Plant in Jhansi to make propulsion system for anti-tank guided missile. The UP-defence corridor has nodes in Agra, Aligarh, Jhansi, Chitrakoot, Lucknow and Kanpur. Similarly, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hosur, Salem and Tiruchirappalli are five nodes for Tamil Nadu Defence Industrial Corridor.  Initially, only these two defence corridors were planned, but now, even the Gujarat Government has planned for a defence corridor. In addition to this, States including Andhra, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra have also given a significant push towards defence production. These are very encouraging signs of the nation’s strides towards creating a ‘New India’, for the world to see in not too distant a future. India has exported military hardware and systems worth Rs 38,500 crore in the last seven years. This has happened because of creation of a specific export strategy for defence manufacturing which was not existing until mid-2014. A very detailed strategy was worked out and unfolded where apart from easing the procedure and processes, the Government of India not only set up an Export Promotion Body with participation not only from both public and private industry, but also roped in the Ministry of External Affairs to facilitate a line of credit for foreign countries to import defence products, and if possible, even financed through Exim bank. Indian Embassies were told to also promote defence exports. Our Hon’ble PM has already set the target while speaking at the Défense Expo held at Lucknow in 2020, where he said “In the next five years, our target is to increase exports to $5 billion, which is about Rs 40,000 crore.” He further added that,” The world’s largest democracy cannot remain dependent on imports for its security.’

As of today, Russia is India’s main supplier of arms followed by France. Throughout the Cold War to the present day, Russia has supplied India a wide range of weapons, from tanks to missiles, aircraft and submarines, remaining a key arms supplier for the Indian military. Given the defence technologies currently available with world powers such as the US, Russia, China and few others, notwithstanding the budget constraints, the Indian armed forces have already worked out a definite time plan and are slowly embarking upon an extensive military modernisation programme utilising the emerging technologies. The indigenous defence production initiative by the Government of India is, therefore, focussing on developing advanced weapon systems, next generation combat aircraft, submarines and advanced air defence systems, the signs of which is becoming slowly visible.

Revision of Defence Strategy

India has always been wary of forming any military alliance with nations and prefers to maintain strategic autonomy. For avoiding any binding alliance, India has no option but to grow her military capability in terms of technology and become self-reliant in defence production. India has set its course in this direction because when Nations go to war then the one with better technology is likely to win the war. Though the Indian armed forces have many roles to play, as of today, the primary mission is to defend India’s territorial integrity which will also involve attacking and destroying a strong enemy on one front or multiple fronts, if and when circumstances so demand. However, today, under the prevailing budgetary and technology constraints, India’s focus is mainly on maintaining deterrence instead of a clear mode of attacking or defending. In comparison to the Indian military which is little over 14 lakhs, Pakistan has just half the personnel and no match in terms of battle tanks or other munitions. China, statistically, has an edge over India with 21,83,000 active personnel and 510,000 reserve troops. China is striving to modernise the PLA by 2035 and create a world-class force by 2049. Currently, China is building its Air Force and its Navy with the capability of long-distance operations with heightened operational tempo.

Notwithstanding the necessity of developing a significant edge over technology, India must also consider utilising the Para Military forces to augment the strength of the Indian Army which is about 13 lakh all included.  Together, it puts India as the second largest defence force. On the lines of Indian Coast Guard, the ITBP and Assam Rifles could be considered to be placed under one Ministry and be deployed to defend the borders with China and Myanmar duly supported by the SFF, while the Indian Army troops be pulled out and reorganised to execute tasks well beyond the borders and specially into the blue waters. The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) may consider working out with the respective Ministries the possibility of integration and optimal employment of Para Military Forces for the defence of the border and reconsider the current deployment of the Indian Army along the Northern borders.

We may recall what the Hon’ble Foreign Minister Jaishankar had once said, quote, “This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play, draw neighbours in, extend the neighbourhood and expand traditional constituencies of support”, unquote. Therefore, considering what he said, we should not ignore utilising the nation’s geographical strategic advantage which the peninsular India jutting deep into Indian Ocean provides. This not only acts like an unsinkable aircraft carrier giving much needed reach to the Indian Air Force, but also provides avenues for establishing large number of naval bases spread in all three directions. This would help the Nation to retain the capability to concentrate forces jointly with Navy, Air Force and Army to isolate and check the intruder’s assertiveness or any other developing maritime threat. Today, the Indian Ocean has become very critical for the entire world as not only 70 percent of trade passing through it, but also estimated well over 400 subsea cables passes through under the water. India is a known nuclear weapon state that is aggressively pursuing both nuclear and missile programmes. The BrahMos missile inducted into the defence system was the world’s fastest cruise missile that has been jointly developed by India and Russia. After more than seven decades of independence, India has now come closer to being an independent force to reckon with in the field of nuclear and missile technology.

The Way Forward

To take further strides towards attaining greater heights for recognition as a super power, the Nation’s economy needs to be built up where, reducing defence imports and increasing exports, play a major role. In view of the prevailing budgetary constraints, the CDS may, therefore, consider relooking into the civil warehousing facilities as also the prevailing work culture of OFB, DPSUs, Base Workshops, Shipyards and BRDs which have more often than not, led to time and cost over runs besides the poor quality of repairs and overhauls. There is also the need to review fund allocations under various Heads of the Revenue expenditure of each Service. A serious review may lead to significant cutting down of expenditure on especially building non-strategic infrastructures as also reduce maintenance-related expenditure to the bare minimum. The MoD needs to give a serious look at the early disposal of surplus civilian manpower with various depots, workshops, DPSUs and OFBs. It is heartening to see that the MoD is already looking into the rationale of continuing to hold on to several thousand acres of defence land under various categories, lying unutilised since independence as also the necessity of continuing with the concept of Cantonment Boards and Indian Defence Estate Services which needs a dispassionate relook. Since prevailing global security scenario is making it inevitable for the Nation to increase Maritime domination as also since the Indian Embassies have been roped in to help in enhancing defence exports, it will be ideal if the CDS is made responsible for all aspects of defence diplomacy with clear policy guidelines from the Government. The bureaucrats from the MEA could be integrated so that a concerted and coordinated steps are taken to address the security concerns through Military Diplomacy.

Take Away of Def Expo 22

Def Expo 22 has, undoubtedly, sent a strong signal of India emerging as a major defence industry for investment on the global platform. Reportedly, 53 African countries participated and nearly 1340 Indian Firms registered themselves with the Def Expo giving a clear message of our shifting reliance on ‘Made in India Defence equipment’. With signing of 451 MoUs and agreements amounting to Rs 1.53 Lakh Crore, such a shift will now promote the growth of MSMEs and Start-ups in the country making them join the global supply chain. Such an emphatic beginning of a new future will generate huge employment opportunities which in turn will increase participation of youth power.

The Final Call

Lastly, PM Narendra Modi while speaking at the inauguration of ‘DefExpo 2022’ in Gandhinagar on 19 October, had very categorically said, “The biggest Defence Expo of the country so far has marked an emphatic beginning of a new future. I know that this has also caused inconvenience to some countries but several countries, with a positive mindset, have come with us. Thus, what our PM expressed, conveys a clear message that we as a Nation have to seriously promote greater unity and solidarity within the country to completely finish off the TukdeTukde gang ecosystem operating within the country as stooges of foreign inimical forces. Once the hidden enemies within the country are cleared, the day will not be far when Atamnirbhar Bharat will unite the world to tackle global issues such as terrorism, pandemics, environment, hate culture and truly live up to its lofty vision of making India a ‘Vishwaguru’.

Author PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM(G), VSM, ADC -Former Army Commander of South Western, Eastern and Central Army Commands. Post retirement has held the appointment of Chief Commissioner WBRTPS commission till Nov2021.


By Lt Gen Abhay Krishna (Retd)

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