A pragmatic balance needs to be maintained between the ‘Make in India’ push in the Defence production sector and the growing modernisation needs of the country’s armed forces. At a time when India is facing a perpetual two-front threat from Pakistan and China, equipping the armed forces with modern weaponry is non-negotiable. However laudable the ‘Make in India’ initiative may be, the push for indigenisation should not be allowed to hamper the functioning of the Army, Navy and the Air Force. The armed forces, especially the Army, are in urgent need of modern fighting equipment. The absence of adequate domestic defence platforms leaves them little option but to depend on foreign suppliers.
The armed forces, faced with sub-optimal weapon systems, must be able to make their own decisions as per their operational requirements and in the interests of the country’s security. It is an undeniable fact that India has been unable to boost indigenous defence manufacturing due to inordinate procedural delays and reluctance to involve private players, making a product redundant by the time it gets market-ready. For instance, the advanced versions of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft are still not combat-ready even after three decades while the Arjun main battle tank is said to be too heavy and poor in serviceability. According to official estimates, the Defence Ministry will need to acquire equipment worth over $250 billion by 2027 to meet growing modernisation needs of the armed forces. However, the domestic defence industry will be able to manufacture equipment worth $80 billion while the rest will have to be imported.
The only way to achieve the ambitious target of manufacturing 70% of Defence equipment indigenously is by providing a greater role for the private enterprise and incentivising them for development of large-scale R&D and manufacturing capabilities. India needs to strategically leverage the potential of private enterprise and public entities to ensure success of ‘Make in India’ in Defence. Automotive and healthcare sectors, where ‘Make in India’ has been successful, are primarily driven by private investments.
Even in the Defence industry, the private players have the capacity to deliver many of the required Defence systems and equipment. Unfortunately, military modernisation has not received the priority that it deserves for several decades now. Bureaucratic lethargy, archaic procedures for acquisitions of weaponry and long delays in delivery of promised indigenous weapons have been the key problem areas adversely affecting the combat readiness of armed forces. Even the procurement of modern bulletproof jackets for the Army’s infantry soldiers took nearly a decade because of a maze of procedures. Bureaucratic delays and political callousness should not be allowed to blunt the edge of the armed forces and cost the soldiers their lives.