Nodal Body Likely For Make-In-India Weapons Systems
As a first major step towards “Atmanirbharta” or self-reliance, the defence ministry has approached the Union Cabinet to green light setting up of an independent nodal umbrella body to meet the wide-ranging testing and certification requirements of weapon systems developed and manufactured by the Indian private sector. While the independent testing and certification body was envisaged in the Union Budget this year, the move is a huge step towards decoupling the Indian private defence sector industry from the clutches of the humongous veto exercising military bureaucracy on the Raisina Hill. By painting private firms as mere profiteers, the Indian military industrial complex has been at the mercy of these mandarins. The move is part of the ministry’s larger goal of boosting the domestic defence industry.
Defence Ministry of India has identified 18 major platforms for industry including naval ship-borne unmanned aerial systems and lightweight tanks design and development in defence sector under various routes. This is in sync with the announcement in the Union Budget 2022-23 that allocated 25 per cent of defence R&D budget for industry led research and development.
Under the Make-1 category, 14 projects have been identified for Research and Development purpose. They include Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, Directed Energy Weapons, Naval Ship Borne Unmanned Aerial System, Light Weight Tank and Plug and Play’ Housing and Infrastructure for soldiers posted at extreme altitudes. Under the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020, ‘Make’ Category aims to achieve self-reliance by involving greater participation of Indian industries. For Projects under Make-I sub-category, the Ministry of Defence will provide financial support up to 70 per cent of total cost of prototype development.
Under Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) Model category, two platforms namely Long Range Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Indian Multi Role Helicopters have been identified. Under this category, private industries will be encouraged to take up design and development of military platforms and equipment in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation and other organizations.
Under Make-II category, which is funded by industry with assured procurement, Anti-jamming Systems for Multiple Platforms has been identified. The indigenous development of these projects will help harness the design capabilities of domestic defence industries and position India as a design leader in these technologies.
If the government creatively deploys fiscal policy, defense offsets, and capital spending to enable more rapid growth in the private sector, the effects on defense exports will be outsized. New Delhi seems to have a new willingness to work toward a cohesive defense exports policy; the BrahMos sale points to it, taking new strides in this direction. It has taken major policy reforms to take annual Indian defense exports past the $1 billion mark; to reach the $5 billion mark, the Modi government will have to focus on major fiscal and industrial reforms.
Self-reliance is crucial for a country that has legitimate ambitions to be part of the global high table, but the creation of a nodal body of testing and certification is unlikely to herald a new era in the Indian defence sector unless other changes are made. It has to be accompanied by strong reforms in departments under defence minister Rajnath Singh as the military establishment of India is like a mammoth that is steeped in imperial legacy and moves at its own will and pace. There is a need for total revamp of defence military planning and forecasting so that India develops latest technologies and futuristic weapon systems. It is a sobering thought that even a country like Turkey has developed Bayraktar TB2 armed drones in 2014 that were put to good use by the Armenians in 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war and now the Ukrainians against Russian tanks, despite the huge military asymmetry between the two rivals. Armed drones, and simulators for Apache and Chinook helicopters are areas that the private sector could deliver. Post Ukraine, self-reliance is the only way to deal with an uncertain world.