107 defence items on phased import ban list
To be sure, it came on the back of an indigenisation list of 2,851 sub-systems, assemblies, sub-assemblies and components notified by the ministry’s department of defence production last December.
Several Russian weapon sub-systems were part of a fresh list of 107 defence items released by India on Thursday that will attract a phased import ban between December 2022 and December 2028, with the indigenisation drive covering warships, helicopters, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, missiles, ammunition, and radars.
The list, part of the push for “atmanirbharta” (self-reliance) in defence, was put out by the Union defence ministry at a time when global backlash against Russia over its Ukraine invasion has raised questions about the fate of new projects with that country, procurement of spares for existing Russian-origin weapons, and maintenance and servicing of legacy equipment operated by the three services.
To be sure, it came on the back of an indigenisation list of 2,851 sub-systems, assemblies, sub-assemblies and components notified by the ministry’s department of defence production last December. It has fewer but more complex items than the ones in the older list, officials familiar with the matter said.
The new list includes sub-systems that India imports from Russia for weapons and platforms, including T-90 and T-72 tanks, BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, warships and submarines, and anti-tank missiles.
“These 107 strategically important line replacement units (LRUs)/subsystems will be indigenised in the coming years, and will only be procured from Indian industry after the timelines indicated against each of them in the list,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
These components are currently imported by defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) such as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bharat Electronics Limited, Bharat Dynamics Limited, Bharat Earth Movers Limited, Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited, Munitions India Limited, and several public shipyards.
The items sought to be indigenised over the next six years are required for the advanced light helicopter, the light combat helicopter, the light utility helicopter, a variety of warships, tanks, electronic warfare systems, Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, Konkurs-M anti-tank missiles, armoured recovery vehicles, smart ammunition, 70mm rockets, bombs, and drone-delivered ammunition.
The government has specified the deadlines for the proposed indigenisation. For instance, the 23 components (in the list) for tanks and infantry combat vehicles have to be indigenised in phases by December 2025 and the 22 LRUs/sub-systems for different types of helicopters by December 2027.
The helicopter systems that will come under the import ban include the electronic warfare suite, ground proximity warning system, active vibration control system, helmet-mounted display system, health and usage monitoring system, directional infrared countermeasures and emergency locator transmitter system.
“DPSUs will offer these identified LRUs/sub-systems for industry-led design and development. This will be a great opportunity for the Indian industry to get integrated in the supply chains of manufacturing major defence platforms,” the statement said.
The indigenous development of these items will bolster economy, reduce the import dependence of DPSUs, help harness the design capabilities of the domestic defence industry, and position India as a design leader in these technologies, it added.
The developments following the Russia-Ukraine war have further underlined the need for achieving self-reliance in defence—a path that India has now been on for several years. Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said customisation and uniqueness of military hardware was critical to hold the advantage of surprise over India’s adversaries and it could be achieved only if weapons and systems are developed in the country.
The government has taken several steps in recent years to boost self-reliance, including raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing, creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware and notifying two lists of weapons and equipment that cannot be imported.
These include artillery guns, missile destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft, long-range land-attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, multi-barrel rocket launchers, assault rifles, sniper rifles, mini-UAVs, specified types of helicopters, next-generation corvettes, airborne early warning and Control (AEW&C) systems, and medium-range surface to air missile systems.
Soon after the Ukraine war broke out, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said the biggest lesson from the Ukraine crisis was that India has to be ready to fight future wars with indigenous weapons.
“The likely disruption of supply chains in view of the present Russia-Ukraine conflict can provide a golden opportunity to the domestic defence industry to indigenise critical components. This list reiterates the government’s focus on self-reliance in defence,” said Air Vice Marshal Anil Golani (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
The complications stemming from the wide-ranging sanctions slapped on Russia by the US and its allies could pose challenges for the India-Russia defence relationship, put India’s military preparedness to the test and assign new urgency to reduce dependence on imported military hardware to stay battle-ready, HT reported last week.
Russian-origin equipment forms the bedrock of India’s military capabilities and includes fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters, warships, submarines, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, multi-rocket systems, rifles, and even shoulder-fired missiles.
While it is still unclear how the new sanctions on Russia could play out and the problems they could create for the armed forces in the short and long term, the possible impact of the new developments on India’s military preparedness and the serviceability of weapons and equipment is being examined at the highest levels, officials said.