Focus inward for military needs in post-Covid-19 world, say top Army officials
India must turn focus inward for its military needs in the post-Covid world and make every effort to cut dependence on imported military hardware that could not only become cost prohibitive but also hard to come by in the coming years, three senior military officers said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
The armed forces will have to get rid of their traditional appetite for imported weapons and equipment, and work in harness with the domestic industry to guarantee self-reliance in defence, said the officers with direct knowledge of the military’s modernisation goals.
Despite pursuing the Make in India programme vigorously to reduce military imports, the country was the second-largest arms importer in the world over the last five years, according to data published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute last month.
“Indigenisation with Make in India as the dictum can no longer be a mere slogan. If the coronavirus crisis has energised us to produce ventilators, personal protective equipment and other gear for our healthcare workers in a matter of weeks, the focus in the coming times should be on fueling a new wave of innovation in the defence sector,” said the first officer cited above.
Imports account for 60-65% of the country’s military requirements and it has signed contracts worth billions of dollars during the last decade for a raft of weapons and systems, including fighter jets, air defence missile systems, submarine hunter planes, attack helicopters, heavy-lift choppers and lightweight howitzers.
“This is the time for us to look inward. The local industry is willing to support indigenisation, although it may not be able produce the best weapons and equipment. But if given the opportunity, it will reach global standards over time. It requires the full support of the armed forces. The temptation to import hardware will have to be resisted,” said the second officer cited above.
From warships, fighter jets to air defence systems and helicopters, modern artillery gun systems to ammunition, the domestic industry has demonstrated that it has potential to contribute to building a stronger military, the second officer pointed out.
One of the key responsibilities assigned by the government to the department of military affairs, headed by chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, is to promote the use of indigenous military equipment in the armed forces.
“After the 2016 Uri strike, the armed forces scrambled to fill worrying gaps in their arsenal, including ammunition. We can’t allow this to happen. Encouraging the domestic industry will help us get more bang for the buck and ensure we are not in dire straits in times of conflict,” said the third officer cited above.
He added a robust indigenous defence industry would allow the armed forces to cut costs by holding lesser stocks of weapons and ammunition because production and supplies could be ramped up when required.
“Storage in itself is cost prohibitive because high-grade weapons and ammunition require special storage conditions, including air conditioning. Round-the-clock security of large ammunition and weapon storage depots also adds to the cost,” he stressed.
The draft Defence Production Policy-2018 visualises India as one of the top five countries in the aerospace and defence sectors in the coming years, with defence goods and services accounting for a turnover of Rs 1.7 lakh crore by 2025. It also seeks to drastically reduce India’s dependence on imported military hardware over the next five years.