India to stop import of 101 key military items
India announced on Sunday that it will ban the import of 101 types of weapons and ammunition over the next five years — from artillery guns to light military transport aircraft and conventional submarines to long-range land attack cruise missiles — in a significant step on the long road towards achieving self-reliance in the defence sector.
The detailed list of equipment published by the defence ministry has spelled out that the import embargo will kick in between December 2020 and December 2025 for different categories of military hardware.
The government has also created a separate budget for the purchase of locally produced military hardware.
“Our aim is to apprise the Indian defence industry about the anticipated requirements of the armed forces so that they are better prepared to realise the goal of indigenisation,” said defence minister Rajnath Singh, who made the announcement on Twitter.
Later in the day, the defence minister said at an online event that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will present a new outline for a self-reliant India in his address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15.
He also referred to his announcement on defence import ban and said the Modi government was taking “big and tough” decisions for a self-reliant India. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that a country may not be able to effectively protect its sovereignty if it is not self-reliant, he said, adding: “Our government will not allow any harm to India’s self respect and sovereignty at any cost.”
The move to ban the import of the 101 items is expected to give a push to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ (Self-reliant India Movement). In May, the government announced that it would notify a list of weapons and equipment that cannot be imported.
The military hardware on the negative import list includes assault rifles, sniper rifles, short-range surface-to-air missiles, beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, corvettes, missile destroyers, light combat helicopter, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, a variety of radars and different types of ammunition.
The ministry will take necessary steps to ensure that the timelines for the production of the equipment on the negative import list are met, Singh said. The list includes wheeled armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), with an embargo date of December 2021. The army is expected to order 200 AFVs at a cost of more than ~5,000 crore, he said.
The list of weapons banned for import will be reviewed every year.
“More such equipment for import embargo would be identified progressively by the Department of Military Affairs in (DMA) in consultation with all stakeholders. A due note of this will also be made in the Defence Acquisition Procedure to ensure that no item in the negative list is processed for import in the future,” the minister said.
This implies India will have to compulsorily develop technology for defence systems and platforms figuring on the negative import list, experts said. One of the key responsibilities assigned by the government to the DMA, headed by chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, is to promote the use of indigenous military equipment in the armed forces.
The list has been put together by the ministry after several rounds of consultations with all stakeholders, including the military and the industry, and factoring in the future capabilities of the defence sector to locally manufacture equipment and ammunition.
“Almost 260 schemes of such items were contracted by the tri-services at an approximate cost of ~3.5 lakh crore between April 2015 and August 2020. It is estimated that contracts worth almost ~4 lakh crore will be placed upon the domestic industry within the next six to seven years,” Singh said.
He said the ministry has split the capital budget for 2020-21 between domestic and foreign capital procurement routes. “A separate budget head has been created with an outlay of ~52,000 crore for domestic capital procurement in the current financial year,” he said.
From raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing to creating a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware and notifying a list of weapons/equipment that cannot be imported, the government had announced a raft of measures to boost self reliance in the defence sector in May 2020.
It’s a good start to a very long journey ahead, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“While the Indian private industry, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises, would be expected to perform as per a time schedule and a quality yardstick, the government will still have to handhold the small players through financial and policy support,” Bahadur added.
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 weapons and systems including fighter jets, air defence missile systems, submarine hunter planes, attack helicopters, heavy-lift choppers and lightweight howitzers.
Defence Research and Development Organisation chief G Satheesh Reddy told Hindustan Times that the country had the capability to develop and manufacture the military equipment on the negative import list within the prescribed embargo timelines.
PLR Systems chairman Ashok Wadhawan said, “The items on the list can and will have to be produced domestically. If there are any capability gaps, they will have to be filled as there is no other option.” PLR Systems is an Indian joint venture with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) and it is competing for contracts to supply assault rifles, light machine guns, carbines and sniper rifles to the military.
India was the third-biggest military spender in the world last year after the United States and China, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said in a report released in April.
Confederation of India Industry director general Chandrajit Banerjee said the announcement of the negative import list marked the launch of a “new glide path” for Atmanirbhar Bharat. “The announcement of ~52,000 crore for domestic capital procurement coupled with the list of 101 items for import embargo gives a tremendous boost to Atmanirbhar Bharat and indigenous defence manufacturing,” he added.
Former Union minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram said the defence minister promised a “bang” on a Sunday morning and ended with a “whimper”. He was referring to a Twitter alert by Singh on an “important announcement” an hour before the defence minister gave out details of the move to achieve self-reliance.
Chidambaram tweeted: “Import Embargo is high sounding jargon. What it means is we will try to make the same equipment (that we import today) in 2 to 4 years and stop imports thereafter!”