PM Modi’s Aatmanirbharta is key to independent foreign policy
On March 3, the Narendra Modi government approved four Defence Ministry funded projects and five industry-funded projects under the “Aatmanirbharta” initiative of the Prime Minister.
With Russian forces still a long way off in capturing their objective, Ukraine, and China hiking their defence spending by 7.1 per cent this month, the Indian foreign policy options remain constrained by its limited capacity to manufacture hardware from precision-guided ammunition to long endurance armed drones. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong push for building India’s military-industrial complex, the Indian military reliance on outright hardware acquisition or transfer of technology under licence from Russia has severely limited the country's strategic options. More than often, India’s belief and its strategies have not been on the same page due to New Delhi’s faith in rather laggard Indian defence public sector units and its in-built suspicion towards the private sector. The result is that a PSU assembled Su-30 MKI fighter in India is more costly than the one made in parent country Russia. India is forced to buy a Russian T-90 tank radiator costing ₹one crore from the original equipment manufacturer even though the Indian private sector companies are said to produce the same at one fifth the cost. The so-called pacifist ideology of the past governments has branded all weapon and armaments manufacturers as merchants of death. The war in Ukraine has made global calculations go awry and will redefine the strategic equations in the very near future.
The war in Europe has already pushed Germany towards militarization and it is only a matter of time that Japan also shed its pacificist doctrine with both Russia and China being the belligerent neighbours. Any Russian push towards the east or Chinese take-over of Taiwan will envelop Japan in a confrontation. With the US looking inwards and reluctant to lead the democratic world, middle powers like Japan, India and France will have to fend for themselves.
The Indian position will also get shaky as a long-drawn-out Ukraine conflict will hit on the supply of spares and armaments from Russia as the latter’s priority will be the war in Europe. The problems will be compounded as the Russian equipment, particularly the fighters are high maintenance with a long turnaround time as compared to the French fighters with Indian Air Force (IAF). The only saving grace is that the Chinese will also face the same music as the PLA Air Force uses Russian engines and so does the Pakistan air force now in its Chinese or Russian origin craft fleets.
While PM Modi’s AB initiative is much required and much appreciated, the building of a military-industrial complex requires time and is spread over decades of sustained development of military technologies and their translation into a state of the art equipment. Over the past decades, all the past governments have realized the importance of indigenous technologies and equipment but the process has not taken off due to inbuilt resistance of military bureaucracy weaned on pacifist outcomes of left of centre education. So, if India decides to build a nuclear attack submarine, the program will take at least a decade even if the private sector is involved as no country will allow its high tech companies, even those dealing with precision metal forging to be acquired by Indian entrepreneurs. The same is the case with fighter engines and armoured vehicles. Till today, India has not been able to develop a fighter engine with LCA relying on American GE-404 or GE 414 engines. The same is the case with armed drones or even tanks.
“Aatmanirbharta” is not only the key to push India to the high table but also the lever to exercising truly independent foreign policy options. Strategic autonomy is not another name of Nehruvian non-alignment.