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Why India Is Not Ready To Become “Atmanirbhar” In Its Defense Capabilities?

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Indian PM Narendra Modi recently emphasized the need of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) in his address to the nation on May 12. A similar sentiment was shared by defence minister Rajnath Singh while addressing the DRDO scientists on the occasion of National Technology Day (NTD) through a video conference. 

“We always have to keep in mind that there is no alternative to indigenous technology and indigenous manufacture. We will be truly self-reliant only when India succeeds in becoming a net exporter instead of a net importer of technology,” said Rajnath Singh. 

He added that the defence organisations are tackling the challenges by COVID-19 using the state of the art technology. He applauded the efforts of DRDO for developing more than 50 products in the last three-four months, like bio-suit, sanitizer dispenser, PPE kits, to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. 

According to a report published last month by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on Global Military expenditure in 2019, India was the third-largest military spenders in the world after the US and China.

India’s military expenditure grew by 6.8 per cent to $71.1 billion. ‘India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending,’ said Siemon T. Wezeman, SIPRI Senior Researcher. 

However, most of the expenditure is on importing defence equipment including the $3 billion in defence deal signed by India and the US. The deal includes the procurement of 24 MH-60R Seahawk Multi-Role Helicopters for the Navy and six AH-64E attack helicopters for the Army. 

Make in India – Biggest Challenges

Under the ‘Make in India’ initiative by the Modi government, New Delhi has been promoting local defence production since it came to power in 2014. Currently, there are three army projects listed on the government portal namely Terminal End Secrecy Device (TESD), Tactical Communication System (TCS), Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) costing a total of around 30 thousand crores.

These three projects come under ‘Make-1’ category. Projects under this category receive 90% of fundings from the government. 

However, some experts have said that absence of a clear policy, lack of accountability for defence public sector units and a perennial fund crunch is why the ‘Make in India’ initiative didn’t take off in the defence sector.

“When you give protection to your defence PSUs and do not give adequate assurance to the private sector, it will be discouraged…Then everyone is working in silos and as a result, there is no interaction,” said Former Army chief General (retired) V.P. Malik. He further added that this is a “crucial reason why Make in India has failed to make progress in the defence sector”.

Earlier Former financial adviser in the defence ministry Amit Cowshish highlighted the policy gaps. “There is no clear policy on ‘Make in India’ in defence. Talking about indigenisation, what is it? Is it cost-saving or import-substitution or innovation? We are not clear,” he said.

Penned By Smriti Chaudhary, Edited By Xavier Francis

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