How ‘imported’ is India’s existing ‘Make in India’ programme on defence equipment is an oftenly debated question. The success of recent indigenous efforts notwithstanding, the India story has a dichotomy. It has leapfrogged in some areas, but it is struggling with basics in many others.
India made a nuclear submarine, a niche technology, but it does not make its own conventional (diesel-electric) submarine that is less complex to make. It has made its own aircraft carrier, again a niche technology, but does not make a minesweeper: a ship that detects undersea mines. Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd) says, “We have leapfrogged into higher technology but need to catch up on some things”.
Another dichotomy is that though India makes and launches its own satellites and nuclear missiles, it still imports a rifle, the basic weapon of infantry troops. Brig Sandeep Thapar (retd) says, “If we can make missiles and launch satellites, the inability to make a rifle is unexplained. It is not that we cannot make a rifle. Probably nobody has focused on it or incentivised it enough.”
High on import
Almost everything like planes, UAVs, tanks and missiles produced in India use some kind of imported technology. The Tejas fighter jet has 40 per cent imported content. It has a GE 404 engine from US company GE. The pilot ejection seat is from ‘Martin Baker’, the beyond visual range (BVR) missile is the R73E from Russia and the multi-mode radar is from Elta, Israel.
The indigenous battle tank, Arjun, has 55 per cent imported elements and spares are not easy to come by. The fire control system is from Elbit Systems of Israel, its engine, MTU 838, is from Germany and so is the gearbox, Renk AG.
In case of the much-applauded BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the imported content is a whopping 65 per cent and is not even expected to come down as these are cutting-edge technologies. Large segments of its propulsion, guidance, control and seeker technologies come from Russia. A joint venture between the DRDO and NPO Mashinostroyenia of Russia produce the missile.
In case of the Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile, Israel Aerospace Industries, which is partner in the project, provides for 60 per cent of the content. The missile with a 70-km range has been installed on several Navy warships.
The list includes its anti-tank Nag missile, which has 30 per cent imported content. The Agni series of missiles has 15 per cent imported content, and so is the case with Prithvi missile. The Nag missile has been accepted into the Army after the DRDO made its own ‘seeker’.
Joint ventures rule
The latest version of Dhruv helicopter, now tasked for Siachen ops, flies on engines made by Snemca France in joint venture with HAL. Almost the entire fleet of Indian Navy warships, though produced in India, have imported engines. Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri helped in design but used Indian steel for Vikrant, the under-construction sea-borne aircraft carrier. The engines are from GE; the Scorpene (a conventional) submarine is built in a joint venture with France. Russian equipment such as Sukhoi 30MKI fighter jets and T-90 tanks are licence-produced in India.
Sluggish Make in India
The SIPRI’s annual report released in early 2018, ‘Trends in International Arms Transfers,’ makes an assessment for a five-year block (2013-17). It says, “India was the largest importer of major arms and accounted for 12 per cent of the global total.” SIPRI has been studying arms sales for more than 50 years. It compared this five-year block with the previous 2008-12 block and concluded that “India’s imports increased by 24 per cent,”a hint at the sluggish ‘Make in India’ besides failure to make its own cutting-edge weapons, equipment and war-fighting arsenal.
On March 22 this year, the Ministry of Defence laid out an ambitious draft defence production policy. It talks about putting India among the top five countries in aerospace and defence industry.
It also talks about self-reliance in key technologies by 2025, and puts India on the exporter track. It sets a target of Rs 1,70,000 crore turnover in defence goods and services involving additional investment of nearly Rs 70,000 crore. It looks at achieving exports of Rs 35,000 crore by 2025. — AB
Major projects underway
The DRDO, with its network of 52 laboratories, is the country’s lead agency in the development of indigenous weapon systems. The state-run Ordnance Factory Board with its 41 production units as well as Defence Public Sector Undertakings also undertake limited research and development activities, besides manufacturing equipment after the transfer of technology or licence manufacture. Scores of projects of various magnitudes are underway at these establishments. Vijay Mohan in Chandigarh looks at the status of some major ventures currently underway at these agencies: