Indian defence industry need the support of the Government, and synergy between the User, Developer, Public and Private industry to transform the country from an importer to an exporter of defence products.  The author deliberates way forward…

Issues Meriting Importance

Currently India is importing most of its defence equipment. Despite having institutions like the DRDO with more than 50 laboratories, Defence Public Sector Units and other manufacturing agencies we are unable to meet the requirements of our Armed Forces. As per the latest Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report, our country was the world's largest importer of major weapons between 2013 and 2017. Further India's imports have increased by 24 percent over the last 10 years. It is interesting to note that defence equipment exports of China and Pakistan have reduced considerably during the same period. India is currently importing 12percent of the global weapons. On the other hand China is exporting weapons to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and a number of African states as also limited items to West Asian countries.  Pakistan's arms imports decreased by 36 per cent between 2008-12 and 2013-17. China's arms imports fell by 19 per cent between 2008-12 and 2013-17, yet it was the fifth largest arms importer in 2013-17.

By far Russia remained India's largest supplier of arms in 2013-2017. Russian arms were 62 per cent of India's imports. It is pertinent to note that imports from the US increased by 557 per cent between 2008-12 and 2013-17. The US is now India's second largest arms supplier. The US remained the biggest arms seller in the world, accounting for 34 per cent of global arms exports. Its exports increased by 25 per cent between 2008-12 and 2013-17. US arms exports in 2013-17 were 58 per cent higher than those of Russia the second largest arms exporter in that period.

It is extremely important to note that India has to be prepared to undertake operations against China and Pakistan which entails the need for state of the art weaponry which could ensure victory against these adversaries. The Armed Forces would be extremely happy to buy a product designed, developed and manufactured in India. However, currently the same is not available. Are there any solutions? The obvious answer is No. There has to be an innovative process which alone would lead to this stage. The process has to be top driven and must follow the lines of our success stories which are listed below:-

  • Projects of Atomic Energy Commission.
  • Projects of Indian Space Research Organisation.
  • Automotive Industry.
  • Delhi Metro Railway Corporation which is linking the entire National Capital Region to include apart from Delhi, the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

These projects continue to remain on the upward trajectory due to few procedures and stress on implementation. Further all these fields were headed by specialists who had the full support of the Government irrespective of their political affiliations. It is similar in other countries which are exporters. It would be pertinent to take the case of the United States and discuss one great officer, the late Colonel John Boyd. He was a fighter pilot during the Korean War and later on a flying instructor and a Consultant with the Pentagon. He was responsible for the theories of Manoeuvre Warfare, the famous OODA loop and the development of the F 15 Eagle, F 16 Falcon and the F 18 Hornet which are versatile even today. Boyd was a military strategist and due to ill health moved to his home in Florida. Prior to the First Gulf War, Secretary of Defence, Dick Cheney called him back to the Pentagon and he worked out the overall plan along with other strategists.

There are many specialists with similar capabilities in our own country who can definitely make Indian defence products state of the art provided they are selected and continue in their task with full support from the authorities. Specialists with their enthusiasm make procedures work. It is easy to spot these talented people who stand out amongst their peers.

What should be our Concept?

At the outset the need for weaponry stems from a National Security Strategy. This needs to be issued by the Cabinet Committee on Security and based on which the Raksha Mantri would issue an operational directive from which it is possible to decide the weaponry needed to counter the security challenges. Recently the Government has formed a Defence Policy Group who would be able to carve this pivotal document. There have been two books on the subject which have been published recently and bring out the facets of this issue. The creation of the document will enable us to right size our force structure and weaponry needed for our Armed Forces.

The Raksha Mantri would issue the operational directive based on which the Armed Forces would work out the weaponry needed to achieve the aspects mentioned in the fine print of the directive. This would also lead to the technologies which are needed to be developed. Fortunately both the Army and the Navy have a Design Bureau and the Air Force has a clear view of technology as they have Air Officer Maintenance and a Maintenance Command to look after these aspects. These would be integrated through the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff and a formal requirement of weaponry based on indigenous capabilities is prepared.

Hereafter these aspects are debated with the DRDO, academic institutions, OFB, DPSUs, big private sector companies and MSEMEs. There must be a free flow of information based on which allocation is made and as far as possible the private sector apart from taking independent projects must form a part of all public sector projects on a Public Private Partnership. Any item which is purchased even currently from abroad must be on Transfer of Technology or co development basis. Based on this a realistic Technology Perspective and Capability Road Map would be made revising the existing  document and thereafter allocate projects based on Request for Information available. Products achieved by this system will be first procured by our Armed Forces and thereafter the same would automatically be exported. It is important to also have the issue of Strategic Partnerships with private players resolved at the earliest. Apart from this all countries which export weaponry have a Task Force which works directly under the Defence Minister. It is important to understand as to the composition and working of this Task Force.

Task Force- Export

This would be the most important task force which would propel India as an exporter of weapons in the next 10 years. The task force which would work directly under the Defence Minister and provide kinetic energy to the subject of exports. This could be composed of the following:-

  • Raksha Mantri
  • Defence Secretary
  • Secretary Defence Production
  • Financial Adviser
  • One Colonel and equivalent rank each from Army Navy and Air Force
  • One Scientist F from DRDO.
  • Representative from the Private Industry who would be an accelerator.
  • Director level officer from Defence Finance.

As one can observe from the composition the kinetic elements of the group would be the Colonel, Captain, Group Captain, Scientist F, Director Defence Finance and Representative from Defence Industry. Their minimum tenure should be five years. They would be the work horse to ensure that the documents as also the production take place at fast track. Decisions must spring in real time and electronic speed. The Raksha Mantri and the others including the CCS must hold their hands. They would be India's John Boyd who would cut across the obstacles within our edifices.

As per NDTV, India's weapons buying is frequently crippled by multiple and diffused structures with no single point accountability. Further there are multiple decision heads, duplication of processes, delayed comments, delayed execution, no real time monitoring, and no project based approach and a tendency to find fault rather than facilitate. This was an assessment carried out by NDTV. The 27 point internal report prepared late last year by the Ministry of Defence candidly states of 144 deals in the last three years only 8 to 10 percent fructified. Further from the stage of Request for Proposal till the deal is closed by the Competent Financial Authority delays are from 2.6 times to 15 times. They also suggested that the Technical Oversight Committee can be done away with. All this points towards lack of implementation. It is in this context that the Task Force would be able to plug the loop holes and they could chase the lower and intermediate levels to speed up and complete the process.

All this indicates there is lack of synergy as also files and electronic messages don't have legs and brains. You need intelligent enthusiastic firebrands who can navigate their path through unchartered terrain. They can build Foot Over Bridges for the Railways solve all problems of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force and help the Raksha Mantri to make India export defence equipment.

Products for Export

Currently we are exporting limited items. These include Offshore Patrol Vessels, light weight torpedoes, components of Bofors Guns, upgrading of T 72 tanks and components of aircraft. We need to focus on a few technologies which would help us to enhance exports. These are Communications including Quantum technology, Nano technology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. These would be in addition to the existing technologies which we are researching.-

  • Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher.
  • Brahmos Supersonic Cruise Missile.
  • Nag Anti Tank Guided Missile.
  • Akash Surface to Air Missile.
  • Dhanush, 155 mm Medium Gun
  • Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System.
  • Indigenous Weapon Locating Radar.
  • C4I2SR Systems.
  • Advance Light Helicopter.
  • Offshore Patrol Vehicles.
  • Tejas Mark 2 Fighter aircraft
  • Components and Spares of various systems.


The present authorities have appropriately decided that India must become an exporter of weapons.  It is a difficult journey but can be attained by carving our National Security Strategy, providing adequate budgets, making DRDO and DPSU's deliver as well as create a level playing field for the private sector and holding the hand of MSEMEs.

The implementation of the entire defence procedure is weak and suffers from lack of synergy. To bring about coherence there is need for an Export Task Force who will coordinate and accelerate issues to enable Design, Development, Manufacture. Equipping our Armed Forces and enabling exports.

The capability of Indian research and industry is  comparable with foreign countries. We need the support of the Government as also synergy between the user, developer, public and private industry to transform ourselves from an importer to an exporter. We have the talent who need to be harnessed directly under the Raksha Mantri to ensure that issues fructify. The Defence Sector needs to move with speed and military precision which the Task Force would facilitate by constant interaction at all levels.

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