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Technological dilemma!

Speaking at the 10the edition of the Aero India 2015 trade fair for defence equipment in Bangalore, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pitch for his ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector. Calling for a reduction in the import of defence equipment, the prime minister said that India is spending billions of dollars on acquisitions from abroad. If India could instead reduce defence imports by 20-25 per cent, Modi argued that it will create additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India. In addition, if India could raise the percentage of domestic procurement from 40 to 70 per cent in the next five years, our defence industry will double its output.

According to a recent report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and financial services firm Centrum Capital Ltd, India’s defence expenditure is expected to touch $620 billion between 2014 and 2022. The report, however, also states that the government has consistently underspent vis-à-vis the budgets it sets due to procedural delays. A large chunk of our defence budget was spent on maintenance and paying salaries of the Armed Forces, rather than for buying new equipment. Introducing new technology, under such circumstances, seems like putting the cart before the horse. A nation that manufactures its own weapons earns the respect of regional neighbours and saves on costly foreign exchange. US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to New Delhi and the “Make in India” initiative, however, has some argue, ushered a new era in indigenous arms manufacturing. Both sides signed the U.S.-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) during Obama’s visit. This initiative, experts have argued, could be seen as the moment when India kick-started its arms industry.

The arms industry, though, requires expertise and a long gestation period. In light of these concerns, India has a long way to go in arms manufacturing. Also, key questions are yet to be answered. How soon and at what speed will India manufacture arms? Also, where is the road map? The current equipment profile of the armed forces is in an alarming condition. For example, Russian tanks are being supported by Swedish Bofors guns, whose ammunition we buy from Israel. The Air Force has fighters from Russia and a contract for 126 fighters from France that have not yet been operationalised. Allied to these concerns, is the lack of adequate engine technology of all types.

Although engines are the work horse of any nation’s progress, India must acquire adequate engine technology. India cannot wait for the transfer of technology at a snail’s speed. Defence technology has to be transferred at a quick pace. India has to be ready to absorb technology and the weapons that it produces, should they have a distinct indigenous signature. Only then will the “Make in India” initiative in the defence sector succeed.
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