Develop roadmap for indigenous arms production

A nation that manufactures its own weapons earns the respect of regional neighbours and saves on costly foreign exchange. Importing weapons is a sign of dependency. US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to New Delhi and the “Make in India” initiative has definitely ushered a new era in indigenous arms manufacturing. The equipment profile of the Indian Army is largely made up of equipment from  the Western and Eastern bloc countries. At one stage Russian equipment dominated the show. India, however, diversified its purchase of arms. Now, we have the U.S.-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that was signed during Obama’s visit. 

In the context of, “Make in India”, this initiative could be seen as the moment when India kick-started its arms industry. The equipment procured from the Eastern block are rugged and sturdy. Weapons from the Western bloc, meanwhile, are more user-friendly, sophisticated and considered scientifically superior. The Americans went into serious arms production during the Second World War and have dominated the scene since. The arms industry, however, requires expertise and a long gestation period. In light of these concerns, India has a long way to go in arms manufacturing. How soon and at what speed will India manufacture arms? Questions will also emerge on type and signature. Merely signing an agreement is not enough. Where is the road map?

The current equipment profile of the armed forces is in an alarming condition. Russian tanks are being supported by Swedish Bofors guns, whose ammunition we buy from Israel. The infantry has rifles that they are not happy with and its helicopters are falling off from the skies. The Air Force has fighters from Russia and a contract for 126 fighters from France that has not yet been operationalised. The new transport fleet is turning American, especially our helicopters. The Navy alone went its own way, though its sub weapons system has the mark of everyone’s influence. The nation lacks oil and is ready to fight a war on two and a half fronts. Such bravado can only happen in India.  

Much information is not available on the DTTI or its road map; suffice to say the Americans would like to give India technology for sub systems. There was talk of javelin missile and parts of C-130 Lockheed C-130 (which India operates), and RQ-11 Raven drones. There was also talk that  India will take delivery of six additional C-130s through to 2017. The Javelin missile is a fire and forget anti-tank missile, which will hardly bring any cutting edge technology to the armed forces.

The Navy’s move to plough a lonely furrow and go in for ship building may bear fruit, in light of a move to acquire American technology for air craft carriers. Allied to these concerns, is the lack of adequate engine technology of all types. India lacks car engines, truck engines, tank engines, ship engines and jet engines. Although engines are the work horse of any nation’s progress, India must acquire adequate engine technology. Should India be the junior partner and wait till the Americans provide us with adequate technology? Otherwise, should India also stake a claim, in addition to what the Americans wish to give us? India cannot wait. The two democratic nations, therefore, need to develop this partnership at a faster pace.

What does the future have in store for this relationship? A lot is how one would summarily say, better late than never.  There is more convergence than divergence between both nations and its armies. There exists an excellent people to people contact between the two nations. There is common belief between them on notions of freedom, rule of law and democratic values. More importantly, both nations want a stable world, where peace and prosperity exists. The desire for economic progress from both sets of citizens, one can argue, can only come about through peace and security. Both countries now face the threat of terrorism, although India may not agree to the methods America employs.

There are common security issues and sharing intelligence is a key area. 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 India produces, should they have a distinct indigenous signature. Only then will the “Make in India” initiative succeed. The least we can do to for the citizens of Delhi, who displayed such great national spirit in sitting through a wet and cold Republic Day morning, is to get the DTTI off to an ambitious start and aim for the sky.

The author is a retired brigadier
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