• 23 August, 2020 10:04 am

India

China border, Pakistan tensions hamper India’s plan to boost local weapons industry

 Kathmandu, Aug. 23: 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to curb certain weapons imports to turn the world’s biggest arms importer into a defence manufacturing powerhouse
  • But India is now trying to procure US$2 billion in military equipment amid a Himalayan border skirmish with China and tense relations with Pakistan
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a rifle during a defence expo in February. The country is looking to import military equipment amid tensions with its neighbours, despite plans to boost its own defence industry. Photo: AP
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a rifle during a defence expo in February. The country is looking to import military equipment amid tensions with its neighbours, despite plans to boost its own defence industry. Photo: AP

India’s move to ban the import of some weapon systems and military hardware to boost local manufacturing is being hindered by its push to procure as much as US$2 billion in equipment to increase its defence preparedness as it faces a border stand-off with China and volatile relations with Pakistan.

The new curbs on US$47 billion worth of imports that include communication satellites, conventional submarines and light machine guns, announced on August 9, failed to address critical issues such as the certification of systems and locally-made components, and will not prevent the military from making emergency purchases of equipment from foreign vendors, defence experts say.Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to transform the world’s biggest arms importer into a defence manufacturing powerhouse have remained a non-starter since the idea was first proposed in 2014.From a plan to produce indigenous equipment and systems worth US$100 billion by 2020, the target has been slashed in half and the deadline extended to 2027. Now the country is four months into a confrontation with China along its unmarked Himalayan border that has plunged relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours to a four-decade low.

“There is very little that the negative list of ammunitions, and assorted material banned by the Ministry of defence can do in addition to several measures already taken to localise defence production and reduce import dependency,” said Amit Cowsish, a consultant with the New Delhi-based Manohar Parrikar Institute For Defence Studies and Analyses and a former financial adviser on acquisitions in the Ministry of defence.

The scepticism is with reason. Similar policy declarations to stem imports were made by India in 2013, under then prime minister Manmohan Singh, and also by Modi’s administration in his first term in 2018, did not significantly increase the ‘Made in India’ products deployed by the military.

The new order also fails to clarify which agency will certify what will be considered indigenously made, given locally made defence products and weapons systems may include imported parts.

In 2016, a self-propelled air defence system made by a state-run plant malfunctioned during a military exercise. An investigation revealed that an imported component had failed, according to two officials who asked not to be identified because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

The system could not be fixed because the local manufacturer did not know how to repair the imported part, they said.

An Indian soldier is seen in Srinagar during a curfew on Independence Day in the Kashmir valley. Photo: DPA
An Indian soldier is seen in Srinagar during a curfew on Independence Day in the Kashmir valley. Photo: DPA

“Time and access to technology is fundamental to such efforts. Currently a large proportion of India’s defence industry is little better than system integrators,” said Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based independent defence analyst. “A major dose of realism is needed.”

The negative list is also vague on the position of joint-ventures between Indian and foreign manufacturers and licence produced weapon systems, he said.

Many of the items that figure in the new banned list – light combat helicopters, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft and warships – were already being procured indigenously.

Despite its drawbacks India’s nascent defence industry is cautiously optimistic about the new policy.

“We are sure that this list will keep getting amended to add newer programmes that lay a road map matching our nation’s aspiration,” said Jayant Patil, senior executive vice-president (defence & smart technologies), Larsen & Toubro Limited.

source– south china morning post

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