Pursuing an ambitious agenda for achieving self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector, India on Wednesday slapped an import ban on 98 weapons and systems including futuristic infantry combat vehicles, shipborne unmanned aerial systems, medium-range precision kill systems, a variety of ammunition, radars, sensors, and equipment for fighter jets, maritime surveillance planes, warships, helicopters and tanks.
The fifth positive indigenisation list, released by defence minister Rajnath Singh, takes the number of major defence items placed under an import ban during the last three years to 509. Singh released the list at the navy’s innovation and indigenisation seminar, Swavlamban 2023.
“The list lays special focus on import substitution of components of major systems, besides important platforms, weapon systems, sensors and munitions, which are being developed and likely to translate into firm orders in the next five to 10 years,” the defence ministry said in a statement. The list has been prepared by the department of military affairs.
In his address, navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said Aatmanirbharta was no longer merely an economic imperative but a strategic necessity. “Dependence on others for one’s defence needs is a strategic vulnerability that must be overcome,” Kumar said.
India has already published four lists that have imposed a phased import ban on 411 different types of weapons and platforms, including light weight tanks, naval utility helicopters, artillery guns, missiles, destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft, long-range land-attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, airborne early warning and control systems, and multi-barrel rocket launchers.
These platforms are expected to be indigenised during the next five to six years. The four lists were announced in August 2020, May 2021, April 2022 and October 2022.
The fifth list includes articulated all-terrain vehicles, specified types of remotely piloted airborne vehicles, electric light vehicles, next generation low level light radars, automatic chemical agent detection and alarm systems, armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) protection and counter-measures system, and integrated mobile camouflage.
It also bans the import of AI-based systems for satellite image analysis, very high frequency radars, electro-optic fire control systems for naval platforms, armour plates for Mi-17 helicopters, automated mobile test system for OSA-AK missile systems, and flares for P-8I and MiG-29K aircraft.
“The items in the list will provide ample visibility and opportunity to the domestic industry to understand the trend and futuristic needs of the armed forces and create requisite R&D and manufacturing capacity within the country,” the statement said. The new list is another step on the long road to indigenisation that is being pursued by the defence ministry through a layered approach focusing on both big defence platforms and their smaller parts and components.
India has employed a two-pronged approach to achieve indigenisation through import bans. One approach relates to banning the import of platforms such as fighter jets, warships, helicopters and artillery guns (military hardware in the five positive indigenisation lists), while the other covers sub-systems, spares and components.
As part of the latter, the defence ministry has imposed a phased import ban on 4,666 smaller items, including replacement units, sub-systems, spares and components through four separate positive indigenisation lists during the last two years. Of these, around 3,000 items have been indigenised thus far in a fresh push for self-reliance and the remaining will be manufactured in India in line with the prescribed timelines between December 2023 and December 2029.
These items are used in a raft of military platforms including fighter planes, helicopters, trainer aircraft, warships, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, high-mobility trucks, defence electronics and different types of ammunition.
India has taken several measures over the last four to five years to boost self-reliance in defence. Apart from the phased import bans listed above, the government has created a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware, increased foreign direct investment from 49% to 74% and improved ease of doing business. India is eyeing a turnover of ₹1.75 lakh crore in defence manufacturing by 2024-25.
In May, India announced that the value of defence production in the country crossed ₹1 lakh crore for the first time on the back of key reforms to spur growth in the sector. The figure stood at ₹1,06,800 crore in FY 2022-23 compared to ₹95,000 crore in FY 2021-22 and ₹54,951 crore five years ago.
The country’s focus is not only on cutting dependence on imports, but also on boosting exports.
India’s military exports have risen sharply, and imports have recorded a drop because of policy initiatives and reforms. Exports grew 23 times between 2013-14 and 2022-23 (from ₹ 686 crore to ₹16,000 crore), while the spending on imported weapons and systems dropped from 46% of the total expenditure in 2018-19 to 36.7% in December 2022. India has set a defence export target of ₹35,000 crore by 2024-25.