New Delhi: The year 2021 was quite challenging for the Indian defence forces on the operational front as China continued to pose the biggest threat. The standoff in eastern Ladakh is far from over though India has been able to contain Chinese assertiveness to a great extent.

The year saw India taking several important steps towards the goal of self reliance in the defence sector. It ended up sealing some key military agreements with countries like the United States, France, Russia and Israel, giving a valuable message to India’s adversaries.

By the end of the year, the death of India's first Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, in a helicopter crash came in as a major blow. The killing of 13 innocent civilians on December 4 in a botched up counter insurgency operation by the Indian Army’s special forces in Nagaland also shocked everyone.

Modernization of armed forces saw some progress in 2021, with the Rafale aircraft making way into the Indian Air Force and Russia beginning to deliver the much awaited S 400 missile defence systems.

The highlights of the year:

S-400 Missile Defence System And India-Russia Defence Ties

Relations between India and Russia have strengthened in recent times. An agreement for military technology cooperation for the next decade was signed during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India. The two countries also signed a protocol of the 20th India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Military and Military Technology.

The delivery of much awaited S 400 Triumf missile defence system to India, universally considered as a force multiplier, will be extremely important. In the aftermath of skirmishes between the Indian Army and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China ordered a massive build up along the LAC, including its own S 400 battalions, causing a mismatch with India in case of a conflict. The deployment of the missile defence system will enhance India’s indigenously developed Ballistic Missile Defence and help maintain strategic stability by making China realize the futility of its forward build up. In this deal worth Rs 35,000 crore, five squadrons of the System would be provided to India to tackle air threats from a range of up to 400 km. The System is equipped with four difference missiles which can engage enemy aircraft and ballistic missiles.

AK-203 Assault Rifles

In one of the most important defence agreements, a deal to make more than 5 lakh Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles in India has been cleared. These rifles are set to be manufactured under a Joint Venture between the erstwhile Ordnance Factory Board and Rosoboronexport of Russia in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi.

The AK-203 rifles will replace the current INSAS rifles, which were inducted about three decades ago. The lightweight and easy to use AK-203 rifles, with a range of 300 metres, will play a vital role in counter-terrorist operations of the Indian Army and will enhance India’s operational strength on ground. With increased focus on 'Make in India', this effort reflects the change being brought in defence acquisition.

Predator Drones

In yet another major step towards strengthening defence ties with the US, the Defence Ministry has approved the purchase of Predator drones from the US for Indian security forces in $3 billion. With security threats emanating both from Pakistan and China, the drones will be useful for long endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over a vast area and they can be easily operated during military missions due to their easy configuration. In modern warfare, drones have become extremely important and they could overwhelm and effectively suppress enemy's air defence capabilities in the digital domain. They can fly for up to 35 hours and can be used for information gathering and destruction of enemy targets.

DRDO Agreement With Israel

In one of the most important steps towards military modernisation and to boost country’s defence capabilities, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Israel's Ministry of Defence's Directorate of Defence Research and Development (DDR&D) have signed a Bilateral Innovation Agreement (BIA) in a bid to promote innovation and accelerated research and development in start-ups and MSMEs in both countries for the development of dual-use technologies. The move will enhance cooperation in the areas such as Robotics, Drones, Quantum technology, Artificial Intelligence, Biosensing, Brain-Machine Interface, Photonics, Energy Storage, Natural Language Processing and Wearable Devices.

The development activities will be supported jointly by the DRDO and Israel's DDR&D. Both countries will be permitted to use the technologies developed under BIA for domestic purposes.

Defence Ties With France

France has delivered 30 Rafale aircraft and six more will come by April 2022. India and France have cooperated on a number of strategic areas including defence and space but the two have expanded engagement in a number of other critical areas such as the evolving strategic dynamics in the Indo-Pacific, artificial intelligence, super-computing, cyber security and space security.

Restructuring of Ordnance Factory Board

The government in June gave a nod to a long-pending proposal to restructure the two-century-old OFB which operated 41 equipment production facilities into seven state-owned corporate entities to augment its competitiveness. The objective of the restructuring is to transform Ordnance Factories into productive and profitable assets, improve expertise in product range, increase competitiveness, improve quality and ensure self reliance in defence preparedness. The upgradation of these companies was ignored in post independence period leading to dependence on foreign suppliers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said. He said these companies will play a major role in changing this situation.

Negative List For Defence Imports

On Dec 29, the government announced a list of 351 imported components which will be procured only from the Indian industry over a three-year timeline. The initiative will save foreign exchange approximately equivalent to Rs 300 crores every year.

This was a follow up to the notification of two Positive Indigenisation Lists of 209 weapon systems and military equipment. The step is part of the efforts to achieve self-reliance in the defence manufacturing and minimise imports by DPSUs.

Women In NDA

In a path breaking policy decision, the government allowed women's entry in the National Defence Academy following the orders of the Supreme Court. The Defence Ministry said later that there are over 30 per cent women applicants for the institution.

Death of CDS Gen Bipin Rawat

In what can be termed as the biggest ever military accident in India, the country lost its most experienced military leader, Gen Bipin Rawat, in a helicopter crash in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. His wife Madhulika Rawat and other service personnel including the pilot also perished when the Mi-17V5 chopper came down in a hilly area.

Gen Rawat was aggressively pursuing the integration in the armed forces by initiating several studies on creation of theatre commands and their structures. The new CDS will have to carry forward the agenda.