The value of defence exports has grown approximately by six times in the past few years and it now stands at Rs 11,607 crore ($1.54 billion) for this fiscal. The Ministry of Defence in a written reply in the Lok Sabha gave out year-wise details of value of exports. In 2014-15, exports were mere Rs 1,941 crore and have steadily risen since then.

The Indian government has set an ambitious annual export target of around Rs 36,500 crore by 2025. Bhatt said that the corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and its 41 factories into seven defence PSUs will also help in boosting exports.

A major export deal inked in January this year was the $375 million (Rs 2,770 crore) contract to export BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines, which will pave the way for more such deals with the country as well as other ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Vietnam, as was reported earlier by TOI. India is currently in talks with countries, including Saudi Arabia and UAE, to export the BrahMos missiles and the Akash air defence missiles.

General Outlook

Defence industry is an indispensable component of every country aspiring to gain global recognition. A thriving domestic defence industry supports the armed forces in its national interests and fights against external and internal threats of armed aggression. Defence is one of the major spending sectors in the Indian economy. India has 15,000 km long border (across mountains, plains and sea) with seven neighbouring countries.

The country’s geographical and topographical diversity poses unique challenges to the Indian defence forces. India has fought several wars in the initial decades of its independence. The country then relied on its imports to meet its defence needs and immediate requirements of defence systems. During the larger part of the 20th century, India received support from other nations that contributed significantly to our defence capabilities. However, over the years, we have had limited success in building a robust domestic defence manufacturing base, one going beyond license manufacturing.

While state-owned enterprises are leading defence manufacturing in India, there have been attempts to set up defence industrial parks, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) defence clusters and concerted technology creation hubs. However, it has resulted in scattered capabilities.

As India is on its journey to become a developed country, it is essential for our defence industries to have a strong footing. Now at the start of a new decade, towards the middle of the 21st century, it is time to rethink our global positioning. We have achieved great milestones in the field of space exploration. India is amongst a few countries to develop our own Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). We are also progressing well on our civil nuclear program and it’s time for us to think about our strategic independence in the defence sector.

 In a rapidly changing world, being dependent on defence imports is not an option, considering our geo-political scenario. We must move out of the constant threat of sanctions or our dependency on individual nations for our basic war reserves, such as ammunition, tactical systems and other equipment. Thus, the need to become strategically independent cannot be emphasized enough.

To achieve this goal, efforts are being made to increase indigenization if they are technologically feasible and economically viable. The Make in India theme may be re-looked at with a broader objective as Make in India for import substitution, Make in India for sustained domestic demand and Make in India for global exports. (SIDM & EY)