The IAF's light combat aircraft, the TEJAS, at  an Air Show

Faced with a shortage of spares from Russia and Ukraine, defence minister Rajnath Singh has okayed domestic procurement of 780 critical military components and sub-systems

As a solution to the Indian military’s requirement for spares amidst the protracted Russia-Ukraine war, the Narendra Modi government is turning towards the domestic industry to meet the supply gaps. Defence minister Rajnath Singh has given the go-ahead for domestic procurement of 780 critical components and sub-systems used in fighter jets, helicopters, transport planes, armoured tanks and submarines. This means all this military hardware will come under a phased import ban between December 2023 and December 2028.

The new Positive Indigenisation List includes critical spares and sub-systems for India’s frontline fighter jet Sukhoi-30, Jaguar, TEJAS and Dornier-228 planes. Some spares for the Indian Navy’s operational Kilo-class submarines as well as equipment for the Indian Army’s T-90 and Arjun tanks are also part of the list. With this list, the government aims to further reduce imports by DPSUs (defence public sector undertakings).

India is the world’s second biggest importer of arms, accounting for 9.2 per cent of the total global arms imports. Next comes Saudi Arabia. There has, however, been a push by the Modi government for self-reliance in defence. About 80 per cent of the country’s domestic defence industry is owned by the government.

The ministry of defence (MoD) has set a target of Rs 1.75 lakh crore worth of indigenous defence production by 2025, including exports to the tune of Rs 35,000 crore. DPSUs will have to play a major role in achieving this goal.

The MoD says the new Positive Indigenisation List is in continuation of two such lists for sub-systems, assemblies and components issued in December 2021 and March 2022. The first two lists together contain 2,500 items that are already indigenised and 458 which will be indigenised within the given timelines. Indigenous development of these sub-systems and components will give a boost to the DPSUs and reduce dependence on imports.

The war in Ukraine has adversely impacted several upcoming projects of the Indian military. India uses more than 70 Russian military platforms. More than 80 per cent of the products made by India’s ordnance factories are Russian-based and the units continue to depend on Russia for critical spares. A majority of fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are Russian, including the 272 Su-30MKIs and over 100 MiG-21 ’Bison’. The IAF also operates the Russian-made Mi-17 and Mi-8 helicopters.

Military observers say the Russia-Ukraine conflict has cast a shadow on critical defence equipment supplies from both nations. Besides new purchases, existing platforms of the Indian military—fighter planes, air defence missiles, artillery guns, tanks—are heavily dependent on Russia and Ukraine for critical spares. The impact is showing on key projects, such as the upgrade of IAF’s Antonov AN-32 fleet, supply of critical R-27 air-to-air missiles for Sukhoi Su-30MKI and MiG-29, upgrades of existing artillery and air defence systems, and sourcing of engines for four guided-missile frigates of the navy.