Tread warily on reducing defence imports

SELF-RELIANCE and indigenisation have been the buzzwords in the Indian defence sector in recent years. The government has been making efforts to promote the domestic defence industry, even as the expenditure on procurement from foreign sources has come down from 46 per cent (2018-19) of the overall expenditure to 36 per cent (2021-22). Nevertheless, India continues to figure among the world’s biggest arms importers; the demand for imports is apparently driven by the threat posed by hostile neighbours Pakistan and China.

With the aim of minimising imports by defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs), the government has been releasing ‘positive indigenisation’ lists from time to time. The fourth such list was approved by the Ministry of Defence on Sunday. It comprises 928 ‘strategically important’ line replacement units/sub-systems/spares and components with an import substitution value of Rs 715 crore. The DPSUs have been tasked with undertaking indigenisation and in-house development of these items by utilising the capabilities of MSMEs and private players in the industry.

Procurement from domestic sources is a step in the right direction, provided that quality control and adherence to timelines are the top priorities. There should also be complete transparency in the award of contracts to vendors. The development of indigenous manufacturing infrastructure should go hand in hand with the creation of a robust research and development ecosystem. It’s also vital to ascertain the present and future needs of the armed forces so that the R&D and manufacturing capacity can be augmented accordingly. Regarding imports, it’s a how-much-is-too-much situation. There is no scope for any compromise on national security. What matters is our troops’ combat readiness — they should get cutting-edge weaponry and equipment, and that too without any delay.