Indian planners must ensure dependence on defence imports continues to reduce and India’s share in world arms export grows. At present is minuscule and less than 1%, compared to world exports

India has achieved a significant jump in export of defence systems in recent years, but what attracted the attention of rival nations and strategic observers is the decision to sell BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles worth ₹2,770 crore to the Philippines last year and the deal to supply Aakash surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles to Armenia, worth ₹6,000 crore, concluded this month. Besides these cutting-edge technological defence products, the flagship Indian defence aviation platform LCA, TEJAS is also in the fray for supply to several Asian and African nations.

The BrahMos is a Mach 3 cruise missile, which can engage any surface- or sea-based target at a distance of 300 km, and has been produced with Russian collaboration in India. The supply of these missiles to Philippines, a Southeast Asian nation, in the midst of an ongoing tussle with China near Philippine waters over maritime boundaries, has special significance and message to China. Much to the chagrin of Beijing, the Indian BrahMos cruise missile has already joined the Philippines armed forces, posing a major challenge to the Chinese bid to capture the several islands in the South China Sea, a few of which claimed by Philippines and China both. The Indian BrahMos will deter China from taking an aggressive posture in the South China Sea against the Philippines.

The BrahMos is an Indo-Russian joint venture, whereas the Aakash is a purely Indian success story, which can shoot down any incoming enemy fighter aircraft. The Indian Air Force (IAF) inducted these Aakash missiles several years ago. But with the Narendra Modi government taking a policy decision to sell more advanced technology weapons to India’s friendly countries, enquiries are being entertained from Asia to Africa and Latin America.

The latest to join the world’s arms market is the Light Combat Aircraft, for which Argentina, Egypt and Botswana have shown interest. Indian aviation giant Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd also took part in the Malaysian tender, but could not succeed. However, many more undisclosed countries are seeking to get details of the Indian light fighter. The deal for Aakash air defence missile system with Armenia adds to the growing list of defence exports, which includes multi barrel rocket launcher Pinaka, artillery guns, drones, ammunitions etc. Impressed with the successful induction of Aakash missiles in the IAF, Vietnam, Philippines, Brazil and Egypt have also approached the Indian government. Thus, the sale of Aakash to Armenia will greatly boost Indian defence exports. Vietnam has also expressed interest in acquiring Aakash and BrahMos missiles.

Push To Atmanirbhar Bharat

India’s recent thrust on export of defence weapon systems along with policy of Atmanirbharta, i.e. self-reliance, has huge strategic ramifications. This not only reduces critical dependence on foreign suppliers but also enables India to be a major player in the strategic arena. The policy to source maximum possible defence systems for Indian armed forces from Indian manufacturers will not only boost Indian defence manufacturing, but also vastly improve Indian economy as more and more established defence giants are gearing up to set up their facilities in India to supply not only to Indian armed forces but to other countries also.

Reduced dependence will not only result in saving huge outgo of foreign exchange, but also giving contracts to Indian defence companies and creating thousands of new employment opportunities for the Indian youth. The launch of high profile defence products in the international market will also raise the credibility of Made in India weapon systems and platforms. Due to consistent government thrust on domestic sourcing and exports, made-in-India defence products worth ₹16,000 crore (USD2 billion) were acquired by forces of almost 85 countries, and the aim is to reach defence export to the level of USD 5 billion by 2025.

Interestingly, these high-end defence systems were out of reach for Indian armed forces due to various sanctions regime in force in the previous century. But Indian defence scientists and entrepreneurs with enabling government policies broke the technological barriers and made India largely self-reliant. After attaining freedom, Indian leadership had taken a visionary decision to set up the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in the 1950s, with over 40 laboratories to conduct research and development activities, and also set up over 40 ordnance factories to domestically produce arms and ammunitions for armed forces. This provided a solid foundation to the Indian defence industry on the strength of which India today aspires to become a major defence manufacturer.

Need For Sufficient Domestic Defence Manufacturing Base

Besides BrahMos and Aakash, India is also exporting major defence products such as radars, simulators, mine protected vehicles, armoured vehicles, Pinaka rocket launchers , ammunitions, thermal imagers, and body armours, besides systems like Line Replaceable Units and parts and components of avionics and small arms. Besides TEJAS, many countries are also enquiring about Indian Light Combat Helicopter, Advanced Light Helicopter, warships and maintenance and repair jobs are also undertaken.

As the fifth largest economy aspiring to be the third largest by the end of this decade, India also needs to have a sufficient domestic defence manufacturing base to enable the country to be largely self-dependent and not dictated by other arms suppliers. This requires encouraging major arms producers like Israel and European countries to set up production facilities in association with Indian private or public sector companies. Since Indian defence research entities are also capable of conducting design and development jobs, they can join hands with established international defence players by inviting them to set up facilities in India for developing and producing advanced weapon systems in India.

With the fast changing geopolitical environment, the demand for defence systems will grow very fast in the coming decades. As the tense security situation on India’s borders is not likely to ease very soon, Indian leadership must take adequate measures to equip the armed forces with homemade defence systems and be able to export them in the world market. The race to acquire more powerful defence systems will continue to grow. Hence, India needs to have a proactive defence manufacturing policy, with congenial ecosystem, to not only meet the demands of Indian armed forces but friendly foreign forces also. As India had an 11 percent share in world’s arms imports during 2018-22 , Indian planners must ensure that this dependence on imports continues to reduce and India’s share in world arms export continues to grow, which at present is minuscule and less than 1 percent, compared to world exports.