India announced on Thursday that it would increase its military equipment manufacturing, including helicopters, tank engines, missiles, and airborne early warning systems, to compensate for any potential deficit from its key supplier, Russia.
Nearly 60% of India’s defence equipment comes from Russia, and the conflict in Ukraine has raised concerns about future supplies. Officials from India’s defence ministry claim that the country, which has the world’s second-largest army, fourth-largest air force, and seventh-largest navy, cannot survive on imports.
“Our goal is to create India as a defence manufacturing powerhouse,” defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday as he unveiled a list of military equipment that will no longer be imported and will instead be made domestically.
Military orders totalling 2,100 billion rupees ($28 billion) are expected to be placed with local state-run and commercial defence manufacturers in the next five years, according to the ministry’s website.
According to former Lt. Gen. DS Hooda, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India last year, the two countries agreed to relocate certain production to India to suit the country’s needs. Imports of helicopters, corvettes, tank engines, missiles, and airborne early warning systems will be prohibited at some point.
“With the kind of losses that the Russian military is incurring, some of the spares that we need may certainly get diverted,” said Hooda, a retired Indian army commander.
India may examine imports from former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact countries to meet its short-term needs, according to ministry officials.
Because they have similar Soviet-origin platforms and spares, Bulgaria, Poland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine could assist India with spare supplies for Russian fighter aircraft Sukhois and MiG-29s, as well as upgrading tanks and armoured vehicles, according to a ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.
During his visit to India last week, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told his British counterpart Liz Truss that there is now a focus on “made in India” and that “the more collaborative we are, the more prospects of working together are more.”
The two leaders talked about how to expand Indo-British defence cooperation, ostensibly to lessen India’s strategic reliance on Russia. India’s defence ministry has defined a “positive indigenization list” of over 300 items with a schedule for prohibiting imports to help domestic businesses satisfy the armed forces’ requirements in the future years.
India’s air force includes about 410 Soviet and Russian fighters, including Su30s, MiG-21s, and MiG 29s, which are a mix of imported and license-built platforms. All of them necessitate Russian spare parts and components. In addition to Russian submarines, tanks, helicopters, submarines, frigates, and missiles, India has Russian submarines, tanks, helicopters, submarines, frigates, and missiles.
Sanctions against Russia could imperil India’s $375 million BrahMos cruise missile procurement from the Philippines. The missile system’s engines and seekers are provided by Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia, which created a joint venture with India’s government-run military Research and Development Organization to design, upgrade, and produce BrahMos.
India is waiting on Russian missile systems, frigates, an Akula-class nuclear-powered submarine, and assault rifles, according to defence analyst Rahul Bedi.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aiming for more self-reliance, but India lacks a robust military-industrial basis. The process of transferring spare part manufacture to India has begun, but Hooda said it is unclear if it will be able to quickly make up for any supply shortages.
“I would estimate it will take at least five years if you really want to see major change,” he remarked. By 2027, the MoD would have inked almost 60 offset contracts for over $13 billion with the US, France, Russia, and Israel for fighter aircraft and armaments. As part of the agreements, 30 to 50 percent of the contract value must be returned to India as offsets or reinvestments.
As part of the deal, a foreign supplier is required to purchase a specified amount of items from the importing country. The Indian government wants a portion of the money to go to its defence industry or to allow the country to advance technologically. It entails forming joint partnerships with Indian firms to produce defence equipment.
The government promised in the 2022-23 budget that indigenous producers would receive 68 percent of all capital defence purchases.
Meanwhile, bilateral defence trade with the United States has grown from almost nil in 2008 to $15 billion in 2019. Long-range marine patrol aircraft, C-130 cargo planes, missiles, and drones were among the major American purchases made by India.
India announced in 2020 that foreign companies can spend up to 74 percent of their profits in its defence production divisions, up from 49 percent previously, with no need for government approval. The goal is to entice advanced-technology international corporations to set up factories in India in partnership with Indian firms.
In 2001, India opened its defence sector to the private sector, which had previously been restricted to state-owned businesses. According to the defence ministry, only 110 of the 330 private enterprises that have been granted industrial licences for such manufacturing have started production.