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Prof. Dr. Ahmed Saeed Minhas

The author is an expert on strategic issues and currently serves as the Vice Chancellor of DHA Suffa University, Karachi. He is also a defense analyst who frequently contributes to national TV and radio channels, in addition to writing for multiple daily newspapers and journals. E-mail: [email protected].

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Hilal English

Indian Ambitious “Make in India” Approach for Defense Production: An Appraisal

June 2024

The "Make in India" initiative aimed to revolutionize India's defense production but faces daunting challenges such as corruption in procurement, inadequate private sector support, and technological constraints. Despite aspirations for self-reliance, its progress in achieving substantial advancements in indigenous defense production remains elusive.



The "Make in India" initiative, which aims to boost domestic manufacturing and establish India as a global hub for defense production, has faced significant challenges in the defense sector. While the slogan evokes aspirations of self-reliance and economic prosperity, reality paints a grim picture of Indian defense capacities, revealing fundamental weaknesses in its implementation.
The approach was first unveiled in 2014 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into power, and since then, it has not materialized as envisioned. Strategically, the Modi approach signifies two aspects. First, it demonstrated the confidence of the Indian political elite due to assured membership in four Technology Control Cartels: the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group (AG), the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). This confidence stemmed from the signing of the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal in 2010, which had strategic implications due to Western powers' interest in countering the rising Chinese influence. Consequently, India needed to become technologically strong to act as a counterbalance to China and remain free of likely attributions if tensions escalated in the South Asian region. It manifests the prevailing international relations mantra of "Might is Right" within a self-centered international system where national interests take precedence over global peace. Secondly, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government demonstrated a vested interest in becoming a military power, not only to exercise unprecedented authority domestically, particularly against minorities such as Muslims and Sikhs, but also to project Indian power beyond its geographical boundaries in the South Asian region and extend its influence across continents.
Notwithstanding, Indian Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and other allied defense production establishments failed to achieve the intended milestones as the Transfer of Technology needs a brain, will, and motivation to deliver. In a society that is known to be ultra-extremist, full of discrimination and fascism, such achievements remain a distant dream. Let’s carry out an appraisal of the Indian approach of the "Make in India” approach toward defense production and substantiate the claims made in the above paragraphs.
India had a defense budget of USD 72.6 billion for the 2023-24 financial year and became the third country in the world with regard to defense spending after the U.S. and China. It aimed to invest more in the procurement of increased numbers of fighter aircraft, which indicates that it intends to extend its area of influence, especially against China, where terrain demands more aerial platforms vis-à-vis armored vehicles. The increase in defense spending reflects the Indian inability to meet the defense requirements from within or indigenously, thus resorting to procuring modern and expensive jets, such as French Rafales. This substantiates the claim made earlier that India’s indigenous defense production is a mere political slogan while disproportionately projecting Pakistan and China as enemies. It underlines Modi's commitment to boosting domestic defense production to be supplied to the Indian troops deployed along two borders. 


The "Make in India" category, initially touted as a game-changer, has been undermined by numerous corruption incidents involving senior officers and the Indian political elite. The Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) project, bogged down for over two decades, underscores the systemic inefficiencies within Indian bureaucracy. 


Indian troops along the Pakistani and Chinese borders often complain about substandard weapons and ammunition, which keeps them under continuous threat. Under such tiring and demanding circumstances, there have been multiple incidents of suicides and the killing of officers by Indian soldiers. These incidents stem from the belief that their officers are corrupt and do not adequately address their needs, including providing reliable weapons, let alone ensuring acceptable food standards.
Let's take individual equipment examples now. Due to the flawed and corrupt procurement procedures in the Indian military bureaucracy, the aim of indigenous production has not been realized. The "Make in India" category, initially touted as a game-changer, has been undermined by numerous corruption incidents involving senior officers and the Indian political elite. The Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) project, bogged down for over two decades, underscores the systemic inefficiencies within Indian bureaucracy. The process suffers from protracted decision-making, limited technical capacities of Indian scientists, inconsistent evaluation methodologies, and a lack of transparency, leading to projects being abandoned or significantly delayed.
The deep-rooted distrust between the public and private sectors adds to these challenges. The "Strategic Partnership Model," intended to foster collaboration between private firms and foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers, faces skepticism and doubts. There is a lingering fear that Indian strategic partners, after investing in infrastructure and securing initial orders, could be sidelined by the public sector undertakings, ultimately undermining the entire initiative. This lack of trust hampers private sector’s participation and hinders the development of a truly robust domestic defense industry.
In addition, despite significant reforms, India's defense production has not grown substantially enough to meet the growing demands of the armed forces, forcing the country to remain dependent on external sources for critical defense hardware. The Indian defense industry, despite its size, lacks the technological depth to design and manufacture major systems and critical components, resulting in continued reliance on foreign companies. 
The Indian government has made multiple announcements and claims regarding tangible reforms to enhance capacities; however, these have yet to be fully implemented, resulting in an almost standstill situation in translating policy changes into actual production and delivery. Consequently, the claim of achieving self-sufficiency is seen by many as merely a political stunt by the ultra-nationalist and hardliner BJP government to win the trust of the hardliner Hindu community under the overarching Hindutva ideology.
Furthermore, the biggest feather in the cap, as claimed by the Indian scientists, is the Indian-made BrahMos Cruise Missile, the flagship Indian weapon system. Multiple Indian authors have proved through stats that the BrahMos comprises over 60 percent of imported parts. One of the recent examples that clearly manifests poor Indian training standards, control, and command infrastructure, and the pathetic quality of BrahMos Cruise Missile was the incident of the accidental firing of the same missile that landed in Punjab, Pakistan. The incident could have provoked a Pakistani counter-strike; however, the Pakistani military high command acted with restraint and made Indians apologize for the negligence. The accidental firing of missiles like BrahMos Missile speaks volumes about Indian capacities in terms of becoming self-sufficient and producing reliable and trustworthy weapon systems. Indian military commanders and soldiers believe that locally made products are often deemed unsuitable for sensitive border areas due to their inferior performance and quality compared to imported alternatives. Another example is the operational problems faced by the Indian indigenously made V9 Vajra Medium Artillery Guns, and its ammunition unveiled Indian inefficiencies in indigenous defense production.
Indian Prime Minister Modi, having sensed the failure of the "Make in India" initiative, has omitted this slogan from his election campaign manifesto this time, signaling an acknowledgment of its shortcomings. Opposition leaders in India are openly criticizing Modi and hold him responsible for leaving India vulnerable to the professional Chinese and Pakistani Armed Forces. Despite efforts to promote indigenization, India's military confronts significant shortages of essential equipment due to challenges in importing replacements for aging systems and the slow pace of domestic production. Moreover, the dependence on imported components, even for flagship weapon systems like the BrahMos missile, continues to impede efforts towards self-reliance.
India's ambition to transition from a major arms importer to a defense export superpower faces significant hurdles despite the "Make in India" initiative. While aspirational, the "Make in India" slogan has been hindered by weaknesses in its execution. The Modi government's commitment to fostering a robust domestic defense industry faltered due to inefficiencies and lack of transparency in procurement systems, insufficient support for the private sector, and shortcomings in individual scientists' and institutional capacities. In the end, an Indian defense analyst, Mr. Bedi, said, "Make in India for defense isn't thought through properly; it is a good slogan, beyond that, there isn't much to show as yet." 


The author is an expert on strategic issues and currently serves as the Vice Chancellor of DHA Suffa University, Karachi. He is also a defense analyst who frequently contributes to national TV and radio channels, in addition to writing for multiple daily newspapers and journals.
E-mail: [email protected].
 

Prof. Dr. Ahmed Saeed Minhas

The author is an expert on strategic issues and currently serves as the Vice Chancellor of DHA Suffa University, Karachi. He is also a defense analyst who frequently contributes to national TV and radio channels, in addition to writing for multiple daily newspapers and journals. E-mail: [email protected].

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