Wedged between China and Pakistan, both hostile neighbours, India has been maintaining a high level of military preparedness, especially after the Galwan valley clash in June last year. The importance of state-of-the-art weaponry in fortifying the country’s borders can’t be overestimated. Though the hike in the overall defence budget for 2021-22 is only around 1.4 per cent, the capital outlay for military modernisation has been raised by about
Rs 22,000 crore (nearly 19 per cent). This is a welcome proposal, in tune with the government’s plan to spend $130 billion (more than Rs 9 lakh crore) on defence modernisation in the next seven to eight years.
India continues to figure among the world’s biggest arms importers – this fact sticks out like a sore thumb whenever the government talks about achieving self-reliance in the defence sector. What has come as a much-needed shot in the arm for the ‘Make in India’ initiative is the recent sealing of a Rs 48,000-crore deal to procure 83 Tejas light combat aircraft from state-run aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Large-scale indigenisation, however, can’t happen overnight. It requires an overhaul and reorientation of the defence PSUs along with the active involvement of the private sector, leading technocrats, and top institutes of science and technology, as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence.
Reducing dependence on foreign vendors is easier said than done. The armed forces can’t keep waiting for domestic equivalents during an exigency. For the record, an unbudgeted amount of Rs 20,776 crore was spent to buy military hardware amid the border standoff with China. In September last year, the government had eased FDI norms in this sector so as to attract more overseas investors. The focus, as of now, should be on facilitating collaboration between international manufacturers and Indian firms, while ensuring a level playing field that precludes favouritism. Transfer of technology by foreign players can not only help in making India self-reliant on the defence front but also boost the nation’s potential to cater to the global market through cutting-edge research and innovation.