Officials with knowledge of the situation claim that India is vulnerable to ongoing threats from China and Pakistan as a result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to increase domestic defence system manufacturing.
According to the officials, some essential weapons systems that India’s army, navy, and air force need to replace outdated ones can no longer be imported. According to them, India could be severely short on helicopters by 2026 and face a fighter jet shortage of hundreds by 2030 as a result.
Shortly after winning the election in 2014, Modi revealed his “Make in India” initiative, which aims to create jobs and stop the flow of foreign currency out of the country by manufacturing everything from fighter jets to mobile phones there. However, eight years later, the world’s largest buyer of military gear still cannot produce locally enough weapons to meet its needs, and imports are prohibited by government regulations.
Depending on the type of military procurement or the source, Modi’s proposal requires anywhere from 30% to 60% of home-made components. Prior to the introduction of such caps, India employed a system in which a portion of the purchase price was invested in domestic manufacture.
The current state of affairs indicates that India’s military readiness will continue to decline, even as it faces increased threats from Pakistan and China, which have forces stationed toe-to-toe with Indian troops along their Himalayan border as a result of fatal conflicts in 2020. According to one insider, India will need twice as many soldiers on the ground to prevent aggression near the Chinese border due to its weaker air force in particular.
On October 8, 2020, at Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, visitors can see an Indian Air Force HAL Tejas Mk1 fighter plane during the Air Force Day Parade. (Bloomberg)
For this report, Bloomberg met with a number of representatives from all three Indian government services. They begged not to be identified to address sensitive subjects.
An email for remarks from the Indian Ministry of Defense received no response.
Although the Indian military has increased local purchases of some defence products, India does not yet produce complex platforms like twin-engine fighters and diesel-electric submarines. The Modi government wants the air force to choose locally built single-engine fighters, which are in low supply, as well as twin-engine fighter jets that the nation does not currently have in production, therefore plans to purchase fighters from foreign manufacturers have been cancelled.
The state of the Air Force is especially bad. According to officials, the Indian Air Force may only have less than 30 fighter squadrons by 2030, far fewer than the 42 the military claims it needs to fully safeguard its borders with China and Pakistan. According to one official, the air force will be compelled to ground approximately half a dozen squadrons that each include 16 to 18 fighter jets and are nearing the end of their operational lives.
According to officials, the Bengaluru-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, a state-owned defence company, is only able to construct eight Tejas aircraft annually, or nearly half a squadron. According to them, the corporation intends to increase its manufacturing capacity by 2026, although delays could occur as a result of supply-chain interruptions brought on by Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.
Another issue involves helicopters. Light helicopters created and developed in France more than 50 years ago and introduced in the 1970s are still used by the air force, army, and navy today. According to a defence ministry official, about 80% of India’s fleet of helicopters have already outlived their 30-year design life.
On February 20, 2019, attendees of the Aero India air show at Bengaluru’s Air Force Station Yelahanka stand in front of a painting.
Despite the fact that locally produced light helicopters are unlikely to be ready before the end of 2030, the majority of the army’s fleet of single-engine helicopters will need to be grounded by 2026, according to a defence official. Due to conflicts over pricing and the proportion of domestic components to be used, a plan to produce Russian Kamov-226T helicopters has not yet come to fruition.
Last year the Indian Army encouraged the Defense Ministry to ignore Modi’s import rules and buy a few dozen much-needed utility helicopters, an official claimed. According to officials, the army and air force are both developing backup plans and extending the lifetimes of their outdated platforms.
Using the outdated helicopters is deadly. Records kept by the parliament up until last December show that since 2017, mishaps involving military helicopters have resulted in 31 soldier fatalities and 19 more injuries.
On May 27, 2022, at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, during the Drone Festival – Bharat Drone Mahotsav, a drone with the words “Make in India” displayed on it. (Bloomberg)
The effort to adopt domestically produced equipment is causing issues for the navy as well. The limited number of heavyweight torpedoes India purchased forty years ago are what power its submarine fleet.
There is no set date for when India’s Defence and Development Research Organization would be able to deploy its proposal to create heavy-weight torpedoes that can be launched from submarines.
Rahul Bedi, an independent defence expert based in New Delhi, claimed that Modi’s plans for import substitution ignore the fact that creating top-notch weapon systems involves billions of dollars in investment and years of study. Furthermore, he continued, even Indian defence platforms like light combat aircraft or tanks contain roughly 50% imported parts.
“Make in India for defence is not properly thought through,” said Bedi. It is a good slogan, but there isn’t much else to report just yet.