The ‘Make in India’ programme is primarily being impelled by the imperative to reduce arms import bills and ‘optimise’ defence expenditure – India’s FY2019 defence budget of USD 71.1 billion was the highest in South Asia and the third-highest in the world, and for the past five years, it has been the world’s second largest arms importer.
The ‘Make in India’ notion, however, is not new. In 1990, India had called for achieving 70 percent self-reliance in defence. PM Modi, in his first address from the Red Fort (15 August 2014), espoused a ‘Make in India’ package of ‘satellites to submarines’ – the Defence Production Policy of 2018 stipulates that by 2025, India must achieve self-reliance in producing major platforms, as also export arms worth USD 5 billion (FY2016 defence exports: Rs. 1,495 crore). But there are systemic reasons as to why the programme has not witnessed substantial traction, some of which have been already outlined in various publications.
One of the elemental stumbling blocks in indigenous defence manufacturing is a failure to understand how a successful Military Industrial Complex (MIC) functions.
Major weapon platforms have a normal service life of about 40-50 years. Therefore, what we manufacture today, must remain combat-relevant in the decades ahead. But with technology advancing at an exponential rate and warfare evolving, many major platforms run the risk of becoming obsolete in just 2-3 decades. Therefore, evolving specifications of weapon systems and munitions requires two separate but interlinked processes, internal and external.