We are aware that India is one of the largest importer of weapons for its defence requirements. In your opinion, what is the most important reason for India to import arms and ammunition from abroad?
Foreign Policy Requirements
As per Stockholm International Peace Research institute’s list, India has been the largest defence importer in the world for last seven years. To meet its defence demands, it imports around 60% of its defence requirement from various countries like Israel, USA, Russia, France or the UK.
Finally, we need to realise that there is no second place in war. Our military assets must be at par or better than with our enemy’s assets irrespective of where it is made and who makes it. Therefore, importing updated technology is an absolutely essential for future battles.
Our country lacks technology in certain critical areas. Only when we gain the ability to manufacture items like the silicon chips we stop importing. Until we develop expertise in technologies like artificial intelligence, we would be forced to import advanced technology weapons.
We don’t have scientific or technological expertise in many areas of core research. Examples are like semiconductor processing or single crystal generation. These technologies are also listed under US export control list. So our R&D agencies cannot buy those technologies irrespective of the money we are willing to spend in acquiring them.
Research and development is a very costly affair. Development of a fifth generation stealth fighter or a nuclear submarine would involve billions of dollars and many years of research. No country can excel in a technology instantaneously it has to be gradual step by step process. Until we reach the excellence we need to sustain and to sustain we need to buy fighter aircrafts like rafale from developed countries.
IISc is the only institute in India which was primarily established for the purpose of research. IIT’s are more of graduation school and IIT students are more focused on getting a higher salaried job. Just a few students who are interested in high quality research. This lack of suitable brain power forces us to import arms and ammunition from abroad.
Due to brain drain, the brain power required for core research is sadly lacking in our country. The few students who are interested in research go abroad for higher education and research. In a way brain drain contributes to our requirement to import advanced weapon systems.
Everything from unmanned combat vehicles to stealth technology is redefining the way we fight. Weapon systems using stealth technology cannot be produced without core research in areas like material science in our universities. Hence we have to import such weapon platforms.
When we import, most of the time we ask for a transfer of technology that grants us the knowledge to make our designs better. Like in the case of AK 203 rifles, rather than designing everything from scratch, it pays to have help or to have a model on which we can base our designs on. Therefore, we end up importing lots of arms and ammunition.
When using foreign equipments, we get exposed to the latest designs and trends, the associated problems with their equipment, design flaws and important stuff. Operating Nuclear submarines like INS Chakra, helps in developing some expertise in certain fields. This helps us from committing the same errors during our own development process. This is one of the reasons for importing arms from abroad.
Unlike developed nations, our defense sector has not been privatized making it the monopoly of DRDO. DRDO has not been able to develop even simple equipment like high altitude boots or assault rifles. Due to lack of competition there is a lack of urgency as well as quality. Lack of quality forces us to import time tested weapons from abroad.
DRDO, the only organization involved in core defense research in India. They recruit graduates for the position of Scientists. Our science universities have not invented anything worth mentioning in the 21st century. As the quality of education in graduate schools is not research oriented, directly recruiting the graduates don’t serve any purpose. This inturn leads to poor output forcing us to import arms and ammunition.
The parliamentary standing committee on defence noted in 2014 that DRDO projects are not executed according to their schedule, and inordinate delays in execution of almost all the projects are common phenomena. Delays in project execution leads to our requirement of large imports.
DRDO has the sole responsibility to develop complex military weapons like fighter aircrafts. However, Rama Rao committee which was formed to reform DRDO observed that just three per cent of DRDO scientists had PhDs. This leads to poor inhouse performance forcing us to import weapons from abroad.
The coordination which should be there between a developer and user, lacks in case of DRDO and defense forces. For example, may defence chiefs have publicly commented about DRDO in project delays like that of LCA. Obviously, there is a huge trust deficit as well as communication gap, which adversely affects the overall process of development. Lack of co-ordination leads to the need for importing large quantities of advanced weapon systems.
As a policy, we are interested in developing only those defense technology where the global trade is low. We can observe that those technology which cannot be bought have been developed in India. Examples are those of Nuclear weapons, Anti-ballistic missile defense and spy satellites. We beleive in importing other equipments which are available for sale in the market.
We could not modernise our public sector defence units by giving them autonomy and adequate resources for research. Global giants like Dassault or Boeing spend nearly 5 percent of their Revenue which runs in billions of dollars on R&D. Therefore, we are unable to develop the required technologies resulting in imports.
Even small countries like Israel and Korea have focussed on their defence industry with massive support from Govt. Their Govts give them massive money for tie up with best universities and companies across the world do joint research projects. Since we do not do such an exercise we are unable to develop the required technologies leading to large imports.
Indians had inherited a poor, illiterate and an unskilled country during independence. India was completely isolated from Industrial Revolution due to Colonisation. The scant resources after independence had to be prioritised for agricultural, water resources and infrastructure like roads and power generation. Therefore, we could not invest in defence manufacturing industries forcing us to import for our urgent requirements.
Not withstanding that, our first government took some steps in starting DRDO in late 50s. They also tried to give a boost to Defence Production through Ordinance factories and PSUs like HAL, ECIL, BEL, BEML and MDL. Obviously, these PSUs have not been able to fulfill even the simple requirements of our defence forces like winter clothing or snow boots leading to imports for immediete requirements.
Just like many heavy industries like Iron and Steel, which needed heavy investments, the complete defence sector were under Public sector. In fact, until recently, our private sector has been reluctant to participate in defence production due to the huge initial investment and a long gestation period. The absence of private sector in defence makes us to import for our urgent requirements.
Another reason for absence of private sector is a lack of effective defence acquisition policy. Our defence acqusition policy has been very complicated making it easier for foreign firms to enter our defence market as compared to our own firms. This has forced us to import weapons from abroad for urgent requirements.
Until recently, our defence sector has been denied infrastructure status which would have helped in obtaining easy loans from banks and financial institutions. This has also contributed to lack of private sector participation in defence. Therefore, our defence forces import for their urgent requirements.
Bureaucratic hassles and lack of incentives to innovate have stiffled our defence PSUs from innovation. Our public sector undertakings are just not capable enough to meet the urgent requirements of the defence forces on time due to red-tapism. This inturn makes us to import urgently required weapons from foreign firms.
We allocate approximately 1.5% of estimated GDP to defence budget. However, more than 85 per cent of our defence budget goes into meeting the pay and allowances of the personnel. This leaves us with no option but to import the urgently required weapons.
Budget allocation for capital expenditure in defence forces is quite low. For example, in 2017-18, only 17 per cent of Army’s total allocation has been earmarked for capital expenditure. This stiffles our ability to create proper manufacturing facilities for defence products which inturn leads to imports for immediete requirements.
Lack of private investment in defence sector is also due to our government’s restrictions on their export. There are a few mass production equipments like rifles, radars, sonars, explosives, vehicles produced due to demand within our defence forces. That is not the case with other equipments forcing us to import for our urgent requirements.
The time involved in developing a technology for the defence is very high especially due to the procedures involved. So in many cases it is better to go for a Foreign procurement as the deal would be completed much faster. Therefore we end up importing arms for our urgent requirements.
So we just don’t have the eco-system for world class manufacture. We therefore need to involve our private sector like Tatas, L&T with funding from Govt for indigenous manufacture and guaranteed business. Without that we would continue to import for our urgent requirements.
Bureaucratic procedures reduces our ability manufacture advanced weapons. In 1950, Our first prime-minister authorised a nuclear program headed by Homi Bhaba. He gave a clear instruction to report directly to PMO bypassing all other beaurocrats. Since this has not been followed in other areas we are forced to import for our urgent requirements.
India does develop a few advanced weapons like UAVs on a small scale. However, our not military industrial complex is not sufficiently developed for large scale manufacture. Therefore we feel it is easier to import weapons for our urgent requirements.
Buying them from an established manufacturer who already have the development and manufacturing expertise to also provide decent after sales service and upgradation capability appears simple. Therefore we import weapons from established players due to urgency.
Getting the technology right and then providing the right service support is also quite a task. Especially during times of war, this backend support is crucial. Therefore, we import urgently required weapons from abroad.
Without FDI, foreign arms companies will never invest in india in any joint venture project in India. Until recently FDI was not permitted in defence sector. We can see with permission of FDI, many joint venture projects have started by private players in defence manufacturing. Until we reach self sufficiency, we need to import for urgency.
At times, it is likely that buying some products could be cheaper than to invest in infrastructure to make those products. Sometimes, it is cost effective to buy it if the demand is only from Indian Forces. Until export permission is granted our defence industry would not take off and would lead to imports for urgent requirements.
Geo Politics and Foreign Policy
India has always had good friends with those who were willing to sell weapons. For example, we have friendly ties with Russia, USA, Israel, UK and France. One of the ways to obtain the co-operation of foreign countries is by importing arms and ammunition from their industries. Therefore, India imports weapons to improve ties with major countries.
When you buy products especially Defense product from another country you establish a diplomatic and trustworthy relationship with that particular country which might help us during hard times. Of course no country helps another without its own agenda in place. For example look at how USA has helped Pakistan and USSR for India during the 1971 war. Our country also buys weapons from abroad to solicit co-operation during crisis situations.
India has been facing ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K, which have presently disturbed peace in the subcontinent. Chinese intrusions into Indian territory both in eastern and western sectors of Sino- Indian boundary are posing new threats to peace in the region.
China, in the recent past, has been sending clear signals to India of a new assertive border policy to coerce India into settling the longstanding territorial dispute between the two countries. The stand-off that continued for over two weeks in Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) created serious doubts in India about China’s intentions. China’s assertive territorial ambitions were further confirmed when Chinese troops intruded across the well-defined McMahan line in Arunachal Pradesh.
The Chinese have been rapidly improving their military capability in Tibet and all along the Indian border for the past few years, while India has been extremely slow in creating the required defence infrastructure on the disputed borders. China’s latest proposal on border management that neither side should patrol within a certain distance of the LAC or build new border defences simply aims to limit India’s military build on the borders. These proposals are meant to freeze India’s defence preparations and place China in a position of permanent military advantage on the borders.
China’s other activities that pose a permanent strategic challenge to India in South Asia are its expanded strategic ties with Pakistan, deployment of troops in northern areas of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and its plans to build a railway line linking Xinjiang with Gwadar port. Chinese activities have also increased in Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
Moreover, the Chinese have been negotiating with several countries in the Indian Ocean region for base facilities for their navy. In these circumstances, the Chinese intentions to up the ante for India in South Asian region are obvious. It is now time for India to fine-tune its military capabilities and improve its overall strategic posture in South Asia to counter the Chinese moves.
The turmoil in Afghanistan is likely to intensify with the withdrawal of the US-led forces. The next arena of conflict between Pakistan and India could well be Afghanistan. The Pakistan army, in collaboration with the Taliban, is likely to make all efforts to oust India from Afghanistan. India would obviously resist all such attempts by Pakistan to dislodge it from Afghanistan, and this may lead to a new military confrontation between the two countries.
India’s strategic environment has fundamentally changed since it fought its last war in 1999. The extraordinary modernization of China’s military threatens India not only on their land border, but also in new locales like the Indian Ocean and new domains like space and cyberspace. Advanced military technologies are changing the character of contemporary conflict.
The army can make sizable and qualitatively different contributions to joint combat by developing more robust intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and by increasing its capacity for long-range precision strike.
India actually is not the only nation to tie foreign policy with defence imports. Even advanced countries like USA uses the FREMM Franco-Italian class of frigates to fulfill their frigate requirement. Another example is that of Russia which had purchased the French Mistral class amphibious ships. China buys billions of dollars of arms from Russia despite being a major defence manufacturer. On the similar lines, Indian imports too helps in our international relations.
Business intrests of other countries also force us to imports weapon systems from abroad. As a country we have enough money, eagerness and we are ready to pay any sum of money to buy out the required technology. But nobody wants to sell them to us, or give us those technologies. Due to their business intrests, they expect us to buy their finished goods like weapon systems.
Same is true for several other countries in the European Union. We were never in USA’s favorite list of countries and then after nuclear bomb test in 1998. USA had put us in complete export restriction which virtually prohibit us to buy any high technology equipment. That restriction was lifted only in 2008 after Dr. Manmohan Singh Govt signed nuclear treaty. In a way the other countries force us to buy their weapons at an exorbitant price.
Even today, over a third of the components used in Tejas, including the current American-built engines, are imported. Sanctions imposed by the US after India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998 nearly brought the project to a grinding halt for it cut off access to certain imported technologies. Hence we balance out our domestic defence industries with imports from other countries due to such arm twisting techniques of foreign countries.
Since we are non-aligned, we buy arms and ammunition from both from Russia and the Western countries. We are aware that we could face an arms embargo from either blocks at any time. Therefore, it increases, in fact doubles our import list of weapon systems.
India’s military budget is mainly used for keeping it a regional power via purchases of foreign weapons. India is using it’s large military budget to stay geopolitically relevant by being a regional power. India’s primary goal is to diversify purchases from various importers by staying neutral.