According to a report released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it was found that India was the world’s second-largest importer of arms in 2014-18 and that accounted for 9.5% of the global total. Russia had a total contribution of 58% to Indian arms imports in 2014-18 and countries like Israel, U.S and France, all had an increase in arms imports to India in 2014-18.
In fact, the share of imports to India by Russia is likely to increase in the coming years as India has signed several deals with Russia and many more such deals are still in the talks. These imports from Russia include the S-400 air defence system, four stealth frigates, AK-203 assault rifles, a second nuclear attack submarine on lease and also certain deals involving Kamov-226T utility helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters and short-range air defence system. This indeed throws light on the fact that India is heavily dependent on arms imports to enhance its defence sector for many years.
However, another report coming in from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reveals that the arms imports by India fell down by 33% between 2011-15 and 2016-20, therefore, in recent times India has ceded its top spot among countries with highest arm imports to Saudi Arabia, going to 24% decrease between 2009-13 and 2014-18.
These statistics throw light on the fact that India is decreasing its arms imports and thereby improving its defence sector by the production of its own military equipment and at the same time aims to enhance its revenue by exporting arms and military equipment to other countries. Therefore, the pertinent question that now comes into the talk is: Can India change its state from being an importer to a country with the highest military exports?
The answer to this question lies in the fact that the nation of India achieved a rare milestone in January 2022 when it secured a $375 million order from the country of Philippines, for the supply of three coastal defence batteries of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, along with training and support. This mega-deal can be considered New Delhi’s first major export and the good news is that even countries like Vietnam and Indonesia are expressing their interest in the missiles. This missile deal is actually a reflection of India’s impressive track record in the defence sector, especially in the last five years.
According to a statement given by the Ministry of Defence to a parliamentary panel, it was found that in the past five years, the growth of India’s defence export has been almost six times from 1500 crore to 9000 crore, with the participation of the private sector, standing at 90%. The ministry also opined that currently, India’s military exports are broadly going to 84 countries.
This report from the ministry of defence can further be correlated to the report coming in from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The report released by SIPRI in the year 2020 pointed out that, India currently stands on the list of 25 countries with major defence exports. Furthermore, the news of substance is that the defence ministry is also working on a well thought out policy for defence production and export promotion, which according to reports, is also in the final stages.
Furthermore, for the financial year 2021, the export value of PSUs like BEL, HAL, BEML, GRSE, BDL and MIDHANI stood at Rs. 376.46 crore, Rs. 194 crore, Rs. 463 crore, Rs. 87.49 crore, Rs. 145 crore and Rs. 19.42 crore respectively, which indeed is a positive sign for India’s Defence sector. However, for certain defence public sector undertakings, such as MDL, GSL and HSL the value of defence exports for the fiscal year 2020-21 was nil, but with India’s well-thought defence policies, and demand for exports, even these DPSUs can in the near future, contribute to India’s economy by expanding its growth in terms of defence exports.
Overall, out of the total production of Rs. 85,000 crore, a significant value of Rs 68,000 crore has been contributed by the public sector. Hence, considering all these data and figures, one can definitely opine that India’s defence sector is evolving fast and soon can write new chapters of achievement in terms of changing its status from importer to exporter.
Moreover, the honourable Defence Minister of India commented that the government of India is looking to achieve an export target of Rs. 35000 crore by 2024-25. Looking at the encouraging picture of India’s evolving defence market, this target doesn’t look impossible but India has to focus on certain key things to achieve the same.
Firstly, with the evolving concept of “Make in India”, India should look to bestow a number of contracts to its indigenous defence industry and the promising news is that in the year 2020, the defence ministry has already spent over Rs.51,000 crore or 58% of the capital budget on domestic purchases.
A 48,000 crore contract was signed with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in 2021 for 83 LCA Mk-1A jets alongside, the signing of a $ 2.5 billion contract for buying 56 medium transport aircrafts for IAF, which is being jointly executed by Airbus Defence and Space and Tata Advanced Systems Limited, under the Make in India initiative. Steps as such can definitely help India in achieving its target.
Secondly, India can focus, on producing medium high technology equipment like BrahMos missile, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher, advanced light helicopter, Navel ships, Akash air defence system and Astra air to air missile and other low-end technology and non-lethal military weapons. And if India can garner the non-lethal military equipment market, it can reach the $5 million mark within five years. India can also aim for lethal weapons once Make in India can work with its full potential, and then it can achieve the $10 to 15 billion targets in a decade.
Thirdly, India should focus on encouraging innovation, research and development and start-ups with developed technology and appoint a requisite number of scientists and experts in the production sector, so as to boost India’s military production and thereby enhance its imports.
Thus, it can be concluded that with all the proper steps taken and monitored, India can not only become one of the top countries in terms of military imports but also tackle the lingering threats coming in from China and Pakistan, without depending on countries like Russia, France, Israel etc in terms of military imports in times of military emergency.
Bishaldeep Kakati is an Advocate at Gauhati High Court and Bagmita Borthakur is a student at Pondicherry University.