In 2023, India embarked on an ambitious initiative to bolster its arsenal, committing over Rs 3.50 lakh crore in defence procurement. This move aimed not only to prepare for potential future conflicts but also to establish a robust domestic defence industrial ecosystem, positioning India as a strategic global player.
A groundbreaking step was taken by the Ministry of Defence, pledging to acquire predominantly domestically manufactured weapons and defence equipment, surpassing the historic milestone of one lakh crore rupees in domestic defence production for the first time. Simultaneously, defence exports witnessed an unprecedented surge, reaching Rs 16,000 crore—a remarkable tenfold increase since 2016-17. This strategic shift aimed to reduce reliance on military imports.
In pursuit of self-reliance (Atmnirbharta) in defence, India implemented a significant measure by restricting the import of arms for the first time. The Ministry of Defence introduced five positive indigenisation lists, identifying 509 defence equipment for indigenous manufacturing. Four positive indigenisation lists for Defence Public Sector Undertakings were also issued, encompassing 4,666 items slated for domestic production. These initiatives collectively fortified India’s domestic defence manufacturing capabilities.
India’s Global Outreach Through Defence Export
Throughout the year, there was a notable jump in the interest for Indian-manufactured defence platforms, systems and components, including fighter jets like the LCA Tejas, LCH helicopters, missile systems such as BrahMos and Akash,; Pinaka rockets and launchers, as well as radars and artillery guns. India has expanded its export footprint to encompass more than 85 countries. Demonstrating its prowess in design and development, the Indian defence industry now boasts the participation of 100 firms actively exporting defence products on the international stage.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has reported substantial international interest, particularly from the Philippines, Egypt, Nigeria, and Argentina, for the acquisition of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Designed as a single-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft capable of operating in high-threat air environments, the Tejas is configured for air defence, maritime reconnaissance, and strike missions. Positioned as a key asset for the Indian Air Force (IAF), nearly 40 initial variant Tejas aircraft have already been inducted.
In addition to the ongoing production of 83 Tejas MK-1A jets for the IAF, with deliveries set to commence in February-March 2024, the Defence Ministry has recently approved an additional batch of 97 Tejas jets for the IAF. Alongside manufacturing LCA Tejas jets, HAL is actively involved in producing 156 LCH Prachand helicopters and modernising 84 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI jets.
Besides excelling in developing LCA fighters, India has also established itself as a significant player in missile technology. India’s advancement in missile technology, evolving from surface-to-surface missiles such as Agni, Prithvi, Dhanush, and Akash to air-to-air missiles like Astra and further expanding into longer and medium-range surface-to-air missiles, is truly remarkable. The successful development of anti-tank missiles like Nag, helicopter-launched Helina, and the Pralay surface-to-surface missile under the ballistic missile defence program has firmly established India as a formidable missile power.
In addition to missiles, India has also achieved self-reliance in various other defence technologies. It includes a range of naval missiles like the BrahMos variant, short-range SRSAM missiles, anti-ship missiles, and air-to-ground missiles. Beyond missile systems, India has demonstrated self-sufficiency in radars, torpedoes, electronic warfare systems, airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), gun systems, ATACS armoured gun vehicles, and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) development.
The enhancement of India’s indigenous defence capabilities has not only bolstered national security but has also created prospects for collaboration and export opportunities. Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari recently underscored the competitive and reliable options offered by platforms like LCA, LCH, and Akash to air forces worldwide, with a special focus on those in the Global South. Advocating for joint ventures, co-development initiatives, and establishing regional support hubs, Chaudhari stressed the importance of India’s engagement in global supply chains, the development of manufacturing hubs, and the establishment of maintenance and support facilities (MROs). The Indian Air Force is itself actively pursuing a mission to achieve indigenous self-reliance by sourcing equipment valued at over Rs three lakh crore from domestic firms in the near future.