Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Atmanirbhar Bharat Initiative: The Way Forward For Indian Defence Industry

Lieutenant General V G Khandare (r)

Lt Gen. VG Khandare, Principal Advisor to the MoD

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that his Government’s resolve for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is not inward-looking but aimed at boosting India’s capabilities and global peace and also for helping the world economy become more stable.

In its journey since 1947 in the defence sector, India has been largely dependent on foreign military suppliers, resulting in post-sale support and training reliance on the supplying partners. India’s was a need-based dependence and a survival compulsion against the external challenges which unfolded with rapidity and regularity- threatening India’s hard-earned newfound independence. This was despite India having inherited all the Ordnance Factories and having a vibrant private manufacturing sector which had been instrumental in supporting the Allies war effort during the two World Wars. 

It was beyond the Indian military to exercise and pursue the indigenous option for military equipment due to inherent capacity deficiencies in the Indian domestic manufacturing and research sector. It was also a circumstantial reality where the military may not have been consulted; if ever, the advice would have gone largely unheeded. 

The immature political and unrealistic diplomatic idealism converted the post-independence inherited domestic defence production capabilities into non-essential, non-military hardware production facilities. The priority of the defence sector was tragically abysmal. Important lessons drawn from the aftermath of such decisions should never be forgotten by decision-makers and the decision support system. 

The 1962 China conflict humiliation pushed the Indian defence sector into the arms of import drivers; a few more Ordnance Factories and Public Sector Undertakings were set up, mostly with foreign assistance. Issues were raised on the pricing, quality and delays in most cases, causing agony to the users and avoidable losses to the nation in some form or the other. The Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971 were fought with a mix of imported and domestically produced military hardware. 

The favourable results for our Armed Forces were largely due to the grit and determination of the Indian Armed Forces and the superior quality of training on relatively inferior equipment compared to the adversary having better Western equipment but with inferior training and substandard leadership. Overdependence provides leverage to world powers for manipulating Indian decisions, which is detrimental to Indian autonomous policy formulation, decision making, military-non-military functioning, operations and outcomes. Military gains could not be converted to expected political and diplomatic advancements in post-conflict negotiations. 

India has to find its own way in the maze of military hardware economics dominating global politics. In an inherited, perpetually troubled neighbourhood which is a geopolitical whirlpool, decision-making for India is always complex. Policy decisions for the Atmanirbhar Bharat Initiative gained momentum in the last few years. The Indian Government has been focused and firm.

The users, suppliers, researchers, decision-makers and analysts must understand the journey towards indigenisation along the milestones of self-reliance and self-sufficiency; the difference between the two is vital in terms of the execution of plans. Ignorant minds will confuse both terms as synonymous. Multiple initiatives have been taken towards indigenisation. The Indian industry has a huge scope to expand its reach, of course, with the assistance of those in the Govt, to realise Hon’ble PM’s vision of indigenisation and a five billion dollars worth of defence sector exports. 

What are the expectations from, opportunities for and challenges of the global players in the Atmanirbhar Bharat Initiative? It’s a specified requirement – “Do business for Indians, with Indians, in India and from India”. ‘Make in India, Make for India and Export from India’; ‘Make and Maintain in India’. 

Initiatives taken by the Ministry of Defence are available in the open domain. Positive lists for indigenised products for the Indian military, along with challenges and problem statements for the industry, academia and innovators, have been provided to the public and private sectors. There is enough scope to establish designing, developing, manufacturing, testing and certification facilities in India. 

The underperformers in the defence sector have been given a chance to perform or perish. There is an improvement in investment opportunities. There is a focus on increased global demands for military hardware especially post the initiation of a number of conflicts in various parts of the world, which has brought in a jump in defence budget allocations and in defence spending. Limited production capacities globally and in most of the European, Asian and African countries are a reality, and there are opportunities for global and domestic manufacturers to establish or increase existing business from Indian soil. 

There are obvious benefits of concluding defence deals with India. Joint Ventures with Indian partners are the way forward. Indian MSMEs and big companies have the capacities and the potential along with the intent to make Atma Nirbhar Bharat Initiative succeed. The pace at which the Indian Start-Ups are coming up is a positive indication for serious investors in India. The positive attitude of users to adopt Indian Manufactured goods is encouraging. Affordable Human Resources and competitive cost benefits do make India an ideal destination to start manufacturing and maintenance facilities. Upskilling in specific cases will be needed. Long-term global and Indian demands for all types of military material for kinetic and non-kinetic domains are predicted. 

Some busted myths in the recent conflicts made armchair strategists sit up and revise their assessment mechanisms and prediction models. Simple deductions do get missed out, especially in voluminous documents; a bane of the studies conducted. Intangible factors of human psychology are extremely important to assess the psyche, intent and the targeting methodology. Technology is vital and more lethal if applied well by the human intellect. Conflicts will continue, and demands for war-waging resources will continue. 

Kinetic and Non Kinetic Conflicts are not an either-or choice; they remain equally relevant. Preparation for both in equal measure is mandatory for Conflict Prevention, Conflict Management and Conflict Termination. There will be a constant demand for the latest technology, weapons, tools, products, components and talent for both forms of warfare. 

A nuclear power can wage war against a non-nuclear state backed by powerful allies. Nuclear aggression intent to deter external intervention is resorted to while the conflict continues. 

Conventional conflicts could last longer than the conservative estimates. Accurate and timely assessments of the adversary’s national logistical stamina and technological strength are always challenging, especially when faced with duplicitous adversaries like China and Pakistan. The domestic defence manufacturing sector must be prepared for the ‘surge and sustained production capacities’ required during intense and prolonged conflicts. Civilians, research facilities and defence industrial setups are lucrative targets to break the national will and resilience. Protection measures in the hinterland are equally important.

The fear or potency of international sanctions and global interventions seem to have lost all credibility. In any conflict, the bystanders are either themselves victims of economic dependence or are beneficiaries of the war. Hence, they are neither capable nor inclined to intervene. 

Nations must prepare for current and future forms of overt and covert wars rather than prepare for the last war and resultantly suffer huge losses. 

A formal declaration of wars may or may not happen. Outright victories, though desirable, are difficult to achieve; stalemates are the most likely outcome, and notions of victory will vary from differing perspectives of the warring factions and the bystanders. Objectives would be beyond pure military milestones. Information Warfare means will be most prominent for perception shaping and narrative propagation. Those who adopt new technologies and innovative war-waging methodologies will succeed. Therefore, defence suppliers must meet the varied requirements. 

A smaller or relatively weaker nation can succumb due to its over-reliance on a bigger power or can succeed due to effective, efficient and timely preparation, with backing from the supporting group of allies or partner nations and with customised war-waging methodologies as relevant in the region. 

The bigger or more powerful of the two rivals would have greater aspirations of an outright victory and hence would need greater military as well as non-military muscle in capabilities. The smaller or the weaker rival would want a cutting edge

Capability and an innovative strategy to outwit the apparently stronger rival, a stalemate, or significant losses inflicted on the bigger-stronger rival would be a major success and a notion of victory for the smaller or weaker contestant. 

Non-kinetic and covert capabilities are major game changers. These are force multipliers and not an alternative to any other capability. From the above-mentioned deductions, which are based on an analysis of recent events, it is evident that the Defence Sector has to review its fixations which have been propagated and cemented by vested interests or by the status quo-ites. The revisit of opinions will lead to a review of processes and preparations. Structures will not bring changes; revised attitudes and processes will be the game changers.

Globally, the hike in budgetary provisions, the review of policies and the wake-up call to nations which had outsourced security to allies and alliances indicate that the Defence Sector industry and its associated sectors have a major role to play in the future decades. The China threat is real, and there is an urgency for the threatened nations and the net security provider claimants to prepare for the worst-case scenario. 

In view of the urgency, the fastest way to get into business is to collaborate with the huge Indian manufacturing sector; vibrant academia; pulsating research & development ecosystem, which has the Govt backing; favourable production and marketing ecosystem and a global demand. India will be a major consumer and a preferred trade partner for exports.

There is tremendous scope for JVs within the public and private sectors. The Govt is seemingly conscious and willing to choose the meritorious option between the public and the private sector, quite diverse from the earlier approach of providing patronage to the Public Sector only. State Govts are initiating schemes to enhance skilling with Govt assistance in public and private sectors. The youth bulge is envisioned to be shaped into human capital rather than keeping it as a stagnant, unproductive and negative human resource incapable of being a contributory asset. 

There are certain realities to be looked into to ensure smooth change management. A realistic level playing field is needed between the domestic bidders, it is a utopian thought but desirable for the nation’s overall good in terms of private sector growth and serious competition to enable the best goods and services to the user. The propensity of white labelling has to be checked and punitive action is needed because this would put the nation in serious trouble due to complacency. Crowding out of smaller and genuine technology and innovation providers by muscled public and private sectors also need to be guarded against. Human capital flight to greener pastures abroad has to be prevented. It is going to be a whole nation approach. 

Timeline slippages, quality compromise, outdated technology introduction and exorbitant costs are known to everyone. The vigilance and audit authorities are accountable for these evils as much as the culprit. Under the garb of Atmanirbhar Bharat, we should not create more problems than the ones already existing. The user is working hard to embrace the Atmanirbhar Initiative; it should be a sustained effort beyond tenures, charters and motives. 

The Atmanirbhar Initiative should truly benefit the nation- that is, multiple stakeholders should benefit, but the biggest beneficiary should be the sovereignty of the nation and its reputation. Individuals and organisations with vested interests and poor track records will have to be exposed. Users will have to take ownership and audit the various projects in a coordinated manner rather than outsourcing the responsibility. 

Atmanirbhar Bharat is the vision of the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, all-encompassing to get India to its well-deserved stature in multiple domains. The nation committed to the shared vision of its leader holds promise for the researchers, designers – developers, innovators, investors, manufacturers, users, decision-makers and other stakeholders. Today, business in the Aerospace and Defence Sector holds promise on Indian soil; the early bird gets the worm. Friends of India will continue their association, see India grow stronger, and help others. 

Lt Gen. VG Khandare is the Principal Adviser to the MoD. His previous appointments saw him as Military Advisor (Secretary) – NSCS and former DG DIA & Dy. Chief IDS (Int.). The views expressed by the author are personal and not in any official capacity


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