By Aritra Banerjee
Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced at the Naval Commanders’ Conference on 6 March 2023 that the local defence sector will receive orders worth more than $100 billion within 5-10 years. Singh emphasised the correlation between economic prosperity and security and highlighted the significant demand-creating potential of the defence sector, which is expected to bolster the country’s economic growth.
During his speech aboard the INS Vikrant, India’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), Singh asserted that the defence sector is poised to contribute to the nation’s economic development. “Today, our defence sector is on the runway. Soon, when it takes off, it will transform the country’s economy. If we want to see India among the world’s top economic powers by the end of ‘Amrit Kaal,’ we must take bold steps towards becoming a defence superpower,” the Defence Minister said.
Singh’s announcement comes as India continues to increase its defence capabilities in response to escalating tensions with neighbouring China and Pakistan. The move to bolster the domestic defence sector is expected to enhance self-reliance and boost the country’s economy.
Although Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh refrained from disclosing specifics of the expected $100bn worth of orders for the domestic defence sector, the Modi government has been issuing ‘Negative Lists’ of defence equipment, prohibiting their import and promoting local production.
The government has unveiled four lists outlining a gradual prohibition on imported weapons which are earmarked for domestic production over the next five to six years, with the fourth list scheduled for release in December 2028. These lists cover a comprehensive range of 411 weapon types and platforms, encompassing numerous sub-systems and components utilised in fighter jets, airplanes, choppers, submarines, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, electronic warfare (EW) systems, missiles, smart ammunition, rockets, and bombs.
According to the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD), approximately 2,700 items have already been indigenised as of August 2022, while the remaining are scheduled for domestic manufacture in phases. According to reports items listed on the third list will pose the most significant challenge for India’s defence industry due to their complexity.
Over the past three years, the Modi government has consistently raised the portion of the Indian military’s capital acquisition budget allocated to domestic procurement.The defence allocation for the local industry was 54% of the total procurement in 2020-21, 64% in 2021-22, and 68% in 2022-23. In this year’s budget, the Modi government has allocated the domestic defence sector to 75% of the capital procurement budget.
Since 2020, the Indian government has allocated more than ₹3,00,000 crores ($40bn) for the local defence industry, with 163 proposals worth ₹2,46,989.38 crores ($33bn) under various categories of capital procurement approved.
Indian aerospace experts have indicated that the government has given precedence to a range of military assets such as aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), tanks, troop carriers, sub-systems, munitions, long, medium, and short-range missiles, and artillery. The analysts have further speculated that the aircraft category might incorporate several versions of Tejas, Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter, Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, transport aircraft like Dornier and TATA Airbus C295, and trainers.
With Rajnath Singh announcing the possibility of more than $100bn worth of orders for the local defence industry in the next 5-10 years, the Indian government may further increase the share of the capital procurement budget for the domestic sector by around INR 14,000-20,000 crores ($1.9-2.7bn) annually.
UAVs are an emerging category with shorter development times and faster deployments, according to Indian aerospace analysts. Moreover, the experts clarified that the munitions group might encompass beyond-visual-range missiles, anti-radiation missiles, anti-tank systems, anti-drone weaponry, guided bombs, and anti-airfield arms, with a focus on drone-specific armaments. The analysts observed that there is a likelihood of incorporating short and medium-range missiles, including Brahmos and Pralay, while the strategic missile count may also surge in view of China’s territorial expansion.
During the recent Aero India-2023 airshow in Bengaluru, the Defence Minister hinted at the possibility of a new positive indigenisation list, stating, “I cannot rule out the possibility of a new positive indigenisation list, given India’s focus on self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector.” Furthermore, Singh reiterated India’s efforts towards completely indigenising the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) developed and produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), stating that “we are putting in all efforts to see that Tejas becomes 100 percent indigenised.”
However, reports indicate that the United States multinational conglomerate General Electric’s plan to produce F414 engines, which power India’s Tejas LCA, in India and some industry watchers feel it could jeopardise the Indian government’s plan to achieve complete indigenisation, however this notion was disputed by most analysts this correspondent spoke to on background for this story. As the development of aero-engine technology for military use necessitates a profound comprehension of a range of domains, including combustion, fluid dynamics, materials, and control theory, this knowledge is not easily obtainable from textbooks but is closely held by a few corporations, such as General Electric.
India Struggles To Master Aero-Engine Technology Without Functional Wind Tunnel Facility
India’s quest to become a major player in the aero-engine technology sector has been hindered by the absence of a fully operational wind tunnel facility. The facility plays a pivotal role in studying the aerodynamic characteristics of aircraft designs and evaluating engine performance for thousands of hours to assess fatigue characteristics and degradation.
The lack of a wind tunnel means India cannot simulate or test an engine meant to function at altitudes between 40,000 to 50,000 feet or conduct validation on hundreds of components. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh admitted the challenge, promising government intervention to tackle the issue.
Furthermore, the Indian government’s target to increase the domestic content of the LCA Tejas has been delayed. The aerospace sector experts contend that India’s indigenisation goal implies producing all systems locally, including those made by overseas entities operating within India.
As aforementioned General Electric’s plans to manufacture its F414 engines in India have resulted in some speculation over its impact on India’s efforts to achieve up to 100% indigenisation of the LCA Tejas however this view has largely been dispelled as an “incorrect assessment” which is “devoid of practicality.” Furthermore observers suggest that India may have to rely on future inventories for critical equipment to make it more financially viable, with the private sector partnering with General Electric suppliers to co-produce subassemblies to achieve the indigenisation goal.