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    June 2014

Is India set to shake off top arms importer tag?


As France and India are inching towards sealing a multi-billion dollar MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project, under which the IAF will acquire 126 Rafale fighter jets, questions are being raised on the wisdom of choosing the French aircraft.  Even as the proponents of the contract claim it as the “best buy”, defence experts say the deal will be a “financial suicide” as by the time, i.e, in 2030, India acquires the entire fleet, the technology would have become obsolete. Our Cover Story explores the worthiness of the possible defence contract which is being tipped as “the mother of all deals”.  The debate of the deal throws spotlight on a very pertinent question -- why does not India possess an indigenous arms industry? It is no pride that India is the largest importer of arms with the country buying over three-fourths of its arms requirements from the international market.  Local production is the backbone of the aircraft industry of any advanced country. There have been serious ramifications of the lack of an indigenous arms industry in India. The situation has led to the country filling the coffers of foreign nations while making a playfield for middlemen at home. India’s reliance on foreign arms firms is the main reason why arms dealers throng the corridors of South Block.  With many Indian entities like the DRDO and HAL having proven manufacturing prowess, it is a point to ponder why the successive Governments at the Centre failed to encourage such enterprises to develop their technology and manufacture weapons as per international standards.  It is a well-established fact that no nation aspiring to be a global power can expect to achieve this status without being substantively self-reliant in defence production, specifically in air power. All eyes are now set on the Narendra Modi Government which is a strong proponent of indigenisation of defence equipment. In his first statement on national security after becoming Prime Minister, Modi, while addressing over 1,600 sailors and officers on board aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya on June 14, underlined the importance of reviving the comatose indigenous defence industry and investing in the indigenous technology base. His statement that Indian arms and ammunition should be exported across the world and used by smaller nations to protect themselves evokes confidence and hope. But only time will tell how soon India will shake off its top arms importer tag and be a level player with the global powers.   

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