Col Ashwani Sharma (Retd)


Self-reliance in defence is every developing nation’s aspiration and it is no different in India’s case. Through its very nature, the defence sector lends itself to government controls. In India, post the Kargil conflict, Defence Acquisition Process was formalised as a reform and has ever since pushed for indigenisation in defence manufacturing. Prime Minister Modi accelerated the process through successive slogans like ‘Make in India’, ‘Made in India’, ‘Make for India’ and finally ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ which, when translated literally, means self-reliant India. Self-reliance in defence should have been one of the objectives at the very time of gaining independence. Be that as it may, faced with a number of challenges to our security, it is never too late. But what is self-reliance in true sense? Does indigenisation of defence manufacturing fit the bill or a mere import ban on military platform and assemblies will suffice? What’s the difference between self-sufficiency and self-reliance? Which one fits in well with the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat?

Over the years, the pace of defence modernisation in India has remained slow and production of high-tech weapons continues to be a challenge. This is mainly due to (a) limited defence and R&D budget; (b) process inefficiencies and delays in domestic production; (c) and the systemic reluctance to grant contracts to India’s private sector. India continues to rely on foreign imports for high-tech weapons, despite all the slogans and policy initiatives.

Building a robust infrastructure for defence industry and manufacturing is an evolutionary and time consuming process. The start point is a war waging philosophy which must be borne out of the country’s demography, geography, geopolitical and economic conditions. It must be backed up by strong R&D, innovative culture, technological prowess and a robust ancillary network. Collaborations within the system must include the end user, industry, R&D and academia. Collaborations with foreign OEMs is imperative where we need certain technologies and subsystems which have already been developed abroad and are cost effective. In this sense self-reliance need not be taken to overzealous extremes. The push for indigenous R&D and production must coexist with the import of cutting edge military technologies to preclude the possibility of short term voids and vulnerabilities.

The cover feature for this issue is on Self-reliance in defence and what it implies in real terms. Vice Admiral Chauhan has very succinctly explained the differences between various terms and slogans related to the subject that have been in vogue in the recent past. Other experienced authors have added to the cover story, as has the Indian industry. This issue also contains articles on PM Modi’s recent visits, Ukraine – Russia conflict and the crisis in Sri Lanka. I am sure our readers will enjoy reading our May-June issue.