New Delhi: For the first time, the contours of a wide-ranging defence manufacturing capability for applications on land, sea, air, and now space, is beginning to emerge in this country.  The number of such projects provides proof that initiatives must have been taken as soon as this government took over. Over the last five years, some substantial projects started earlier were completed. These include the indigenous Arihant nuclear submarine and the Scorpene Class Indo-French conventional ones, the odd stealth frigate, some coast guard boats.

But that Make in India defence manufacturing is a vital strategic necessity was not felt very acutely before 2014. 

The reason for a markedly changed reality now can only be a demonstrated political will on the part of Prime Minister and consequently in the Ministry of Defence. The Army’s surgical strike in PoK in 2016, and the air strikes in Pakistan’s Balakot circa 2019, signal a marked change in India’s policy on tackling cross-border terrorism. 

We have gone from a Gandhian turn-the-other-cheek to both eyes-for-an-eye, delivered with audacity, surprise, in the style of an Israeli preemptive strike. The UNSC Western powers sat up at this last air strike and the possibilities it represented. Could India reign in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Taliban problem by weakening Pakistan? Could it check China?

 Others, affected by the South China Sea imbroglio and other Chinese high-handedness in the Asia Pacific were also enthused. The pattern was forming, and they remembered the successfully handled Doklam stand-off too. 

The diplomatic support from America, Britain and France in particular, has been unprecedented.  But, with the rejection of the decades old policy of “strategic restraint”, the need for a sophisticated and indigenous military machine has assumed a new urgency.

So it is not a minute too soon, that there is a flurry of good news on this front. The projects are often joint ventures. Certainly, they have some vital imported parts in the interests of ensuring modernity, high-technology, speed, economy, and so as not to reinvent the wheel.
The hitherto ponderous Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), ostensibly working on the Tejas project since the 1980s, has just delivered its 16th single-engine Tejas Light Fighter aircraft (LCA) to the IAF. And it is on schedule. 

HAL has an order for 40 of the LCAs in ready for combat configuration, and 8 trainers. The Tejas LCA recently demonstrated its prowess in the IAF’s Gagan Shakti exercise by firing the Air-to-Air BVR Derby missile. 

The nimble fighter has also just participated at the air-show at Langkawi (LIMA-2019) between 26th and 30th May. It is being considered for purchase by the Malaysian armed forces in competition with the South Korean FA-50 Golden Eagle, and the Chinese-Pakistani JF -17 Thunder.  

The Tejas Mark 2 version is under development already. It will be a medium weight category fighter at 17.5 tonnes, up from the LCA’s 14.5 tonnes. It will be inducted, like the LCA, into the IAF and the Indian Navy. The Mark 2 specifications are based on a number of additional capabilities demanded by the IAF.

India has recently concluded price negotiations to acquire 62 numbers of C295 transport aircraft from Airbus to replace its vintage Avro 748 M transports. The agreement is expected to be signed by the government after the general elections. The Euro 2.8 billion deal envisages India assembly and increasing degrees of indigenization of all except the first 16 aircraft to arrive fully built.

The Gun Carriage Factory (GCF), Jabalpur has just handed over the first six Dhanush 155 mm x 45 Cal FH towed artillery to the Indian Army on March 26th.  These new artillery pieces are indigenized to 81% and subsequent deliveries in late 2019 will achieve 91% indigenization. It has major upgraded features over the earlier 155/39 cal, FH 77 B02 Guns. This is a first delivery against an order to manufacture and provide the Indian Army 114 such field guns.

India will also get a Made in India M777 light-weight Howitzer by the end of 2019, when Mahindra Defence rolls out its first such weapon in collaboration with Britain’s BAE Systems. India has ordered 145 of these from BAE in a $750 million deal.  Only 25 of the 145 guns will be imported fully-built, and 5 of these have already been handed over to the Indian Army. The remaining 120 will be assembled, tested and integrated by the joint venture in India.

Meanwhile, India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant is being equipped with an India-made C0mbat Management System (CMS). This, most important nerve centre of the carrier, has been developed jointly by Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division and Electronics System Engineering Establishment and M/s MARS of Russia. 

It has just been inducted into the Indian Navy after putting it through rigorous trials. This Naval CMS integrates the aircraft carrier’s sensors, weapons, delivery systems, data links, instruction lines to staff etc. 

This 37,500 tonne Aircraft carrier, which is itself more than 80% indigenous, is in its final phase of construction at the Kochi shipyard. A second, much bigger aircraft carrier is to follow the Vikrant into indigenous manufacture, after the former is inducted in mid 2020. 

The latest is India’s entry into the realm of space warfare. A jubilant Prime Minister Modi informed the nation about the successful A-SAT strike. America gently cautioned India against creating more space debris.  China, with its multiple low orbiting satellites watching the LAC realized it had just lost a major strategic advantage. Pakistan, on its part, nervously complained about the militarization of space. 
Not only is India just the 4th country with this advanced capability, but the technology was entirely home grown at the DRDO and the ISRO. The secret strike programme dubbed Mission Shakti, was authorized by the Modi government in 2017. 

India can now match America, Russia and China in being able to destroy a live, low-orbiting satellite in space. The future possibilities of conducting top down or lateral space warfare is now within India’s grasp, provided it doesn’t stop at this one test. 

The nuclear triad of land, air, and sea-based strike capability has been added to, Given India’s ability to kill satellites in space, launch heavy payloads and ICBMs, the final frontier has also been breached.

The induction of the first four Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from America recently will be followed by more on order, again with a Made in India component. Likewise, various other weapons systems such as the Apache helicopters, armed and unarmed drones, and a vastly better grade of sniper and assault rifle, including the Kalashnikov 213 are on their way.

There are India made missile shields which have been already been deployed even as the Russian S-400 missile defense system is on order. Additionally, American missile shields too are being considered, particularly for interoperability between the two militaries.

The military collaboration with Israel is ubiquitous, extensive and intensive and has been tried and tested in battle. Israel has helped India in preemption, surveillance, fencing, provision of missiles, ammunition, bombs, drones, and intelligence sharing. 

India is clearly busy modernizing and upgrading its own military capacities. One significant plank of Make in India is to make superior weapons in -country, but economically. 

Inevitably, as this rolls out, there will be emerging opportunities in weapons and systems export. Countries like Vietnam, Chile, Malaysia, the UAE have already shown interest for different things. We could, quite easily, export the Indo--Russian Brahmos missiles in particular. These exports could become major hard currency earners for the country. 

The knock- on effect of this, will be to form a virtuous cycle. India will have greater resources on hand for research, design, upgrade, collaboration, infrastructure enhancement, and constant modernization of our own weapons’ capabilities.