India must become self-sufficient in defence tech, says minister

India’s defence minister has called on indigenous companies to design and develop military equipment to help the country become more self-sufficient.

Rajnath Singh urged defence scientists to develop cutting-edge technologies to ensure India is self-reliant in defence manufacturing and a global leader in the field.

Speaking at the Directors’ Conference of Defence Research and Development Organisation, he said India needed an “indigenous innovation eco-system with less dependence on imported systems to achieve self-reliance in critical technologies”.

Singh said scientists should develop an action plan for excellence in defence R&D so that India could become a technology exporter. He explained how scientific knowledge, innovation, advanced technology, industrial infrastructure and workforce are effectively “forms of currency” in modern times.

His government would “leave no stone unturned”, he said, in making India a global manufacturing hub. Manufacturing initiatives such as 'Make In India' would help enormously, as would investment facilitation, skills enhancement, intellectual property protection and manufacturing infrastructure.

This week India approved indigenous defence purchases including anti-tank guided missiles. According to the ministry of defence, these would give military advantages to troops in armoured battles.

“For the first time the ministry of defence has offered complex military equipment to be designed, developed and manufactured by the Indian private industry,” the ministry said in a statement.

Between 2000 and 2018, Indian defence spending more than doubled from $29.11bn to $66.51bn. It is currently more than five times the value of that of its neighbour and military rival Pakistan. 

However, this growth in spending has been accompanied by a push to reduce defence imports, allowing Indian firms to benefit from the spending, while making the country more self-sufficient.

Earlier this month Lt Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, vice chief of army staff, said: “If we don’t invest in R&D, we will always depend on imports.”

Over the last two years, India has attempted to simplify the eligibility criteria for indigenous companies pitching for defence contracts.

Naravane was quoted in The Hindu newspaper saying that in these cases the product had to be “cheap and robust because budgets are always under constraint”.

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