Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations on August 15. Picture: REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation during Independence Day celebrations on August 15. Picture: REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI

New Delhi — India’s move to ban the import of certain weapon systems will do little to boost local manufacturing and is sowing uncertainty while the South Asian nation is trying to ramp up defences on its restive borders with China and Pakistan, analysts say.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration earlier this month announced curbs on $47bn worth of imports that include communication satellites, conventional submarines and light machine guns. But defence experts said it didn’t address critical issues such as the certification of systems and locally made components, and won’t prevent the military from making emergency purchases of equipment from foreign vendors.

Modi has struggled to transform the world’s second-biggest arms importer into a defence manufacturing powerhouse since a 2014 proposal to produce indigenous equipment and systems worth $100bn by 2020. The target has since been halved and the deadline extended to 2027, while the need for more advanced weaponry grows more urgent after the most deadly border clash with China in four decades.

The ministry’s ban on imports will have little impact beyond “measures already taken to localise defence production and reduce import dependency”, said Amit Cowshish, a consultant with the New Delhi-based Manohar Parrikar Institute For Defence Studies and Analyses and a former financial adviser on acquisitions in the ministry of defence.

Self-reliance

While New Delhi is the world’s third-biggest military spender, its air force, navy and the army are still equipped with weapons that are largely obsolete.

The push for locally produced systems and hardware is a big step towards self-reliance in defence and creates an opportunity for the Indian defence industry to manufacture the items using their own design and development capabilities, the ministry of defence said on August 9.

A defence ministry spokesperson was not immediately available for a comment.

Similar policy declarations to stem imports made by India in 2013, under then prime minister Manmohan Singh, and by Modi’s administration in his first term in 2018, didn’t significantly increase the “Made in India” products deployed by the military.

“Time and access to technology is fundamental to such efforts — now a large proportion India’s defence industry is little better than system integrators,” said Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based independent defence analyst. “A major dose of realism is needed.”

The banned list is also vague on the position of joint ventures between Indian and foreign manufacturers and licence-produced weapon systems, he said.

Despite its drawbacks, India’s nascent defence industry is cautiously optimistic about the new policy.

“We are sure that this list will keep getting amended to add newer programmes that lay a road map matching our nation’s aspiration,” said Jayant Patil, senior executive vice-president (defence & smart technologies), of Larsen & Toubro.

Bloomberg

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