GoI’s ‘Make in India’ policy causing India to run out of weapons, says report

A file photo of Narendra Modi

India’s decision to manufacture defense systems domestically has pushed India to run out of weapons, Bloomberg reported quoting officials with knowledge of the matter. The report said India is also vulnerable to threats from China and Pakistan.

The report quoting the officials said India’s air force, army, and navy can no longer import some critical weapons systems to replace aging ones. That risks leaving India critically short of helicopters by 2026 and with a shortfall of hundreds of fighter jets by 2030, the report quoted the officials further saying.

Eight years after BJP led GoI decided to build everything from mobile phones to fighter jets in India to generate jobs and reduce outflows of foreign exchange under ‘Make in India’ policy, the world’s biggest importer of military hardware still doesn’t manufacture enough weapons locally to meet its needs and government rules are blocking imports.

The report said India’s military readiness is set to further deteriorate just as it faces greater risks from Pakistan and China, which have soldiers deployed toe-to-toe against troops from India along their Himalayan border following deadly clashes in 2020.

The weaker air force in particular means India will need twice the number of soldiers on the ground to deter aggression along the Chinese border, the report quoted another official as saying.

While India’s military has increased local purchases of some defense items, the country doesn’t yet produce complex platforms like diesel-electric submarines and twin-engine fighters. Plans to buy fighters from foreign manufacturers were shelved because the Modi government wants the air force to opt for indigenously made single-engine fighters, which are in short supply, as well as twin-engine fighter planes that the country doesn’t yet have in production.

The situation with the air force is particularly dire. By 2030, the Indian Air Force may be left with less than 30 fighter squadrons, well below the 42 the military says it needs to adequately protect borders with both China and Pakistan, the officials told Bloomberg.

Between now and then, the air force will be forced to ground about half-a-dozen squadrons- each including 16 to 18 fighter jets- that will reach the end of their flying life, one official was quoted as saying.

The Bengaluru-based state-owned defense manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited can only produce eight indigenous Tejas fighters each year, officials said, or roughly half a squadron. The company plans to double manufacturing capacity by 2026, they added, but delays are possible due to supply-chain disruptions caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Quoting an official from Indian defence ministry, the report said Helicopters are another problem. The air force, army, and navy still depend on light helicopters designed and developed in France more than half a century ago and inducted in the 1970s. Almost 80% of India’s fleet of choppers has already outlived their lifespan of 30 years.

Most of the army’s fleet of single-engine choppers will have to be grounded by 2026 even though domestically made light helicopters aren’t likely to be ready before the end of 2030, one defense official said. A plan to manufacture Russian Kamov-226T helicopters hasn’t materialized yet because of disagreements over costs and the amount of indigenous components to be included.

Last year, the Indian Army advised the Defense Ministry to ignore PM Modi’s import bans and buy a few dozen much-needed utility helicopters, another official was quoted as saying.

Both the air force and army are also making contingency plans and extending the lives of the existing aging platforms, he said.

The report said flying the old helicopters is costing lives. Earlier, the Parliament of India said 31 forces personnel were killed and another 19 injured in accidents involving military helicopters from 2017 to 2021.

The navy is also facing problems over the push to use home-grown equipment. India’s submarine fleet is dependent on a limited number of heavyweight torpedoes it had bought four decades ago, the report added.


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