Defence Exports for Strategic Breakthrough: The Indian Way

Article by Mr. Purushendra Singh

India has started to transform towards becoming a major defence manufacturing hub and a major exporter. As the uptrend seen to upscale indigenization process around the globe, India believes in doing the Indian way, and not the mundane western way. Providing a defence ecosystem for incubating “Make in India, Make for the world”, the latest defence reforms are encouraging the private domestic and international players to play a proactive role. Nations from Africa, Latin and Caribbean regions along with Central and South-East Asian nations have already started to enquire and place orders for the indigenously built equipment and have become the top destination for landing India’s exports.

India envisions becoming a major defence exporter by 2047, the year India celebrates its 100 years of Independence. To turn this vision into an accomplished mission, India has to forge defence partnerships with like-minded nations and look towards co-producing and co-manufacturing, specifically with technologically advanced nations and leading defence manufacturers. This would have a multiplier effect on the economy overall, along with creating many required jobs, providing security to the global world, producing lethal and non-lethal weapons of the latest technology and lastly, helping in maintaining a rules-based order.

India has traditionally been exporting defence equipment to many countries including Italy, Israel, Egypt, Poland, Armenia, the Philippines, and most of the neighbouring states. According to SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institution) data on international arms transfer trends, roughly 50 per cent of India’s defence exports from 2017 to 2021 were to Myanmar followed by Sri Lanka at 25 per cent. This shows that India is not just concerned about its security but acts as a security provider in the South Asian region.

Thus far, the exports have been petty military hard wares, bulletproof helmets, pellets, mosquito nets, and small arms and ammunition. This is changing, especially with the roll-out of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP), 2020 which introduced the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiatives. Now, the onus lies in scaling up indigenous industries and producing high-value defence products while balancing the traditional requirements. India is aware that the world is facing a wavering geo-political shift each day and as a responsible nation, it can provide the much-required balance, stability and security in these fractured times.

As witnessed in the present decade, the military misadventures first in Nagorno-Karabakh and then in Ukraine, have shown glimpses of what future wars would look like. Various defence experts claim these to be only teasers of what the future holds. India needs to look at producing indigenously advanced weapons in all domains as wars are becoming hybrid, and there will be a higher demand for emerging technology weapons worldwide. Space is being elevated to the latest domain alongside land, water and air.

Armenia Bags Maximum Orders And Requests For More RFPs

India while celebrating its 75th Independence Day this year from the ramparts of the Red Fort marked a new beginning. The celebrations were marked with a ceremonial 21-gun salute, it was the first time indigenously developed equipment was used. The weapon used is an Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS). The same gun system has now bagged an export order worth $ 155 million.  The gun is now being manufactured by the homegrown Kalyani group, originally the Americans were the sole manufacturer of this weapon.

In central Asia, India has signed a deal with Armenia over the selling of the indigenously built multi-rocket launcher system ‘Pinaka’ and Anti-Tank Guided Missile ‘Nag’. The former marked the very first export order for an indigenously built defence system. Nigeria and Indonesia are also in the line to purchase the ‘Pinaka’.

Armenia is now looking at procuring another indigenously built ‘Akash’ Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system and has RFPs (Requested for Proposal). Armenia has also ordered arms worth 250 million USD which included Pinaka MBRL, ATGMs and a range of ammunition. With this Armenia became the first export success for India’s Pinaka MBRLS. Recently, it was also reported that Armenia has also purchased 155.5 million USD worth 155mm artillery systems from India’s private firm Kalyani.

Armenia is presently in a geopolitical fix with Azerbaijan and Turkey. There were also reports that India had offered weapons to Armenia during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. India offered small arms, ammunition, etc. under deferred payment but Armenia could not arrange for air transporters to airlift them.

Strategic Breakout

It was the year 1961 when HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), an Indian state-owned aerospace and defence company built India’s first fighter-bomber aircraft HAL HF-24 Marut. Continuing with the journey, the HAL produced the first ‘Tejas’, a single-engine – Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) which became operational in 2016 and was inducted for use in the air force and naval forces. After competing with other LCAs from countries such as South Korea and China, it became Malaysia’s first choice which has requested a proposal for 18 twin-seater Tejas.

The defence minister has renewed the pitch for cutting import dependence and boosting domestic manufacturing. Inviting domestic players to produce cost-effective and latest state-of-the-art technologies is aimed at increasing exports drastically. The Indian defence Minister has invited other countries and private companies to co-produce and co-manufacture defence products. This has been reflected in the recent ‘Defexpo’22’ held in Gujarat, which showcased only ‘made in India’ equipment. The Indian industry as well as Foreign OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin were also a part of and showcased joint-venture and jointly produced equipment.

On a similar note, a general uptrend in the increase of overall defence budgets by the nations such as Egypt, Japan and Germany is a point in case the growing reliance on security.  India should be looking at exporting to developed and developing nations alike as the pockets have become deeper and countries are desperate to safeguard their sovereignty by all means. India possesses the capability and responsibility which is required to manufacture and export to other nations.

The earnings from the exports would have multiplier effects :–
1) Increase the foreign exchange reserves
2) boost to the MSMEs and private players
3) India could look towards buying arms which are scarce or would be the immediate need of the military such as twin-jet fighter planes and diesel-electric submarines
4) produce critical and emerging technologies
5) become a net security provider.

India faces a constant threat from two-border ends and has substantially increased the value of exports by six-fold since 2014. This is the rationale behind the priority given to security by achieving self-sufficiency and self-reliance. India is the fifth largest economy, boosting its industrial and manufacturing prowess and transforming towards a ‘Modern Atmanirbhar Bharat’ which is driven by the ‘Atma Shakti’ of Indigenousness for a free, secure and prosperous world.

India has come a long way from buying the best in the world to selling the best indigenously produced equipment and still lies a long road ahead. To achieve the target of 5 US billion dollars of export by 2025, India would continue to cater to emerging nations, and neighbours and also look out for prospective new buyers.

Views are of the author

The article first appeared in IADN Strategic Focus magazine, December 2022 Issue


  • Purushendra Singh

    Research Associate in Indo-U.S. relations at CUTS International WDC. He writes about Affairs concerning geo-political security and diplomatic affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @puru_354

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