Atmanirbhar Bharat in Defence – The Way Forward

India has been enacting policies and building institutions that promote self-reliance since its independence, however, it was one of the largest importers of arms, with a share of 9.5% of world imports between 2014-18.

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Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

The Prime Minister of India has popularised the slogan Atmanirbhar Bharat, which translates to “self-reliant India,” to describe the country’s economic growth ambitions. The word encompasses the Government’s ambitions for India to play a more prominent role in the global economy and to become more competitive, efficient, and resilient.

The country’s former Planning Commission, in multiple five-year plans between 1947 and 2014, laid out the framework for development. India has been enacting policies and building institutions that promote self-reliance since its independence. 

Private companies were more focused on fast-moving commercial goods. They are self-reliant in beverages, automotive, cooperatives, financial services and banking, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

Defence Sector

Until the recent past, India had been importing seventy per cent of its defence equipment, which is a significant burden on India’s foreign exchange and continued dependency on foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

Indian Armed Forces are the 4th most significant armed forces in the world, and the country spends a huge amount on Defence & Aerospace equipment. As a result, it is one of the largest importers of arms, with a share of 9.5% of world imports between 2014-18. 

The Union Budget 2020-21 has also allocated around $47.47 Bn (excluding Defence pension) for Defence. One-third of the budget is for capital expenditure.

India is open to FDI entering the Indian Defence market. It provides for more than 50% of Defence equipment procured; it also focuses on developing Indian OEMs by encouraging collaborations like joint ventures, partnerships and offsets. 

With the above objective, two Defence Industrial Corridors would have been developed in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. 

The Defence Procurement Policy and Defence Procurement Manual are revised periodically. However, the more attempts are made to simplify the procedure, the more it remains complex. 

What is Atma Nirbharta or Self Reliance in Defence?

Currently, defence manufacturing in India is built to print drawings on the materials specified by the OEMs and the processes and procedures laid down. In some cases, white labelling of components and assemblies is being done to come under the Make in India provisions.

What should be addressed is the design and development capabilities, working on raw materials, and adapting and adopting new technologies to make our platforms lighter, stronger and more durable.

The platforms’ manufacturing, welding and finishing need to meet the challenges of the modern-day battlefield.

To entice private sector engagement in the defence industry, the Government has gone out of its way to make the sector appealing. When applicable, the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020 includes Make in India and platform leasing provisions. A snapshot is given below.  

A detailed study of the DAP is essential to understand the finer nuances.

The provision of the ‘Make’ category of capital acquisition in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) is a vital pillar for realizing the vision behind the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Government.

By fostering indigenous capabilities through the design & development of required defence equipment/ products/ sub-systems/ systems or upgrades/ components /parts by both public and private sector industries/organizations in a faster time frame.

Make Procedure 

Make-I (Government Funded): Projects under the ‘Make-I’ subcategory are funded by the Government at a rate of 90%, paid in stages depending on the scheme’s success and in accordance with MoD and vendor-agreed conditions.

Make-II (Industry Funded): Make-II projects entail prototype development of equipment/ system/ platform or their upgrades or their sub-systems/ sub-assembly/ assemblies/ components, particularly for import substitution/innovative solutions, for which prototype development money will not be available from the Government.

In Feb 2018, Government notified a separate, simplified procedure for the subcategory ‘Make-II’, which has many industry-friendly provisions.

It is well worth going into the finer points of how to make this a success. In the long run, a few rudimentary issues get glossed over, and the efforts remain a glib talk rather than an action plan.

National Security Strategy in the United States of America

The stated purpose of the Goldwater-Nichols Act is widely acknowledged as legitimate for practical political dialogue on matters impacting national security. As a starting point for future communication, Congress and the Executive need a shared knowledge of the strategic environment and the administration’s objectives. However, it is accepted that given the prevailing hostile context, this report can only serve as a starting point for the discourse required to attain a “shared” understanding.

The need to create this report and budget request necessitate an iterative, interagency process that includes high-level discussions that help resolve internal differences in foreign policy goals. However, the study was not intended to be a neutral planning document, as many academics and some military personnel believe. Instead, it was designed to perform five major functions.

  1. Communicate to Congress the Executive’s strategic vision to legitimate its funding demands.
  2. Communicate the strategic vision of the Executive to international audiences, particularly nations not on the US’s summit agenda.
  3. Communicate with specific home audiences, such as political supporters wanting Presidential acknowledgement of their concerns and people hoping to see a cogent and far-reaching approach they can support.
  4. Create an executive branch-wide agreement on foreign and Defence policy.
  5. Contribute to the President’s content and communication.

When the new executive team has not developed a national security plan, such as post an election in which Defence and foreign policy were not central campaign concerns, the process of preparing the report might be of critical importance:

Few things teach new political appointees more quickly about their strategic sensibilities or the qualities and competencies of the “permanent” Government they lead within executive bureaucracies than having to commit in writing to the President their plans and how they can be integrated, coordinated, and otherwise shared with other agencies and departments.

The opportunity for a new government to achieve agreement among these different perspectives on direction, objectives, and speed, as well as getting “on board” key individuals three political levels below the President, is invaluable, albeit challenging.

National Security Strategy (NSS) – India

India needs its version of Goldwater Nichols legislation. Is there a political will to pass an act of Parliament to meet our National Security Objectives?

Unlike the US and China, where NSS is a policy document promulgated to develop capability and capacity to meet future threats, in India, the political leadership has taken the path of least resistance and therefore has been relying heavily on diplomatic parleys and negotiations to tackle its belligerent Northern neighbour, China. On the other hand, Pakistan has agreed to a ceasefire across the LoC, yet terror remains an instrument to inflict damage to civilian populations and property. Hence, one of the self-assumed aims of the Indian Defence Services is to make punitive strikes in retaliation to a terror strike like Pulwama.

The Indian Air Force carried out Jabba Top strikes in the early hours of 26 February 2018; in the retaliatory strike by Pakistan Air Force on 27 February on a brigade HQ, there was no riposte by the Indian Defence Forces.

The NSA, in its charter, is to prepare an NSS paper and get it approved by the Government for its implementation. However, NSS is not published; it appears the core competency in military affairs is lacking, and therefore, it is on the back burner.

In the meanwhile, in the absence of an NSS paper, India is preparing for the last war. 

Subsequent to the 1971 war, when a tri-service discussion analyzed the war, Gen Sam remarked, “you can win as many battles as you like at sea, or in the air, or even lose them, but eventually it is the Army that will prove to be decisive”. 

Great maritime thinkers like Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan emphasized that any great land victory would never be lasting or decisive unless the sea played a part in the conflict. In this case, victory at sea was an essential precondition. 

Without Air Superiority, it will be a disaster for the ground forces.

The lack of the above is visible in the Russian war in Ukraine. There is a lack of cohesion of forces, and the Ukrainian Army has destroyed Russian assets on land, air and sea. 

Progressive Steps

In the past several years, the Army HQ set up an Army Design Bureau, which interacted with the academia, industry and industry forums, start-ups and DRDO to find solutions to the problem statements of the Indian Defence Services. This effort “kickstarted” the indigenous technology design and development and, ably supported by the defence services, has now caught momentum.

DRDO reinvented processes and engaged with young technocrats of the IITs, now making a mark in the start-up space.

Taking a cue from the US Army, Secretary of US Army Christine Wormuth speaking at the Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Benning, GA; described a fighting force that must be more lethal, mobile and protected to succeed in a fight against near-peer threats like China or Russia. She focused on the following issues that the US army / any army would have to contemplate to fight and win future battles. The six areas the Army must be prepared for in 2030: – 

  • The capacity to constantly “see” the battlefield.
  • Coordination at more incredible speed.
  • Win the fires fight.
  • Hiding on the battlefield.
  • Talk often and quickly.
  • Professionals talk logistics.

Some of the projects that need to be undertaken on PRIORITY are: –

  • Simulation systems at the Strategic and Tactical levels.
  • Tri-services Cloud.
  • Drone systems with a focus on drone-based AWACS for the future.
  • Anti-drone systems.
  • Cyber security related Make in India projects.
  • Unmanned Maritime Vehicles
  • Unmanned Land Systems to include tanks, infantry combat vehicles and Artillery (Self Propelled).

While technology is essential to win wars, it should not be forgotten that boots on the ground as cohesive combat groups need to train hard to fight and win future battles.

Galwan happened, and many more Galwan-like situations will occur where brawn and brains need to be well-matched.


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