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Opinion: Aatmanirbharta Is The Focus In Centre's ₹ 84,000 Crore Defence Package

Photo-The Economic Times

Last week, India's Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) convened under the leadership of Defence Minister Mantri Rajnath Singh and granted approval for the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for capital procurement of defence equipment amounting to ₹ 84,560 crore. This decision reflects the government's commitment to bolstering indigenous design, development, and manufacturing (IDDM) capabilities within the country's defence sector. Importation of equipment has been restricted to essential items necessary to fulfill critical operational requirements of the armed forces. The approved proposal encompasses a range of acquisitions aimed at enhancing India's defence capabilities and fostering self-reliance.

One significant aspect of the approved acquisitions is the procurement of 45,000 Prachand new-generation anti-tank mines under the Indian-Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured (Indian-IDDM) category. Valued at ₹ 650 crore, these mines boast advanced features such as seismic sensors and remote deactivation, offering innovative solutions for detecting landmines and mitigating risks to soldiers' lives and safety.

Furthermore, the DAC greenlit the acquisition of conventional subsonic long-range land attack cruise missiles (LR-LACM) for the Army, with a range of 1,000 km. These missiles, derived from the indigenously developed Nirbhay missile platform, are set to be procured for ₹ 4,000 crore under the IDDM category. Additionally, the approval includes the acquisition of 900 canister-launched anti-armour loiter munition systems and 25 air defence tactical control radars, addressing critical operational requirements and enhancing battlefield capabilities.

In a bid to bolster airborne surveillance capabilities, the DAC approved the procurement of six Netra Mk-1A aircraft, developed by the Centre for Air Borne Systems (CABS) using the Embraer-145 platform. These aircraft, valued at ₹ 9,000 crore, are designed for Airborne Early Warning (AEW) missions, representing a joint effort between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Moreover, the DAC sanctioned the acquisition of three signal intelligence and communication jamming aircraft, valued at ₹ 6,300 crore, along with the development of six flight refuelling aircraft from pre-owned platforms at a cost of ₹ 9,000 crore. These acquisitions aim to enhance strategic capabilities and operational readiness across various domains.

Furthermore, the DAC approved the procurement of Software Defined Radios (SDRs) for the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), providing secure and high-speed communication solutions for seamless data exchange between the ICG and the Navy. The approval also includes the acquisition of fifteen C-295 Medium Range aircraft, with modifications tailored for maritime surveillance and patrol roles for the Navy and the Indian Coast Guard, respectively, amounting to ₹ 29,900 crore.

Additionally, the DAC endorsed the procurement of active towed array sonar systems for submarine detection and 48 heavyweight torpedoes for the Kalvari-class submarines to meet interim operational requirements of the Navy. Furthermore, the maintenance, repair, and overhaul of 24 MH 60 helicopters through the Foreign Military Sales Route were approved, enhancing maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

The approval of these acquisitions underscores the government's emphasis on promoting indigenous defence manufacturing and fostering collaboration with the private sector. The DAC's decisions have not only bolstered the market prospects for key players such as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electrical Limited (BEL), and Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) but also provided impetus to smaller enterprises and startups operating in the defence sector.

However, challenges remain in ensuring the effective implementation of indigenous manufacturing and technology transfer initiatives. The absence of a transparent mechanism for monitoring and quantifying Transfer of Technology (ToT) from foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to Indian entities poses a significant hurdle in achieving self-reliance. There is a pressing need to establish an independent body tasked with auditing ToT agreements and enforcing compliance to bolster India's atmanirbharta mission.

Moreover, proposed amendments to the Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020 (DAP) aimed at supporting startups and MSMEs through the Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) initiative are laudable steps towards nurturing indigenous innovation. These policy reforms are crucial for fostering an ecosystem conducive to technological development and reducing dependence on foreign imports.

In conclusion, the DAC's approval of defence acquisitions signals a significant stride towards enhancing India's defence capabilities and promoting self-reliance in the defence sector. However, concerted efforts are needed to address challenges related to technology transfer and procurement policy reforms to realize the vision of an indigenous and self-sufficient defence industry.

Feb. 22, 2024 2:45 p.m. 1083

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