A hard journey ahead for India to change from weapon importer to export

China Military Online
Huang Panyue
2019-12-02 17:12:57

By Zhang Chenshuo

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently announced in public that India will transform from a major weapon importer to a major defense technology exporter in the near future.

According to the website of Indian Defence Review magazine, it was not the first time that the high-level Indian officials have made such an announcement, but it was hard for India to turn its ambition into reality.

India is attempting to become global weapon supplier

As the world’s largest weapon importer, Indiaimports 90% of its defense equipment and parts and components. Data show that from 2013 to 2017, India’s weapon import accounted for 12% of the world total, which is why Indian government and military leaders have expressed on multiple occasions their resolve to export arms.

At the opening ceremony of Defexpo India 2018, then Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India would adjust the defense industry more quickly and export more defense products to the world. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi also emphasized that “it is strategically imperative for India to supply weapons around the world.”

The Indian Defense Ministry recently announced a plan to increase its arms export volume to 350 billion Indian rupees (about USD5 billion) by 2025, in the endeavor to become a global leader in weapon export.

Indian Defense Ministry also made a list of potential buyers that indicated that at least 83 countries and regions, including Vietnam, Thailand, Bahrain, Bangladesh and Malaysia, are interested. To keep these potential customers, New Delhi has worked out a costly promotion plan targeting them.

There are three obstacles in the way of India’s transformation

According to Indian Defence Review website, the Indian government must improve its administrative capability in order to transform from a weapon importer to an exporter, and should better defense enterprises’ management capability and production efficiency, but India hasn’t done very well in those aspects.

India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has an annual budget of about USD2.5 billion, not much less than the USD3 billion of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the United States Department of Defense, but their research results differ wildly. There are three reasons why it’s hard for India to shift from a major weapon importer to a major exporter.

First, it is not economically strong enough to support the research and development (R&D) of advanced weapons. The Indian government plans to boost national economy to USD10 trillion in the next 8-10 years, but the Indian Defence Review website held that the country is barely able to reach the economic aggregate of USD5 trillion in the short term given the government’s administrative capability, population development and employment level.

Second, India’s weapon production is not stable. A retired Lieutenant General of the Indian army special forces said that front-line workers at Indian defense enterprises who receive a meager income have no enthusiasm for work and they often go on strikes or put off work, so the production of defense products cannot be guaranteed.

Besides, the low survival rate of small and medium Indian enterprises in face of the growing competition has led to the loss of large amounts of skilled workers, and it’s known to all that defense companies without sufficient technical talents cannot carry out stable R&D and production.

Third, Indian defense products have quality issues. Reuters reported the objective fact that India is not proficient enough in weapon design and manufacturing, its input-output ratio is too low, and military production is backward.

In particular, its manufacturing of products like aircraft is never satisfactory. Even Indian military has criticized domestic products harshly, calling many of their performance and technical indicators “far below the requirements”.


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