‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’: India clears defence purchases worth ₹29,000 crores

In a significant boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector, India has cleared weapon purchases worth 28,732 crore, including armed drone swarms, carbines and bullet-proof jackets that will be designed and developed in the country, the Union ministry of defence said on Tuesday.

The close-quarter carbines will be for front-line soldiers deployed along India’s borders, including the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China where the two countries have been locked in a tense standoff since May 2020, officials familiar with the matter said on conditions of anonymity.

The defence acquisition council (DAC), India’s apex weapons procurement body, accorded its acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the capital acquisition proposals at a meeting chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh. Under India’s defence procurement rules, AoN by the council is the first step towards buying military hardware.

The procurement of autonomous surveillance and armed drone swarms was cleared to boost the army’s capability in modern warfare in the backdrop of drone technology proving to be a force multiplier in military operations and recent conflicts around the world, the defence ministry said in a statement.

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Last year, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) showcased indigenous capability to carry out offensive missions in enemy territory with scores of drones working in assorted formations to identify, encircle and strike targets, with loitering munitions being developed to meet a key military requirement of our soldiers.

Surveillance and armed drone swarms feature on a new list of ‘Make in India’ projects that the army is pursuing in partnership with the defence industry, the officials said. Drones within a swarm can carry out a wide range of missions, including strikes against tanks, infantry combat vehicles, ammunition holding areas, fuel dumps and terror launch pads.

The DAC also approved the purchase of around 400,000 close-quarter carbines “to combat the current complex paradigm” of conventional warfare, hybrid warfare and counter-terrorism at the borders, the defence ministry statement said.

“This is set to provide a major impetus to the small arms manufacturing industry in India and enhance aatmanirbharta (self-reliance),” the ministry said.

India has taken a raft of measures to boost self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector over the past two to three years, including curbing imports and allocating funds for domestic procurement.

“India is making planned, steady and focused progress to achieve aatmanirbharta in the defence sector and several projects have been sanctioned for the local industry. Frontline soldiers urgently need carbines,” said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).

The bullet-proof jackets will offer enhanced protection to soldiers deployed along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan.

“Considering the demand of enhanced protection against the threat of enemy snipers to our troops deployed along the LoC, and in close combat operations in counter-terrorism scenario, the DAC accorded AoN for bullet-proof jackets with Indian Standard BIS VI level of protection,” the ministry said.

The defence ministry earmarked 64% of the capital acquisition budget for the domestic industry in 2021-22, but it was able to “overachieve this target” and local military purchases accounted for 65.5% of the capital budget, as previously reported.

For 2022-23, India has earmarked 84,598 crore – 68% of the military’s capital acquisition budget – for the purchase of locally produced weapons and systems, besides setting aside 25% of the defence research and development (R&D) budget for private industry, start-ups and academia.

The DAC also approved a navy proposal to procure an indigenously-upgraded 1250KW-capacity marine gas turbine generator for power generation on board the Kolkata-class of warships, and 14 fast patrol vessels for the Indian Coast Guard with 60% indigenous content.

The government has imposed a phased ban on the import of 310 different types of weapons and systems. These include light weight tanks, naval utility helicopters, artillery guns, missiles, destroyers, ship-borne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft, long-range land-attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft, multi-barrel rocket launchers, assault rifles, sniper rifles, specified types of helicopters, next-generation corvettes and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems.

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Rahul Singh