“There is very little that the negative list of ammunitions, and assorted material banned by the Ministry of Defense can do in addition to several measures already taken to localize defense production and reduce import dependency,” said Amit Cowsish, a consultant with the New Delhi-based Manohar Parrikar Institute For Defence
Studies and Analyses and a former financial adviser on acquisitions in the Ministry of Defense.
The skepticism is with reason. Similar policy declarations to stem imports were made by India in 2013, under then prime minister Manmohan Singh, and also by Modi’s administration in his first term in 2018, didn’t significantly increase the ‘Made in India’ products deployed by the military.
The new order also fails to clarify which agency will certify what will be considered indigenously made, given locally made defense products and weapons systems may include imported parts.
In 2016, a self-propelled air defense system made by a state-run plant malfunctioned during a military exercise. An investigation revealed that an imported component had failed, according to two officials who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media. The system couldn’t be fixed because the local manufacturer didn’t know how to repair the imported part, they said.
“Time and access to technology is fundamental to such efforts. Currently a large proportion India’s defense industry is little better than system integrators,” said Rahul Bedi, a New Delhi-based independent defense analyst. “A major dose of realism is needed.”
The negative list is also vague on the position of joint-ventures between Indian and foreign manufacturers and license produced weapon systems, he said. Many of the items that figure in the new banned list -- light combat helicopters, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft and warships -- were already being procured indigenously.
Despite its drawbacks India’s nascent defense industry is cautiously optimistic about the new policy.
“We are sure that this list will keep getting amended to add newer programs that lay a road map matching our nation’s aspiration,” said Jayant Patil, senior executive vice president (defence
& smart technologies), Larsen & Toubro Limited.
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