The Narendra Modi government recently allowed around 200 executives of private-sector defence companies to get access to Indian Army bases, as they climbed into tanks and talked to combat soldiers. The executives also held talks with Indian Army officers in the western city of Ahmednagar and learned about the Army’s equipment needs.
Senior Defence Ministry spokesperson Nitin Wakankar said that the government made the unprecedented move, as it plans to spend USD 150 billion in the next 10 years for modernising the Army with the help of private players. The spokesperson explained that transparency is a part of Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to transform the world’s biggest arms importing country into a defence manufacturing powerhouse. So, according to Wakankar, executives of defence equipment manufacturing firms were allowed to visit Army bases.
The Indian premier has a ‘big’ plan for the Army. Modi believes that a closer collaboration with the Armed Forces will help private players increase their technological capacity and create job opportunities for more than 10 million Indians each year. Wakankar stressed that the government-owned companies’ failure to understand the problems faced by the Army on a daily basis disheartened the PM. Their failure caused a lengthy delay in delivering weapons and equipment – worth nearly USD 4.5 billion – to the Armed Forces. The delay not only hampered the Indian Army’s modernisation plan, but also impacted the South Asian country’s defence preparedness. As a result, India became heavily dependent on imported weapons.
Meanwhile, a senior Army official has welcomed the government’s decision, saying that PM Modi’s “Make in India” initiative will help “harness the preparedness of the Indian private industry towards meeting the felt-needs of the Armed Forces and reduce dependence on foreign vendors”. Assistant Professor at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies Anit Mukherjee, too, has congratulated the Modi government for opening itself up to private industry. He said that the “very, very significant departure” from the usual norm could make India a defence manufacturing powerhouse in the future.
Currently, India depends heavily on the US, Russia and Israel for defence equipment. If top Indian firms, like Mahindra & Mahindra Limited, Tata Group, Larsen & Toubro and Bharat Forge, can produce quality defence equipment in collaboration with foreign companies, such as Honeywell International Inc. and Dassault Aviation SA, then it will be a huge boost to the Army.
For his part, retired Indian Army veteran Deepak Sinha said: “The Army has always preferred to keep interaction with business houses to the minimum. This interaction with business executives would certainly be a first, and a very good omen at that.”