Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative has received a big blow, as the Indian Navy refused to use home-made war planes.

The Navy recently asked the Modi government to export fighter jets from foreign countries, saying that home-made jets are too heavy to use. According to sources close to the Navy, they also invited manufacturers to pitch for 57 fighter jets for Indian aircraft carriers. As expected, the move irked the government, which had hoped that the multi-billion dollar order would go to the state-run producers of ‘Tejas’ – a combat aircraft 33 years in the making.

A senior Navy commander told the press over the weekend that Indian, South Korean, Taiwanese and other Asian buyers had decided to develop indigenous fighter jets in 2017 because of anxieties that the US might be less engaged in the region under President Donald Trump. However, they changed their plans after realising the fact that they need more time to master the technology.

In December, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba expressed concern about the quality of Tejas, saying that “the sea version of the plane was not up to the mark”. He claimed that Tejas could not take off from an aircraft carrier once weapons were loaded. Admiral Lanba made the comment after the home-made aircraft failed flight tests when taking off from a 200m carrier deck with weapons onboard. The failure prompted the Indian Navy to urge the government to export foreign fighters for the naval forces.

However, the Navy’s move disheartened top Indian defence scientists. They argued that all the countries were facing difficulties in manufacturing “quality” fighter aircraft. “Look at the F-35, with all the might of the multinational effort, is still evolving. There are no shortcuts,” said a defence expert.

For Richard A Bitzinger, the Indian Navy’s decision is not at all surprising. The senior fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies stressed: “It’s been long on ambition short on success. These things are being done because of techno-nationalism. They are done because these countries perceive of themselves as rising powers.”

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog – Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]