‘Make In India’ Bites the Dust (excerpt)
(Source: India Legal; posted March 3, 2018)

By Inderjit Badhwar
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” initiative has been a bit of a flop. The defence sector, anointed as the lead agency in what could have been a laudable scheme “envisaged to galvanize manufacturing, continues to languish at the altar of procedural delays and has failed to demonstrate its true potential”.

This is not criticism from some opposition party but rather the words of India’s own ministry of defence which has written a stinging indictment of the lethargy that so often overtakes and stymies otherwise praiseworthy enterprise.

In particular, the report, addressed to the prime minister, says that the “desired level of indigenization and self-reliance in defence manufacturing research and development and timely equipping of Service are some of the areas where the situation continues to be far from satisfactory”.

Perhaps the prime minister himself has something to answer for on this subject. India has hardly been transformed into a “come hither” nation during the last three years of Narendra Modi’s governance. The ease of doing business, notwithstanding official statistics, is no easier than before. The corruption index, high taxation, countervailing duties and protectionism remain high. There is a loss of confidence in the banking system. Consumer buying has ebbed since demonetisation. New investments are not even worth talking about and Chinese goods are literally swamping the marketplace.

At a sectoral level—defence—the continuing Rafael purchase for the Air Force appears to be eating into Modi’s grandiloquent design. For more than two decades, defence experts have been predicting a virtual existential crisis for the Indian Air Force. Its frontline fighter strength has inexorably depleted, with inevitable phase out of obsolescent aircraft, scientifically predicted according to their age, airframe fatigue, outmoded systems and laughable armament avionics. The much ballyhooed “two-front” war would be nothing short of a disaster under these circumstances.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement in Paris, ordering 36 Rafales directly from France with no follow-on transfer of technology or production in India has reduced the IAF’s requirement. The “Make in India” bombast was defeated by the very person who had coined the phrase!

More than 20 years ago, IAF planners began identifying options to keep their strength at the sanctioned 42-combat squadron level, specifically to replace the 20 squadrons of MiG-21 variants plus 10 squadrons of MiG-23/27s which constituted the bulk of the IAF combat force, with next generation multi-role fighter types.

Says Vayu magazine editor and former Jane’s Defence Weekly commentator Pushpindar Chopra: “In fact, this situation was well-understood much earlier, when in 1983 the government of India constituted the Aeronautical Development Agency to manage, fund and monitor progress of the light combat aircraft (LCA) to be indigenously designed, developed and manufactured in India to meet the IAF’s expected MiG-21/27 replacement requirements from the late 1990s.”

He adds that this programme has “tragically floundered” for over three decades. The handful of Tejas LCA Mk Is produced by HAL for the IAF have fundamental flaws in the aircraft’s essential design (by inexperienced engineers at ADA) and inadequacy of production infrastructure (at HAL Bangalore). In consequence, instead of some 200+ LCAs serving with the IAF already, there is today just one LCA squadron being raised, equipped with just a handful of LCAs which too have doubtful operational capability. (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full story, on the India Legal website.


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