On October 4, 2023, India slapped an import ban on 98 weapons and systems, including futuristic infantry combat vehicles, ship-borne unmanned aerial systems, medium-range precision kill systems, a variety of ammunition, radars, sensors and equipment for fighter jets, maritime surveillance planes, warships, helicopters, and tanks.
The Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh, released the fifth indigenisation list takes the number of major defence items placed under an import ban during the last three years to 509. Singh released the list at the Indian Navy’s innovation and indigenisation seminar Swavlamban 2023.
Components in the New List
“The list lays special focus on import substitution of components of major systems, besides important platforms, weapons systems, sensors and munitions which are being developed and likely to be translated into firm orders in the next five to ten years,” the defence ministry said in a statement. The List has been prepared by the Department of Military Affairs
In his address, the Indian Navy Chief Admiral Hari Kumar said that the Atmanirbharta was no longer merely an economic imperative but a strategic necessity. “Dependence on others for one’s defence needs is a strategic vulnerability that must be overcome, Kumar said.
India has already published four lists that have imposed a phased import ban on 411 different types of weapons and platforms, including lightweight tanks, naval utility helicopters, artillery guns, missile destroyers, shipborne cruise missiles, light combat aircraft, light transport aircraft, long-range attack cruise missiles, basic trainer aircraft airborne early warning systems along with Multi barrel rocket launchers.
The Fifth List
The fifth list includes all-terrain vehicles, specified remotely piloted airborne vehicles, electric light vehicles, next-generation low-level radars, automatic chemical agent detection and alarm systems, armoured fighting vehicles, camouflage, and countermeasures systems. It has not spared AI-based systems for satellite analysis, very high-frequency radars, armour plates for Mi-17 helicopters, flares for MiG 29 Aircraft and automated mobile test systems.
“The Items in the list will provide ample visibility and opportunity to the domestic industry to understand the trend and futuristic needs of the armed forces and create the required R&D and manufacturing capability within the country. The new list is another step on the long road to indigenisation, and that is being pursued by the defence ministry through a layered approach focusing on both big defence platforms and smaller parts and components.
India has employed a two-pronged approach to achieve indigenisation through import bans. One approach relates to banning the import of platforms such as fighter jets, warships, helicopters, and artillery guns, while the other covers subsystems, spares and components.
As a part of the latter, the defence ministry has placed an import ban on 4,666 items, including replacement units, sub-systems, spares, and components, through four separate positive indigenisation lists during the last two years. Of these, around 3,000 items have been indigenised thus far in a fresh push for self-reliance and the remaining will be manufactured in India in line with the prescribed timelines between December 2023 and December 2029.
These items are used in a raft of military platforms, including fighter planes, helicopters, trainer aircraft, warships, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, high-mobility trucks, defence electronics and different types of ammunition.
India’s Contribution to Self-Reliance
India has taken several measures over the last four to five years to boost self-reliance in defence. Apart from the phased import bans listed above, the government has created a separate budget for buying locally made military hardware, increased foreign direct investment from 49% to 74% and improved ease of doing business. India is eyeing a turnover of ₹1.75 lakh crore in defence manufacturing by 2024-25.
India’s Military Exports
India’s military exports have risen sharply, and imports have recorded a drop because of policy initiatives and reforms. Exports grew 23 times between 2013-14 and 2022-23 (from ₹ 686 crore to ₹16,000 crore), while the spending on imported weapons and systems dropped from 46% of the total expenditure in 2018-19 to 36.7% in December 2022. India has set a defence export target of ₹35,000 crore by 2024-25.
India’s reliance on foreign weapons
India, which remains one of the world’s largest arms importers, relies heavily on foreign defence manufacturers to fulfil its security needs. It launched the import bans list around three years ago to attain twin objectives—cut down import costs and boost defence manufacturing. A huge chunk of Russian weapons continues to dominate India’s weapons armoury, and it has remained the largest supplier between 2018-22.