Aatmanirbhar in defence production: Where India stands among Indo-Pacific nations

India ranks fourth among 12 Indo-Pacific nations in self-reliant arms production capabilities, according to a study released this month by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a widely respected independent resource on global security. China tops the list, Japan is second, South Korea is in third place, and Pakistan is at number 8.

The study, which measures self-reliance until 2020, is based on three indicators of self reliance in each country:

* Arms procurement — imports, licensed and domestic production as a proportion of the government’s total procurement of major conventional arms;

* Arms industry — the study presents the five largest arms companies in each country, where data are available, ranked by sales of arms and military services in 2020 to both domestic and export customers;

* Uncrewed maritime vehicles, the sea equivalent of drones — covering both uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) and uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs), meant to provide a qualitative understanding of how countries are engaging domestic research institutes and firms to produce such cutting edge systems.

The study’s choice of maritime domain was because the Indo-Pacific region is a “maritime theatre”, and most of its flashpoints involve navies. The 12 countries in the study were selected because they have the highest military spending in the region — Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

According to the study, understanding and determining the extent of self-reliance in the Indo-Pacific region, which has several ongoing flashpoints, is crucial for trust and confidence-building among states. This region has also seen a growing allocation by states for defence procurement. Eighteen arms manufacturing companies based in the region were ranked among the world’s largest arms companies in 2020.

“[I]n a region where tensions among neighbours are rising, this report contributes to transparency with regards to levels of self-reliance in domestic arms production, allowing for an independent assessment of the region’s respective arms industries,” the study says.

China was the world’s fifth largest arms importer in 2016-20. Its self-reliance policies, and its high economic growth in that period meant that the Chinese arms industry now increasingly fulfills the requirements of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Its high volume of imports in absolute terms accounts for only 8 per cent of total procurement for the period, the lowest share for any of the 12 governments studied in this report.

China’s arms industry primarily involves nine large state-owned enterprises (SOEs). All eight companies for which data are available are in the top 100, with four in the top 10 in 2020. Four are dominant in the aerospace and aviation sectors, two in land systems, one in electronics, one in shipbuilding, and one in nuclear power.

The PLA is the main customer for the arms companies. China also has 17 ongoing projects, in collaboration with universities and other agencies to develop “long-range precision, intelligent, stealthy or unmanned weaponry and equipment”.

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India is ranked as the second largest importer of arms for its armed forces in 2016-20. India is highly dependent on imports of complete foreign major arms, including many produced under licence or as components for its domestic production.

Of India’s total volume of procurement in 2016–20, 84 per cent was of foreign origin. Domestic arms companies provide only 16 per cent of its total procurement. According to the study, the significant arms sales of local firms and the high level of licensed production push India to fourth position in the list.

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Indian Ordnance Factories, Bharat Electronics, Mazagaon Docks and Cochin Shipyard are among the major Indian arms servicing companies. Ashok Leyland, one of the largest suppliers of trucks to the Indian Army, is the only company ranked in the top 50 in the Indo-Pacific.

India has seven Uncrewed Maritime Vessel projects ongoing. In the private sector, Larsen & Toubro has been developing AUV prototypes on its own and in collaboration with foreign partners, such as Italy’s EdgeLab, while DRDO and the Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute have been considering development of AUV prototypes.


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