As Modi Moves to Spend $150 Billion, India Lifts Veil on Army

Climbing into tanks and talking to combat soldiers is an eye-opener for those private-sector executives in India who normally get only snippets of information to design components of complex military hardware.

Unprecedented access to India’s secretive military was given to more than 200 representatives of defense companies — big and small, local and foreign, earlier this month. They spoke with troops on the front lines in Kashmir, a region also claimed by main rival Pakistan, learned about the army’s equipment needs and crawled inside tanks at two events in the western city of Ahmednagar.

“You could feel how the soldier would adjust themselves in a tight space,” said Rajesh Khurana, an associate vice-president at Bharat Forge Ltd., a major Indian manufacturing defense firm.

“It was a pretty intimate affair”, he said referring to the instance when he personally climbed inside of a tank.

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modihe spends $150 billion over the next decade to modernize the armed forces, the new-found transparency is part of his efforts to transform the world’s biggest arms importer into a defense manufacturing powerhouse.

More jobs would be created for the more than 10 million Indians who join the work force each year and technological capacity of local companies would be enhanced by the closer collaboration with the military.

“We’ve seen the army open up under this current leadership. The army is trying to build a relationship with the private sector. They’re communicating what their real needs are and want us to know what kind of problems they see in their day to day life — and then industry can build solutions,” said Jayant D. Patil, a senior vice-president with Larsen & Toubro Ltd., which makes parts for everything from missiles to submarines.

And publicly owned defense companies have repeatedly failed to do just that for the past few decades.

India’s national auditor said in a report this week that there have been delays in the delivery of almost two-thirds of the critical weapons and equipment that were scheduled to be purchased in contracts supposedly to be concluded from 2007 to 2012 and worth nearly $4.5 billion. Blaming the delays in part on a “heavy dependence” on imported weapons, the report said that defense preparedness was impacted and military’s modernization plan was “hampered” by this sever foot-dragging.

Modi’s campaign for companies to “Make in India” was the source of inspiration for the Ahmednagar events, the army said in response to questions. This policy is aimed to “reduce dependence on foreign vendors” and “harness the preparedness of the Indian private industry towards meeting the felt-needs of the armed forces”, the army said.

Anit Mukherjee, an assistant professor at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said that the government’s move to open itself up to private industry marks a “very, very significant departure” from the norm.

“It will be a significant step toward fulfilling ‘Make in India,” he said.

Due to a previous Cold War alliance between Delhi and the Soviet Union, most of the defense imports, of the 60 percent of its defense requirements, are sourced from Russia. It has now become one of the top markets for American defense companies of late and has bought more weapons from the US.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

Categories: Economy & Finance

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