India boosts defense capabilities through domestic ingenuity, partnerships

India boosts defense capabilities through domestic ingenuity, partnerships

Mandeep Singh

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reinforces India’s need for a strong and modern defense, according to India’s Defence Ministry, and efforts to meet this need could soon get a boost from members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad).

The prospect of enhanced cooperation and a possible defense aid package from the United States in particular corresponds to recent advances by India’s defense industry, including the successful flight-test of a domestically developed naval anti-ship missile and a new online dashboard to increase transparency in domestic defense production.

“The Ukrainian conflict has reminded us that strong defense capabilities are irreplaceable when it comes to protecting national interests,” Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said at an award ceremony hosted by The Economic Times newspaper in May 2022.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed enhancing these capabilities through a stronger defense partnership at the Quad summit in Tokyo in late May 2022, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

“Prime Minister Modi extended a warm and a strong invitation to the U.S. industry to come to India to participate in the co-development, co-design and co-manufacture, even absolute manufacturing under the Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat,” Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters after the summit, referencing India’s mission to become more self-reliant. “The focus was on defense manufacturing in India under the rubrics of defense.”

Modi launched the Make in India initiative in 2014 to encourage domestic manufacturing and investment into it; he announced Atmanirbhar Bharat — a self-reliant India — in May 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Pictured: An Indian-made warship launches in Mumbai in May 2022.)

Partnerships between Indian and U.S. defense firms have risen in recent years, due in part to India’s elevation to the U.S. Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 status, which allows it to receive license-free access to a wide range of U.S. military and dual-use technologies regulated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, according to the U.S. Department of State. Defense trade between the countries rose from near zero in 2008 to more than U.S. $20 billion in 2020.

Washington is considering a military aid package to India worth up to U.S. $500 million, according to Bloomberg. The package would aim to reduce India’s dependence on defense supplies from Russia and deepen security ties between New Delhi and Washington, Bloomberg added.

The successful test-flight of the naval anti-ship missile displayed the fortitude of India’s domestic defense. The missile launched from a Navy helicopter off the coast of India’s eastern state of Odisha, India’s Defence Ministry announced in May 2022. The missile showcased new technologies developed by India’s state-owned Defence Research & Development Organisation, including a launcher. The missile guidance system also has state-of-the-art navigation and integrated avionics.

To increase transparency in the work of the state-owned Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), India’s Department of Defence Production launched an online dashboard that provides real-time, end-to-end updates on projects as part of the self-reliance quest. The dashboard delivers data and analytics, according to Indian officials, and customized reports to measure the DPSUs’ effectiveness.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.