On 9 August, the Indian Government published a list of 101 systems that would be phased in between December 2020 and December 2025, affecting weapons ranging from sniper rifles to missile destroyers and space satellites.
The bans are not the result of a sudden outbreak of pacifism. They are designed to ensure that the Indian military, the second largest on the planet with 1.44 million personnel, exclusively purchases these weapons from factories in India.
Since 2015, India has spent more on arms imports than any other country except Saudi Arabia, The Times of India reported.
In fact, many of the bans apply to equipment already available to Indian manufacturers, and in some cases the “import ban” defines systems such as the Tejas fighter jet and the Astra missiles only built in India.
In other cases, prohibitions are formulated in a very specific way (e.g., 155-millimeter howitzers of a certain barrel length), which does not disqualify several different weapons in the same general class.
This means that some may view the bans as a political stunt reflecting domestic procurement decisions made in advance. In some cases, however, prohibitions do not appear to allow foreign competitors to make current procurement decisions, and some later bans apply to domestic projects that may not have yet been finalized.
However, the bans in the first place are perhaps most instructive as a roadmap for requirements that can meet through domestic production, or will be able to do so in a few years. It also reflect and reinforce India’s growing preference to require foreign arms suppliers to establish production lines with India, both for economic and security reasons.
India has long relied heavily on weapons systems imported from the Soviet Union/Russia, Western Europe and Israel, and American systems have become increasingly important over the past two decades.
Several early attempts to develop and manufacture domestic weapons, such as the HF-24 Marut and the Arjun tank, have produced unsatisfactory results. In recent years, however, the situation in India’s defence industry has changed.
The Make in India government policy, which debuted in 2014, has forced foreign companies to set up production lines on Indian soil in many cases. The Indian Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) has made significant strides in radar and jet and rocket engines, aided by the transfer of technology from Israel, Russia and the United States.
The new bans could clarify and speed up Indian defense procurement and help signal an industry where to focus its efforts. But a potential drawback may be that New Delhi may be unable to obtain key technologies if domestic development is behind schedule, as is usually the case in defense programs around the world.
At the same time, the alleged “negative list” of banned technologies will be periodically reviewed, expanded and updated.
It is also worth noting that many important Make in India projects involve foreign manufacturers opening factories on Indian soil. While this ensures that defense dollars will make their way to Indian factory workers and partner companies, foreign firms are still getting cut and can retain key patented technology and design experience.
This may be even more true now that the Modi administration has raised the limit on foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence from 49% to 74% in May to stimulate more FDI.
In the remainder of this article, we will look at how the bans affect and/or reflect different segments of India’s defense sector, highlight domestic Indian technologies and foreign licenses related to prohibitions, and point to some aspects of Indian defense procurement, especially those not affected by import bans.