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Editor's Letter: The Business of Defence

In this special edition, we profile exceptional new players who have brought cutting-edge capability in defence production

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The political management of defence is one of the highlights of the Narendra Modi government. It has shown the willingness to use the military as an instrument of statecraft. The defence sector reforms undertaken by it have been the most significant since India’s Independence. 

Of great salience is the Aatmanirbhar Bharat agenda for defence production. Outcomes in the defence and aerospace sector could well be the most visible indicators of the success of the Make in India initiative. Apart from aiming for strategic autonomy in being able to produce weapons indigenously, India now also seeks to leverage the annual $70 billion spent on defence for larger economic good by making the domestic economy the biggest stakeholder in the programme, which is how defence spending through the Make in India prism becomes a public issue. 

Earlier this year, India amended its Defence Acquisition Procedure, barring routine military equipment imports. The Union Defence Minister will now be required to approve exceptions to this rule in case of critical operational necessity. The decision conveys the seriousness of the government’s intent to finally walk the talk after its earlier indigenisation efforts only evoked a tepid response.

The Third Negative Import List signals that for the Union government, there is no going back now. The list takes the tally of military equipment barred for import to 310. These lists aren’t symbolic. These include top-end military platforms and weapon systems, providing a $27.7 billion push to the domestic arms industry. To give momentum to the Make in India policy, the government has announced funding for prototype development of 14 major platforms and weapon systems under the Make 1 procurement category that had been on the books since 2006 but were never acted upon.  

Defexpo 2022, India’s biggest biennial arms exhibition for land, naval and homeland security systems, is being held in this backdrop of heavy policy intervention in the Prime Minister’s home state of Gujarat from 18 – 22 October.  The event merits a moment of reflection on the progress made in India’s Military Industrial Complex, and the way ahead. 

In this special edition, we profile exceptional new players who have brought cutting-edge capability in defence production. For this intrepid breed of industrial warriors, success is determined not by the outcome of their campaigns in the Indian market but on the global stage as exporters. They’re not arms traders or rent seekers for global OEMs but developers of technology. They are the harbingers of change in the arms bazaar.

This congregation of the global arms industry is also taking place in the shadow of the war in Ukraine. We offer you lessons from this war. India not only walks the diplomatic tightrope in this calamitous development, but gets to observe the performance of weaponry similar to that of the Russian military in it.

Lastly, the Modi government deserves credit for putting an end to a culture of scandals in defence deals. For us in the media, at long last, coverage of defence is no longer about reporting scams. That’s a good note to sign off on. Happy reading!