Stuck in the Self-Reliance Mantra

India’s quest for a sophisticated militaryindustrial complex was supposed to save money, bring greater freedom of action in foreign policy, and trigger civilian spin-offs that fueled national development. The government shouldered this responsibility with extensive investments in military research, development and weapons production facilities, but these efforts failed to produce breakthroughs in security policy or technology development. India remains dependent on foreign suppliers for its arsenal, its armed forces are wary of equipment made by the country’s state-owned factories, and Indian military R&D has produced one armament of strategic consequence: nuclear weapons. To make things worse, India’s defence marketplace is rife with corruption.

Reforms have proved to be hard despite acknowledgments of their necessity. In 2005, the Vijay Kelkar Committee advised broad privatisation of the defence industry. New rules opened up the industry to domestic private investment, but eight years later, private participation remains limited. Indian firms are keen to participate, but the government has not been willing to consider them as suppliers of major systems because they have no record of weapons production.

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