India is finally moving towards its much-needed indigenisation drive in the defence sector. One of the major developments that pushed the 15 year ‘Naval Indigenisation Plan’ took place with ICGS Vikram hitting the New Mangalore Port.
ICGS Vikram, 98.2 metre long and 15 metre wide vessel, has been designed and built indigenously by the Larsen and Toubro. It marked a new development as it is one of the first in the class of seven new generation Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) contracted by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in March 2015, under its programme Make in India for defence.
With the changing security environment in Indian Ocean regions and security apprehensions projected by security analysts, it is quite evident that India needs to now move aggressively towards modernising its naval forces. However it should be stimulated by a healthy ratio of external and internal compatibility in order to move towards a sustainable model of modernising the overall defence capabilities.
Though the government of the day has taken special efforts to boost the indigenisation program, but India still remains one of the largest importers of defence equipment. There are two major challenges that are faced by the naval forces, in context to indigenisation, such as budget constraints (high maintenance cost) and secondly, lack of technological capability.
Nirmala Sithraman, while addressing the top Indian naval commanders, at the biannual naval commanders’ conference in New Delhi, stated that the government will work closely on addressing crucial capability gaps handicapping the naval forces. It is evident from the long-term capability acquisition plans of the navy that have been formulated with a strategic view of the Indo-Pacific security dynamics.
While discussing the urgent need for approval of second indigenous aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy it was notified that this project, along with the other shipbuilding projects, are already in the pipeline. The project included the Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs), Landing Platform Dock (LPD), Anti-Submarine Shallow Water Craft, Diving Support Vessels and Survey Vessels, which are expected to provide a major thrust to the ‘Make-in-India’ initiative of the government.
The challenge of building technological capability is more important than budget constraints, as it has affected and if not urgently addressed, is bound to further affect our defence capabilities in the long run.
There needs to be a two-way approach in dealing with the challenge. One must focus on identifying the crucial areas that need immediate attention in terms of upgrading and adding capabilities to prioritise the plans. It can be achieved by associating with private companies for knowledge and technology transfer. Simultaneously, we need to work on imbibing a culture of investing more in research and development of defence technology. We also need to direct the young talent towards defence technology and build-in incentives. The current talent can be retained by boosting career opportunities in the private sector.
Private companies like Tata Group, Adani Group, Larsen and Toubro, Godrej Aerospace, Reliance and so on have showed immense interest in developing defence abilities. They are also building associations with the top foreign companies such as Mashinostroyeniya, Almaz-Antey, Saab, Lockheed, IMI, Singapore Technologies and Rheinmetall Defence to name a few that have already taken a leap. This indicates that we are on the right direction, in context to the first approach. However, we also need to simultaneously invest in intensifying the knowledge structure on the same.