Modi Bets Big On India’s ‘Low-Cost, High-Quality’ Defense Products For Global Exports

Indian PM Narendra Modi has reiterated India’s ambitions to become a global defense exporter. “The changing geopolitical reality is that many small nations are now worried about security.

They will look towards India as we have the strength of low-cost, high-quality production,” he said on Monday.

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“We are exporting to over 40 nations now. We now have to emerge as a global exporter,” Modi said at a webinar organized by the Department of Defense Production and Society of Indian Defense Manufacturers.

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh also highlighted during his address that ₹70,221 crore has been reserved in the defense budget for domestic procurement.

Earlier this month, India’s Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) had released a list of 156 pieces of defense equipment that was cleared for exports. The list includes 19 aeronautical systems, 41 armament and combat systems, 4 missile systems, 27 electronic and communication systems, 10 life protection items, 4 microelectronic devices, 28 naval systems, 16 Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) equipment, and 7 other materials.

Hallmarks of the Indian defense sector and some of the most advanced weapon systems such as BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, and the Combat Management System have been cleared for exports.

India is aiming for $5 billion of defense exports in the next five years although Indian products constitute less than 1 percent of the world’s total arms exports. The government has formed Defense Exports Promotion cell “to co-ordinate and follow-up on export-related action including inquiries received from various countries and facilitate private sector and public sector companies for export promotion”.

India has been among the biggest importers in the world but with the new government policies of self-reliance, things seem to be changing. According to reports, the exports of defense equipment have increased from 15.2 billion rupees in 2016-2017 to 107.5 billion rupees (roughly $1.5 billion) in 2018-2019.

In the recent past, India has exported HMS-X2 sonars to Myanmar, Cheetal helicopters to Afghanistan, Dhruv Helicopters and bulletproof jackets to Nepal, Sukhoi 30 avionics, and MIG spare parts to Malaysia, offshore patrol vessels to Mauritius, and spare parts for Jaguar aircraft to Oman.

Among the major contracts has been the supply of SWATHI Weapon Locating Radar to Armenia for $40 million. As per the agreement, India will supply four SWATHI weapon locating radars, which provide fast, automatic, and accurate location of enemy weapons like mortars, shells, and rockets in its 50-km range.

If compared to Tier-II arms exporting countries (China, Brazil, Turkey, and South Korea), India is still lagging behind, according to Prakash Panneerselvam, an assistant professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS).

“China, which was until recently one of the largest importers of defense equipment has become more self-reliant for its military needs and now delivers arms to 44 countries, mostly in Asia and Africa,” he writes.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile

However, the list of 42 nations that India is exporting to also includes big names such as the US, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, South Africa, and Sweden.

In 2020, Minister of State for Defence, Shripad Naik, had told Parliament that Indian defense product exports to Australia included 5.56x45mm Ball MK N(SS109) cartridges.

India has also exported protective headgear and hard armor plates to Azerbaijan, helmets, bomb suppression blanket, and soft armor panels to Germany, sleeping bags to Guinea, mortar shell covers to Israel, hard armor plates to the Netherlands and the US, radar parts, bulletproof vests and helmets with accessories to Singapore, detonators to South Africa, and night vision binoculars to Thailand.

In 2020, India had featured on the list of global arms exporters at number 23 by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Myanmar with 46% of exports, Sri Lanka at 25%, and Mauritius at 14% are among India’s biggest clients.

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