The defence ministry’s second arms embargo list — or the ‘second positive indigenization list’ as it is now called — includes only a few fully-formed weapon systems, platforms and sensors.
These include next-generation corvettes, single-engine light helicopters, AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) systems, medium-power radars for mountains, land-based MRSAM (medium-range surface-to-air missile) systems, mini fixed-wing UAVs, battlefield surveillance radars, anti-material rifles and infantry mine-protected combat vehicles.
The bulk of the list, however, includes sub-systems, peripherals, accessories and some types of ammunition. They range from steering gear for warships, thermal imaging sights for small arms and fire detection-suppression systems for tanks to air conditioning plants for submarines, high-altitude water-purification systems and drop-tanks for Jaguar and Mirage-2000 fighters.
Much like the first list, which in August last year banned imports of 101 items in the 2020-2025 timeframe, the second one also includes many products that are already being produced or are in the R&D or trials phase in India. This, in effect, negates the need to import them.
The MoD itself acknowledged, “The second list lays special focus on weapons/systems which are currently under development/trials and are likely to translate into firm orders in the future. Like the first list, import substitution of ammunition which is a recurring requirement has been given special focus.”
Take, for instance, the land-based MRSAM (medium-range surface-to-air missile) systems, which are designed to destroy hostile aircraft, missiles and drones, in the second list. A joint Israel Aerospace Industries-DRDO project has been underway for some years to produce such systems for the Army at an initial cost of Rs 16,830 crore after similar projects for Navy and IAF.
Similarly, a Rs 10,990 crore DRDO project to build six advanced AEW&C aircraft, which act as “eyes in the sky”, for the IAF got the initial nod in December last year. The DRDO had earlier built three `Netra’ AEW&C aircraft.
“The armed forces also do not want single-engine light helicopters for safety reasons any longer. The Navy, in turn, has no plans to import next-generation corvettes because virtually all its warships are now built in India. The list seems to be more of a cosmetic exercise,” said an officer.
The MoD, however, contended the list not only “recognizes the potential of the local defence industry”, but will also “invigorate impetus” to domestic R&D by attracting fresh investment into technology and manufacturing capabilities.
The notification of the second list, approved by defence minister Rajnath Singh, “will give further boost to indigenization, with active participation of public and private sector for fulfilling the twin objectives of achieving self-reliance and promoting defence exports”.
Jayant D Patil, president of the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM), in turn, said, “The second list is another testament of the confidence placed by the government and the armed forces on the industry to deliver cutting-edge defence technology for India’s security requirements.”