Pragmatic Approach to Procurement for the Indian Armed Forces
Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty
Chinese Threat

China remains an enigma and it is extremely difficult to predict its behaviour. The recently concluded G-20 summit was not attended by the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the overall attitude remains hostile to India. The bilateral between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping on 23 August 2023 at Johannesburg was a meeting where India’s concern on the unresolved issues along the Line of Actual (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh, underlining that maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas was essential for normalisation of India China ties. The Chinese President stressed that improving China India relations serves the common interests of the two countries and peoples. It is also conducive to peace, stability and development of the world and the region. He opined that the two sides should bear in mind the overall interests of their bilateral relations and handle properly the boundary question so as to jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas. These were friendly statements, unfortunately nothing of it has percolated to the lower level.

It is in this context that we have to go back to 01 August 2023 when Xi Jinping at the 96th Anniversary of the PLA told China’s Armed Forces to speed up modernisation. In no uncertain terms, Xi said the military must broaden its combat capability to undertake diversified military tasks. Though China’s White Papers always state their attitude of being peaceful and defensive, the intents appear to be deceptive. About 10 years ago a Hong Kong based daily Wen Wei Po had stated about the ‘Six Wars’ which China would have to fight in the next 50 years to achieve its goal. These are as elucidated as:-

  • Unification of Taiwan which was expected to take place between 2020 to 2025. It is now expected around 2027 -2028.
  • Capture of Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, possibly a few years later, maybe 2029 to 2032.
  • Reconquest of Southern Tibet (Arunachal), possibly by 2037 to 2042.
  • Capture of Diaoyu Island and Ryukyu island, between 2042 and 2047.
  • Unification of Outer Mongolia, between 2048 to 2053.
  • Military recapture of territory lost to Russia between 2057 and 2062.

The current internal situation in China is grim. There is political uncertainty, economic problems and climatic challenges which create a situation similar to 1962 when Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ had failed. History teaches when a great power has internal problems, it turns to external conflicts. Keeping this aspect under consideration, to a great extent these timelines make sense and it is definitely a wake-up Call to the entire Indo-Pacific region to modernise with speed and military precision. As far as India is concerned, we have 15 years to modernise our Armed Forces to counter China’s offensive designs.

Accelerating the Pace of Modernisation

The Indian Armed Forces have often been described as a first-rate military that needs modernisation. The process of modernisation started after the Kargil conflict in 1999. It has been continuing through a deliberate procurement process initiated by the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DPP). India remained the world’s largest importer of arms for the five-year period between 2018-22 even though according to the Swedish think tank the Stockholm international Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), its arms imports dropped by 11 percent between 2013-17and 2018-22. Russia was the largest supplier of arms to India during both 2013-2017 and 2018-2022, but its share of total arms fell from 64 percent to 45 percent while France emerged as the second largest supplier. Over the last four to five years, India has implemented a variety of steps to increase defence self-reliance.

It is now 21 years since the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) was promulgated to enhance self-reliance in defence manufacturing. The current step was the introduction of Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020. With the aim of making India a global defence manufacturing hub, the DAP was released by the Raksha Mantri on 28 September 2020. In comparison to the preceding DPP of 2016, the DAP 2020 lays down the procedure for improving the indigenous content of defence products. Further, the next aspect pertains to the Long Term Integrated Perspective Planning (LTIPP) which has been renamed as Integrated Capability Defence Plan (ICDP) which would cover a period of 10 years instead of 15 years. In addition, the Offset Policy was modified to ensure that transfer of technology and trials are rationalised to physical evaluation of the core operational parameters.

In order to develop India into global manufacturing hub, provisions have been incorporated to a new Category of ‘Buy (Global - Manufactured in India)’ option to encourage companies from abroad to set up manufacturing through subsidiaries in India. To promote India’s cause and make it Atmanirbhar, categories like ‘Buy (Indian, Indigenously Developed and Manufactured-IDDM) would be open only for Indian vendors with not more than 49 percent Foreign Direct Investment.

To promote indigenous defence production, the Ministry of Defence is notifying, from time to time, lists of equipment under import ban. Steps have been taken to promote manufacture of parts in India by establishment of co-production facilities through Inter Government Agreements. There have been four lists announced so far. The first was in December 2021, the second in March 2022, the third one in August 2022 and the latest one in May 2023. The first three lists comprise 1238 items and the latest list contains 928 items. The lists include line-replacement units, sub-systems and spares. Public Sector Units will undertake indigenisation through different routes under the ‘Make Category’ and in-house developments.

In addition to the DAP 2020, there are three other initiatives on improving domestic defence production. First is the ‘Innovations for Defence Excellence (IDEX)’. Taking the IDEX initiative further, a ‘Defence India Startup Challenge’ has been launched by the Defence Ministry in partnership with ‘Atal Innovation Mission’ which is aimed at supporting Startups and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSEME) in creating prototypes. This initiative is being scaled up to engage with 300 more Startups and develop 60 new protypes by 2025. Then there is the ‘Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP 2020)’ to enhance defence production and improve defence exports to Rs 35,000 crore by 2025. The third one is the ‘Mission Raksha Gyan Shakti’, launched in the year 2018 by the Ministry of Defence with the objective of creating Intellectual Properties (IP) in the defence production eco-system, that would lead to higher number of patents registered by the Public Sector Units.

What is our Current State?

While by the push given by the Government, all out efforts are being made to modernise our Armed Forces, it is important to look holistically at the success achieved so far. Details are as under; items listed are a mix bag of foreign and indigenous equipment:-

  • Currently, India has only two dedicated military satellites – the GSAT-7 (Rukmini) and GSAT-7A (Angry Bird) used by the Indian Navy and the Air Force respectively. The GSAT-7 B satellite would be provided to the Indian Army, needed for real-time functionality.
  • India currently has two aircraft carriers, INS Vikrant and INS Vikramaditya. The Navy has announced that it would need a third aircraft carrier. Time lines have not been announced.
  • India currently has two nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). For an effective triad need three SSBNs are needed. The proposal is to construct four of these.
  • There are 68 ships on order which will take our net tally to about 165 which does not favourably compare with Chinese Navy which has 556 ships.
  • The Indian Air Force has currently 32 Squadrons of fighter aircraft and would reach 35 to 36 Squadrons by 2030. An order of 83 Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas Mk 1A is already in place. The long-term plans are for Tejas MK2 and six squadrons of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). It is pertinent to note that Tejas Mk 2 and the 5th generation AMCA are still in the design phase. India in agreement with the US will manufacture GE F 404 engine in HAL Bangalore for our Tejas aircraft. Notably, with all these inductions, the Airforce would continue to bank upon one single agency, the Hindustan aeronautics Limited (HAL), for production of fighter aircraft.
  • The Army has numerous items on the modernisation list covering infantry equipment, surveillance equipment, light tanks, air defence guns, long range artillery, drones, rockets, missiles.
  • The seven new defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) formed following a restructuring of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) in 2021 have been doing adapting to their new roles. However, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence headed by Jual Oram stated that if not better utilised these will experience a steep decline in their production skills in the next five years. There is a need for these companies to be promoted abroad to ensure their manufacturing skills are retained and their capacity utilised.
  • Defence exports for 2022-23 have skyrocketed to an all time high, touching nearly the Rs 15,920 crores in the Financial Year 2022-23. According to the Ministry of Defence, exports include Akash, BrahMos, Pinaka missiles, Dornier-228 aitcraft, thermal imagers, 155 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Guns (ATAGs), radars, simulators, body armours , mine protected vehicles etc. Despite all this the share of exports from the nine Defence PSUs has considerably reduced. On the other hand, there is a quantum jump with regard to private manufacturers though that needs to be increased in magnitude.
  • The Indian Army as well as the other two services are to create specialised units to strengthen their cyber security capabilities, defend net works and counter threats in the key domains of Cyber Warfare. While China is a leader on Offensive Cyber Warfare based on Artificial Intelligence, we have yet to progress in this field.

The obvious observation is that we are on our way forward. Yet, a lot needs to be done. It is pertinent to note that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) issued its findings in a report in June 2023. As per the report, China leads in 19 of 23 key categories including some that play major roles in its push for military prominence in the Indo–Pacific and beyond. China has a commanding lead in many of the military capabilities over the US - in hypersonics, electronic warfare and key undersea capabilities. The leads are so emphatic that they pose a significant risk of China dominating the future technological break throughs in these areas. In the field of hypersonics, China claims more than 73 percent of all high impact research on hypersonics. There are also the areas where US has an edge. These are the Autonomous Systems, Quantum Computing, certain areas of Artificial Intelligence and protective Cyber Security. However, there are also the conflicting reports which put China ahead of the US in many more areas.

What do We Do ?

Under the present circumstances, we are doing our best with regards to defence technology, but we still remain at the ‘catch-up’ stage. We have not yet moved into the ‘innovative stage’ into which China has confidently entered. We can prevent China from its offensive affliction only by developing own military capabilities and so improve our deterrence, both by denial and punishment. That would be possible only through accelerated military modernisation.

Possible method to undertake such accelerated modernisation is possible by undertaking certain measures as enumerated below:-

  • Modernisation of the Armed Forces be given the highest priority.
  • The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) of the Ministry of Defence should be entrusted the task of accelerated modernization and pragmatic approaches to procurements.
  • Each Service should enumerate their most essential assets. For example, some of these could be the state-of-the-art fourth/fifth generation fighter jets, helicopters, hypersonic missiles, drones, aircraft carries, submarines, tanks, gun, rockets and even Direct Energy Weapons.
  • The procurement should be a specialised process akin to those applicable to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • The private players have to be provided a balanced playing field.
  • The entire process must be monitored by the DMA. The DRDO, PSUs as also the private industry must be taken on board.

The obvious issue that strikes is that do we have examples we can follow or improve upon? There are a few as elucidated below:-

  • BrahMos. The BrahMos Super Sonic Cruise Missile is a project which is a Joint venture between the DRDO and Russia India. The project has succeeded due to its flexibility in dealing with our eco-system. Apart from the public entities, 260 private firms are involved with the project. The system has been exported to The Philippines and is likely to find orders from many other countries.
  • Pinaka. The Multiple Rocket Launcher with an enhanced range of 60 km is a joint collaboration between the DRDO, Tatas and the L&T companies. The ammunition is manufactured by Defence PSU Yantra India Limited. The equipment is performing well in the Indian Army and has been exported to Armenia.
  • ATAGS. The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) is a joint collaboration between the DRDO and private partners Bharat Forge and Tata Power. It is an excellent weapon system which has successfully completed trials and would soon be inducted.
  • Apart from this, the K-9 Vajra gun system built by the L& T, and the M-777 Ultra-Light Howitzer which is a joint venture between Mahindra and BAE System, are excellent products developed within the time lines.

As would be observed, all these projects are collaboratively driven by the private sector. Similarly, if aircraft manufacturer HAL shares its orders for fighter jets and helicopters with the Tatas or other private players, these would be better and timely met. In the field of ship-building, the L&T has collaborated in construction of submarines and other war ships.

Two other aspects of extreme importance are the Cyber and Artificial Intelligence. There are many private players who are experts in these fields and would be able to meet our requirements with speed and alacrity. Right now, our focus is on Cyber Defence and to attain effective deterrence we need to employ people from the private sector.

Task Force

The Ministry of Defence needs to get the DMA to constitute a Task Force to undertake these tasks. It is recommended that it could be headed by a two-star flag officer with representatives from the three Services and the DRDO. These representatives could be termed the ‘Sherpas’ of procurement. They representatives must have direct access to the CDS, Defence Secretary and Raksha Mantri. That might clear all hurdles to work in a seamless manner with the Services, DRDO, PSUs and the private sector. That would also be able to innovate and accelerate our defence procurements. The details can be worked out at the DMA.


The Chinese threat is a wake-up call for the nation to modernise its Armed Forces at the earliest. Modernisation being a complex process, it needs innovative processes to accelerate. The methods suggested should enable us to speed up our system.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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