India has approved the purchase of over $8.5 billion worth of weapons in a move that many experts are saying is a gift for the growing domestic arms manufacturing industry. It also comes on the heels of a 13% increase in the defence budget, some of which was already marked for arms acquisition. India has been investing heavily in its domestic arms industry. In the past few months alone, we have seen it open one of the world’s largest helicopter factories, approve a home-built aircraft carrier, and expand weapons exports to include aircraft, ships and surveillance technology.
The current spending spree will all be local, according to the government, and the items being bought appear to reflect India’s recent focus shift towards modernising its air force and strengthening its navy, which is getting almost 80% of the new equipment in terms of its dollar value. The list of purchases approved included 200 BrahMos cruise missiles, 50 utility helicopters and electronics for the navy. The air force is getting more cruise missiles, while the Indian Army can expect over 300 new 155mm towed artillery guns, gun towing vehicles and several new jeep-style vehicles.
But the new spending is not just about supporting domestic industry. Even before the war in Ukraine, India had been trying to diversify its arms suppliers, as an overreliance on Russia had reportedly left it at a technological disadvantage to Pakistan’s much smaller military, and despite a shared rivalry with China, the US and other Western countries have been unwilling to sell India any cutting edge tech.
The expansion will also provide a reasonable boost to India’s economy and help expand its arms exports by granting more visibility to locally manufactured weapons. Still, the heavy spending is not about to win India any fans in its own neighbourhood. Not that the Modi government was trying — he has been prime minister for almost a decade and has been stoking flames with Pakistan and China for almost his entire term in office.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2023.
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