‘Make in India’: A Catalyst to Strategic Autonomy

If India looks to retain strategic autonomy without binding alliance then India has no option but to become a regional dominant power. Current push of the Government towards indigenous defence production is a welcome step towards self-sustainable technological advancements and economic growth and it needs to be taken forward.

Issue: 6 / 2019By Lt General Abhay Krishna (Retd)
The Author had commanded the South Western, the Eastern and the Central Commands before retiring from the India Army on September 30, 2019.

 

Rising Blocs

In the current changing global security dynamics where two blocs are clearly seen emerging, then to maintain a strategic autonomy without getting into any binding alliance is not an easy option for any country which shares a geographical land or water segment with either bloc. The Strait of Malacca is one of the most critical shipping lanes in the world linking the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Similarly, on the western side Strait of Hormuz is the only sea passage to the oil and gas rich Nations of Persian Gulf. These two acts as strategic choke points in the energy transportation. Indian Ocean Region where all these joins and through which the world trade is carried out by both major and minor economic powers, thus undoubtedly has a great strategic relevance in today’s unfolding global security scenario.

It wasn’t surprising that General M.M. Naravne immediately on taking over the reins of the Indian Army emphasised on focussing towards capability development on Northern Borders. Undoubtedly in the recent years China has always kept Indian Army’s attention drawn and focussed on the Northern Borders by attempting shallow incursions on and off. However, somehow not much has been heard about gradual increasing presence of China in the Indian Ocean. Though we have quite a few run ins but there is no compelling evidence yet to suggest that the Chinese Navy has engaged in overtly aggressive military activities as Beijing feigns innocence and plays down the incidents. However, this does not ensure that there is no intention to do it in the future. Till few years ago China projected itself as a rising economic power but was evasive when queried about their naval power. But now it is certainly not so.

Trade and energy dominance by power blocs is largely dependent on reliable and secure oil and gas supply, the bulk of which goes through the Indian Ocean region. Any blockage, therefore will lead to threatening the global or the regional economy. Thus, overpowering security concerns of Nations related to protecting their major trade route through Indian Ocean region involving transportation of goods and energy commodities like oil, coal and natural gas have served to enhance the military presence of major world powers in the Indian Ocean region.

Deep into Blue Waters

However, under the prevailing circumstances covering the maritime domain from Chabahar, Gwadar, Hambantota, Chittagong to Strait of Malacca, China’s assertiveness in the Indian Ocean Region is not likely to put India’s maritime security in jeopardy in the immediate future but no sooner than later India will be compelled to face this challenge, besides tackling presence of other powers too in the region.

India undoubtedly enjoys a geographical advantage because of the peninsular India jutting deep into Indian Ocean which not only acts like an unsinkable aircraft carrier giving much needed reach to own air force but also provides avenues for widely spread large number of naval bases in all three directions thus retaining the capability to concentrate its forces jointly with Air Force and isolate and check the intruders assertiveness or any developing maritime threat.

Defence Superiority

India has always been wary of forming any military alliance and prefers to maintain strategic autonomy. For avoiding getting into any binding alliance India has no option but to grow her military capability in terms of technology and become selfreliant in defence production. “It is well said that when nations go to war, the one with best technology is most likely to win. This was evident even during the times of Anglo-Mysore wars when the innovation in military use of rockets instilled fear in the minds of the British by Mysore rulers of this region” asserted our Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh soon after flying a sortie in Tejas at Bengaluru. He further added, “India needs to focus more on research and development (R&D) and innovation as it will help the country in becoming self-reliant in defence production.”

The Year 2018 was an eventful year when MoD, GoI took policy decision to set up two Defence Production Corridors, one each in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Undoubtedly these initiatives will go a long way in making India self-reliant in defence production through ‘Make in India’ initiative thereby providing the necessary longawaited cutting edge to our armed forces over the adversaries. The 10th edition of biennial ‘Defence Expo’ was organised in April 18 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu where the tag line of the event was, “India: The Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub.” The next DefExpo is now scheduled at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in February 2020. There is always a nagging worry that cost of military import bill drills a big hole in the nation’s budget basket and thus procurement plan more often than not gets restricted to meeting ‘minimum essential requirement’ only. Hence indigenisation is imperative – beg borrow or steal as the saying goes – but “develop indigenously” should be our mantra. Defence Production should not only aim at becoming not only self-reliant but also an arms exporter because only an economically sound India can achieve defence superiority.

Youth Connect

It goes without saying that India has the capability, both manpower and technology wise as also whatever it takes to make a country visible and respectable in the world. Current push of the Government towards indigenous defence production is a welcome step towards self-sustainable technological advancements and economic growth and it needs to be taken forward. It will provide opportunity and challenges to our youth within the national arena. This will increase job opportunities and curtail the brain drain. Incentive to Indian industry for defence production will provide umpteen opportunities to our youth to initiate various start-ups and open up avenues for the innovative minds to contribute towards national growth. “The Defence Ministry would fund 250 start-ups, 16 personal initiatives and five defence innovation hubs through the defence innovation organisation in five years,’’ said our Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh while addressing a business seminar ‘India Rising’, organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce at the Defence & Security Exhibition 2019. He further added that under the draft Defence Production policy 2018, the Indian Government eyes $5 billion defence exports by 2025.

India has always been wary of forming any military alliance and prefers to maintain strategic autonomy. For avoiding getting into any binding alliance India has no option but to grow her military capability in terms of technology and become self-reliant in defence production.

The time is, therefore, ripe for all of us to commence a process to reach out to younger generations, that right eye at the right time starting from senior classes in school to colleges, young entrepreneurs, industries and business houses and provide them the avenues to get requisite exposure to unfolding global security scenario, how it impacts us, capability of our armed forces beyond the borders, defence production, modernisation, technology, defence economy, ‘Make in India’ initiatives and industry opportunities available. This exposure will not only help our youth to develop a deep sense of responsibility towards the nation but also make them understand the burgeoning job opportunities that is going to be available with the Government’s push towards defence production and move towards self-sustainability in research and development of new technology and weaponry. Understanding the initiatives of our Government like, ‘Make in India,’ ‘Start-up India’ and ‘Atal Innovation Mission,’ will help our young generation to connect with the upcoming 250 start ups and defence manufacturing industries and opening up of enormous opportunities of employment and growth in the field of defence manufacturing. The increase in awareness will motivate the younger generation to work in the field and come up with innovative solutions for the same through R&D, thus contributing towards ‘Make in India’ and establishing a robust military industrial complex. This in turn will also not only earn revenue but also encourage participation with a sense of ownership.”

One Path – One Motive

If the Decisive Government of India looks at retaining strategic autonomy without binding alliance then India has no option but to become a regional dominant power beyond the confines of the Western and Northern land borders and extend into deep blue waters to be able to not only protect own trade and energy interests but also dominate the strategic sea lanes in our own Indian Ocean region. Thus, the newly appointed CDS has to play a vital role in balancing the larger picture through the combined prism of all three services vis-à-vis nation’s longterm strategic goal and available resources. Defence superiority can only be built over a period of time through building a strong defence economy and self-reliance in defence sector. The process has finally taken off. We need to maintain the momentum connecting the young generation with a long-term strategic vision and detailed road map irrespective of who’s in charge.

Summary

If India looks to retain strategic autonomy without binding alliance then India has no option but to become a regional dominant power beyond the confines of the Western and Northern land borders and extend into deep blue waters to be able to not only protect own trade and energy interests but also dominate the strategic sea lanes of the Indian Ocean region. Current push of the Govt towards indigenous defence production is a welcome step towards selfsustainable technological advancements and economic growth and it needs to be taken forward.