PM’s push for defence Atmanirbharta can bring about a sea change in our armed preparedness

by Nishtha Kaushiki

The contemporary battlefield is a complex mix of traditional and hybrid warfare. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has immensely contributed to the national security policymaking by reformulating the security objectives and displaying a political resolve to bring profound changes in security governance.

Modi’s approach is purely India centric. One of his landmark achievements is the initiative of Atmanirbharta Bharat. Launched in May 2020, it seeks India’s self-reliance in different sectors. As the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) has transformed the nature of wars from mechanical to electronic, the import of different systems makes the security systems prone to various vulnerabilities like hacking.

The issue of spare parts and path dependency creates new complications tactically and geopolitically. The problem gets complicated with the new developments in hybrid warfare involving drones for drug and small arms trafficking, apart from the malicious use of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Thus, the policy was well-founded and was the need of the hour.

In 2020, while we were grappling with the Corona pandemic and its impact on the supply chains in different sectors, PM Modi used the problem to find new opportunities and launched Atmanirbhar Bharat. Before officially formulating the policy, in 2018, the PM set up the Innovation for Defence Excellence (Idex) to create a defence and aerospace ecosystem that engaged the R&D institutes, academia, industries, and promoted start-ups. These sectors could now directly deal with the armed forces via open challenges.

The Army Design Bureau is a facilitator and provides financial support to start-ups and MSMEs. The 100th contract of Idex was recently signed. Apart from allowing the local firms, it was a stepping stone to India’s civil-military fusion.

India’s defence exports have increased considerably from a mere ?2,059 crore in 2015-16 to a whooping ?13,000 crore in 2021-22, with a rise of 54.1 per cent over the previous year. As the numbers of successful case studies are impressive, it becomes pertinent to highlight some achievements of PM Modi’s initiative in the defence sector.

From the development of small equipment like the P7 heavy drop system that helps deliver combat stores in inaccessible areas to aircraft carrier Vikrant for the Navy, Atmanirbhar Bharat is achieving significant milestones. It is important to highlight the contribution of the PM in stopping the payment of royalties to Russia for the technologies that were transferred by the former Soviet Union and were domestically manufactured in India. For example, in the case of the T-72 tank, PM Modi himself brought the issue to the notice of President Vladimir Putin and the needful was successfully done. This led the PM to bring out a list of banned items for defence imports in August 2020 and May 2021, with the third list announced in April 2022. The positive list currently has banned 310 items from being imported. The Indian army is now equipped with the Ashlesha radar, predominantly a ‘Low Level Lightweight Radar’ (LLLWR). The radar successfully detects multiple objects of the adversary like helicopters, fighters and UAVs at low and medium altitudes and can be used in diverse terrains like plains, deserts, mountain tops, etc. It is currently helping the country against the Chinese PLA on the Northern and Eastern borders.

Developing the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is an important development for the Air Force. The radar enhanced India’s technical capability in electronic warfare, making the country fifth in the world to possess such technology. The radar is 95 per cent indigenous, with only one subsystem imported. Other necessary inductions such as LCA (Tejas), Astra Air to Air missile, Akash Surface to Air missile system, and Light Combat Helicopter systems pile up the success stories of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Given the threat of PLAN, attempts are being made to upgrade the naval facilities through Swavlamban (self-reliance), focusing on developing 75 indigenous technologies. The past electronic warfare platforms such as ‘Ajanta’, ‘Kite’, etc., have been upgraded and can now successfully detect enemy combatants’ presence without disclosing our position. The list is impressive, from developing underwater sensors to electro-optical Fire Control System (FCS), a world-class Combat Management System (CMS) and ‘Battle Damage Control Systems’.

Moreover, ‘Project 75-India’ aims to build a series of future aircraft carriers and submarines that will qualitatively increase the stealth of the Indian Navy. The tactical importance of the submarine project can be ascertained from the fact that even our closest partners like Russia and France have refused the technology transfer of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology that allows the submarines to stay underwater for a longer duration. So, one can ascertain the financial and strategic interests of the countries with a war-based economy.

Some critical but lesser known indigenous productions in Artificial Intelligence (AI) are Face Recognition System under Disguise, AI-Based Intercept Management System (IMS) for the western theatre, iSentinel threat detection and tracking system and finally, the swarm drones. These indigenous productions will redefine how we respond to the threats of hybrid warfare. Using such technologies for counter-terrorism will help bring peace to the country. Space has been added as a new battlefield domain, and in 2019, DRDO successfully conducted the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test by accurately hitting a target. Further, under the Defence India Start-up Challenge 5.0, 35 areas such as cyber security, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented reality (AR) have been identified as focus areas.

In 2021, two Defence Industrial Corridors (DICs) were established in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to boost Defence manufacturing to attract investment of Rs 10,000 Crore in each DIC.

Creation of Defence Space Agency and Armed Forces Special Operations Division apart from the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with Department of Military Affairs (DMA) to conduct joint operations will ensure that the next 25 years would be an ‘Amrit Kaal’ for the Ministry of Defence. New challenges have been accepted. For instance, Bhoomi, a hackathon initiative of the BSF, contributed to finding solutions in tunnel detection and an anti-drone system.

The objective of the PM is to ensure that we are battle ready for the next war, be it conventional, electronic or even on two fronts. Soon, Atmanirbhar Bharat II in the Defence sector will be unveiled, which will include reforms regarding the production of core technologies via a public-private partnership (PPP) mode. It will also liberalise the testing and certification of products, a shift from the past practices.

The aforementioned case studies are just a few contributions of the policy that the upcoming generation needs to be told. Such achievements of the country should be incorporated into the school textbooks at different levels to inculcate a feeling of nationalism and pride apart from encouraging the scientific temper amongst the budding scientists.

The author is Assistant Professor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda

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