Do we have heavy dependence on obsolete technologies? 

Ritu Kochar
Saturday, 29 September 2018

India has been the largest arms purchaser in the world not only for the past five years but also from the beginning of this century. India is followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, China, Australia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Indonesia as the world’s top arms importers. 

As a nationalist feeling flows through the world with long-standing leaders such as Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin, Chinese Premier Xi enjoying their abiding reign, there is an increased focus on military and artillery developments globally. 

Even the global arms and military services sales rose for the first time in 2018 since 2010, with India emerging as the world’s fifth largest military spender after US Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia. However, the point is not to just procure expensive artillery by any means to maintain regional dominance. India needs to invest judiciously to grow a strong security system inside the country and our very volatile borders, with a focus on continuous technological advancements to promote in-house production.

Especially amidst a scenario when the nation witnesses the unfolding of Rafale deal and Army chief’s continuous warnings that India should prepare for a two-front war with China and Pakistan. Today, India spends about $ 62.8 bn on military accounting for 12.1 per cent of the total Union government expenditure for 2018-19. 

Our military expenditure is also higher than the global average, which is equivalent to 3.3 per cent of the global GDP. Even our imports have skyrocketed in the past five years, making India the world’s largest importer, single-handedly buying 12 per cent of the global total. India’s arms import has increased 24 per cent in the past five years compared with the previous five years. 

In fact, India has been the largest arms purchaser in the world not only for the past five years but also from the beginning of this century. India is followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, China, Australia, Algeria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Indonesia as the world’s top arms importers. Since 2000, India has brought arms worth $46.8 billion compared with China’s $35 billion. This an interesting development which has both good and bad repercussions for the country. 

So who are our benevolent importers?

Russia remains India’s biggest seller of weaponry with 62 per cent imports, a situation likely to remain in the foreseeable future as it’s been the largest defence supplier to India since the 1960s when the MiG-21 supersonic fighter jets were brought to equip the Indian Air Force. India has acquired a total of 1200 MiG 21s.

Looking to diversify and expand its arms, Russia has been steadily losing market share in India to Western suppliers. The USA replaced Israel as the second largest importer (15 per cent) and has also increased its arms sales rapidly recording over 550 per cent growth in 2013-17 compared with the previous five years, leaving behind Uzbekistan, Britain, and Israel. In 2014, the US even supplanted Russia as a top weapons supplier, with the total value of US imports increasing from $200 million in 2009 to $2 billion in 2014.

On this SIPRI says, “Arms transfers are often used as a US foreign policy tool to forge new strategic partnerships. As part of its efforts to offset China’s growing influence in Asia and Oceania, for example, the US has strengthened its ties with India. Its arms deliveries to India rose by 557% between 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. The US defence contractor Boeing alone has won bids to supply the Indian military with 10 C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft (worth $4.1 billion), eight P-8I maritime patrol aircraft (worth $2.1. billion), 22 AH-64E Apache, and 15 CH-47F Chinook helicopters.”

Israel has moved up to the third spot accounting for 11 per cent of India’s imports during 2013-17 while imports from Britain fell to 3.2 per cent of the total during the last five years. 

France has moved up to the fourth spot accounting for 4.6 per cent of India’s imports during the last five years, an increase of 572 per cent compared to just 0.8 per cent. The very famous Rafale deal (contract for the sale of 36 ready-to-fly Rafale fourth-generation multirole fighter jets to the Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of $9 billion) by French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, has been a bone of contention for India. 

However, India’s dependency has turned toxic and when a country’s security is focused on buying more arms, this strategy rather buys more insecurity and vulnerabilities. Just acquiring more weapons does not ensure security and peace. Rather, it puts the country under a competitive pressure to buy more weapons at a cheaper price, which is a major compromise of security. 

In a situation of crisis like a war, if any of these imported aircraft or missiles are damaged, we will have to wait for replacements from other countries, which is not a plausible way to manage the defence of the country. Also, many of these technologies obsolete and need replacements anyway. France’s Rafale itself is a 10-year-old aircraft, Russia’s MiG 21s was built in the 1960s, which means the basic aircraft technology is more than 50 years old. This aircraft has been involved in numerous accidents claiming more than 200 lives since 1970. Even the submarines from Russia commissioned in 1982, with a life-span of 25 years, were meant to be replaced by 2007, but India is still using them.

The problem here is that India lacks a defence industry of its own sufficient to meet its external challenges and to keep pace with its expanding strategic interests. It needs to modernise immediately and put some light and force into the indigenous defence industry. 

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