NEW DELHI: Bureaucratic bottlenecks, long-winded procedures, commercial and technical wranglings, coupled with the lack of requisite political push and followthrough, have ensured that no major “Make in India” project in defence has actually kicked off in the last three years.
Stock-taking of half-a-dozen mega projects, collectively worth over Rs 3.5 lakh crore, shows they remain stuck at different stages without the final contracts being inked. They range from future infantry combat vehicles (FICVs), light utility helicopters and Naval multi-role choppers to new-generation stealth submarines, mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs) and fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA). The initial request for information (RFI) for another major ‘Make in India’ project, to manufacture 114 single-engine fighters in a second production line after indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, of course, is also about to be issued.
But though the Gripen-E (Sweden) and F-16 (US) jets are already in a dogfight to bag the estimated Rs 1 lakh crore contract, it’ll take years for indigenous production to take off. Defence ministry (MoD) officials contend minister Nirmala Sitharaman is holding meetings of the defence acquisitions council every fortnight, as also reviewing projects on a case-to-case basis, in a bid to break the bureaucratic and other logjams.
“These are big complex projects for a country which cannot even manufacture specialised ammunition. They will take some time,” said a senior official. Some steps have indeed been taken to boost the private sector’s role in defence production through “strategic partnership” and other policies, besides according top priority to “indigenous design, development and manufacturing (IDDM)” category in the Defence Procurement Procedure.
But India is still far away from reducing its strategically-vulnerable dependence on foreign military hardware and software. PM Modi’s talk of defence as the cornerstone of his “Make in India” thrust is also yet to translate into concrete reality.
The Rs 60,000 crore FICV project (see graphic), first approved in October 2009, for instance, remains deadlocked over whether two or all the five Indian private firms in the fray, apart from the Ordnance Factories Board, be asked to design and build prototypes. “Sitharaman is holding meetings to break the FICV logjam… It will be resolved soon,” said an official. Meanoffer,” said the source.
The FGFA project with Russia to co-develop and coproduce an Indian variant of its Sukhoi T-50 fighter, in turn, has taken a steep nose-dive after the IAF raised doubts about its stealth capabilities, engine performance, high cost and delivery time-frame. Under a 2010 pact, India and Russia conducted preliminary design work worth $295 million, but the final R&D and production contract has been hanging fire since then. It will take around $25 billion to make 127 such single-seat jets in India. “It will have to be a top political decision whether to go in for the FGFA project or junk it,” said a source.
Another project with Russia, the Rs 6,500 crore plan to manufacture 200 Kamov-226T light utility helicopters, is also in the doldrums despite an inter-governmental agreement in 2015. “The joint venture has been set up. But the request for proposal is yet to be issued to the JV to submit its techno-commercial offer,” said the source.