India bans import of US$47 bil defence items in buy-local push

Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh holds a model of a light machine gun during an expo in Lucknow in February. (AP pic)

NEW DELHI: India will stop importing more than 100 items used by its armed forces in a bid to boost local manufacturing.

The ban will be implemented gradually, starting with products like sniper rifles and light-combat helicopters in December 2020 and long range land-attack cruise missiles in December 2025, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement on Sunday.

Similar items worth 3.5 trillion rupees (US$47 billion) were imported between April 2015 and August 2020 and it is estimated that contracts worth almost 4 trillion rupees will be placed with domestic manufacturers within the next seven years, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in a series of tweets.

The Ministry of Defence is now ready for a big push to #AtmanirbharBharat initiative. MoD will introduce import embargo on 101 items beyond given timeline to boost indigenisation of defence production.

Faced with disruptions to raw material supplies from China because of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of job losses following a nationwide lockdown, and a severe erosion of public revenue as economic growth slumps, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ratcheted up calls to boost local manufacturing and reduce reliance on imports.

Many of the items on the embargo list – which includes communication satellites, conventional submarines and light machine guns – are in the research and development stage, said Laxman Kumar Behera, senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

“Importantly, while assuring Indian industry, the government has kept the door open for foreign collaboration for technology transfer,” Behera said by phone. “The move to stop imports is user driven, therefore there will be accountability.”

India in 2017 joined the US and China as one of the world’s five biggest military spenders, reflecting geopolitical tensions as well as the country’s reliance on imported weapons and sprawling personnel costs.

Some products may be more expensive when produced locally. For instance, the Su-30 Mki – mainstay Indian fighter jets – produced in Russia are cheaper than the ones produced in India.