Singh said that the Air Force is a “technologically advanced and extremely potent force”. He added that the “recent offensive against terror outfits in our neighbourhood speaks volumes about the reach and lethality of the formidable arm of the Indian Armed Forces”. The Air Force, he said, “besides Army and Navy, needs to keep pace with the advancements in technology for enhancing operational capabilities”.
Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Indian Air Force on its modernisation and indigenisation plans the Defence Minister made a case for foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to produce in India and also announced that private companies will be able to now use government facilities for testing. He said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “emphasised the need for modernisation of our armed forces” and said that “efforts are being made to increase the participation of the private sector for Make in India in the Defence sector”.
Announcing the government’s approval “for use of test facilities of government entities for the private industry to meet the best quality standards required for defence manufacturing” Singh said that the decision was taken “after incorporating the comments of the stakeholders particularly indigenous defence manufacturers”. He hoped, Singh said, that the “synergy between government’s efforts and industry participation will help fulfill the long-cherished dream of making India a frontrunner in defence production”.
He said that India “continues to be one of the largest importers of the defence equipment” and said that there is a “sizeable dependency on OEMs for their subsystems and components”. He said that “progressively” reducing the “dependence on foreign manufacturers” and to “double up comprehensive capabilities ourselves” was the need of the hour.
The Defence Minister mentioned several steps taken by the Union Government for “effective participation of the private” players for “indigenous development and manufacture of defence equipment”. He also stressed on the “government’s commitment to resolving any outstanding issue in the way of growth and development of indigenous industries in defence sector” and also asked private companies to “invest for long term gains”.
Urging the foreign OEMs to “establish manufacturing facilities in India” Singh said that they can come using the route of Foreign Direct Investment, joint ventures or through defence offsets. The process of defence offset implementation, the minister said, “has been streamlined and one of the major demands of the industry to reinstate the provision of services for discharge of offsets has now been provided”
He also stated that the defence products list for issuing industrial licenses under Industry Development and Regulation Act has also been revised, and “entry barriers for the industry especially the small and medium segment” have been reduced. The validity of the industrial license, he said, has been increased to 15 years from three years, with the provision to extend it by three years “on a case-to-case basis”.
Speaking at the same event Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said that Indian Air Force was still flying aircraft that are about 44 years old. He said, “It goes to the credit of our maintenance engineers that today I can still fly the MIG 21MF aircraft which is almost 44 years old. I am sure none of you are driving a car of that vintage.” He later added that “hopefully, I will fly the last sortie in September, subject to visibility”.
India had “indigenised many of the sub-assemblies” over a period of time and have “innovated” to substitute “many components that have gone out of manufacture across the world because of obsolescence”, Dhanoa said.
“While inductions of new equipment and upgradation of legacy fleets is an ongoing process, indigenisation also needs to continue to ensure self reliance in manufacturing defence equipment,” the chief of the Air Force said.
He also pointed out that the “5th Generation fighters are a reality and the next generation fighter is already on the drawing board” and warned that in a such a case, with an ageing fleet, “can we afford a victory that may turn out to be Pyrrhic” he asked.
“If there is no war, we cannot wait for indigenous technology to replace obsolete war fighting equipment. Neither will it be prudent to import every defence equipment.”
He added that the country is “replacing our high end obsolete weapons with indigenously developed ones” which will “boost our in-house defence manufacturing”. But, he emphasised, that “to win the war, we need to purchase high end equipment” as it will “give us a balanced Air Force with the long term aim of being able to develop and manufacture state of art aircraft and weapon systems”.
Dhanoa warned that quality control in manufacturing “ails our indigenous drive” and though it has improved over the years, but “we have miles to go”.