Prime Minister Atmanirbharta’s push for defense can lead to a sea change in our armed readiness
The contemporary battlefield is a complex mix of traditional and hybrid warfare. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has contributed enormously to shaping national security policy by reformulating security objectives and displaying a political will to bring about profound changes in security governance.
Modi’s approach is purely India-centric. One of his landmark achievements is the Atmanirbharat Bharat initiative. Launched in May 2020, it aims for India’s self-reliance in different sectors. As the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) has transformed the nature of warfare from mechanical to electronic, the importation of different systems makes security systems prone to various vulnerabilities like hacking.
The question of spare parts and path dependency creates new complications tactically and geopolitically. Complicating the issue are new hybrid warfare developments involving drones for drug and small arms trafficking, in addition to the malicious use of artificial intelligence (AI). Thus, the policy was well founded and was the need of the hour.
In 2020, when we were grappling with the Corona pandemic and its impact on supply chains in different sectors, PM Modi used the problem to find new opportunities and launched Atmanirbhar Bharat. Before formally formulating the policy, in 2018 the Prime Minister set up the Innovation for Defense Excellence (Idex) to create a defense and aerospace ecosystem that engaged R&D institutes, universities, industries and encouraged start-ups. These sectors could now deal directly with the armed forces via open challenges.
The Army Design Bureau is a facilitator and provides financial support to start-ups and MSMEs. Idex’s 100th contract has just been signed. Apart from allowing local businesses, it was a stepping stone towards civil-military fusion of India.
India’s defense exports have increased significantly from a mere ? As the number of successful case studies is impressive, it becomes relevant to highlight some achievements of PM Modi’s initiative in the defense sector.
From the development of small equipment like the P7 heavy drop system that helps deliver combat stores to areas inaccessible to the Vikrant aircraft carrier for the navy, Atmanirbhar Bharat is taking important steps. It is important to highlight the Prime Minister’s contribution to stopping the payment of royalties to Russia for technology transferred from the former Soviet Union and manufactured in India. For example, in the case of the T-72 tank, Prime Minister Modi himself brought the matter to the attention of President Vladimir Putin and the necessary was done successfully. This led to the Prime Minister issuing a list of items prohibited for defense imports in August 2020 and May 2021, with the third list being announced in April 2022. The positive list has currently banned the import of 310 items. The Indian Army is now equipped with the Ashlesha radar, primarily a “Low Level Light Radar” (LLLWR). The radar successfully detects multiple opponent objects like helicopters, fighters, and drones at low and medium altitudes and can be used in various terrains like plains, deserts, mountain tops, etc. He is currently assisting the country against the Chinese PLA on the northern and eastern borders.
The development of the AESA radar (Active Electronically Scanned Array) is an important development for the Air Force. Radar has enhanced India’s technical capability in electronic warfare, making the country the fifth in the world to possess such technology. The radar is 95% indigenous, with a single imported subsystem. Other necessary inductions such as LCA (Tejas), Astra Air to Air Missile, Akash Surface to Air Missile System and Light Combat Helicopter Systems accumulate the achievements of Atmanirbhar Bharat.
Given the PLAN threat, attempts are underway to upgrade naval facilities through Swavlamban (autonomy), focusing on the development of 75 indigenous technologies. Old electronic warfare platforms such as “Ajanta”, “Kite”, etc. have been improved and can now successfully detect the presence of enemy fighters without disclosing our location. The list is impressive, from the development of underwater sensors to the 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 stealthiness of the Indian Navy. The tactical importance of the submarine project can be established by the fact that even our closest partners like Russia and France have refused technology transfer of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology which allows submarines stay underwater longer. In this way, the financial and strategic interests of countries with a war economy can be determined.
Some critical but lesser-known indigenous productions of artificial intelligence (AI) are disguised facial recognition system, AI-based intercept management system (IMS) for western theater, detection and tracking system iSentinel threats and finally, swarm drones. These indigenous productions will redefine how we respond to Hybrid Warfare threats. The use of these technologies for the fight against terrorism will help bring peace to the country. Space was added as a new battlefield area, and in 2019, DRDO successfully conducted the Anti-Satellite Test (ASAT) by accurately hitting a target. Furthermore, under the Defense 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 priority areas.
In 2021, two Defense Industrial Corridors (DICs) have been established in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu to boost defense manufacturing to attract investment of Rs 10,000 Crore in each DIC.
The creation of the Defense Space Agency and the Armed Forces Special Operations Division apart from the post of Chief of the Defense Staff (CDS) with the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) to conduct operations joint ventures will ensure that the next 25 years will be an ‘Amrit Kaal’ for the Ministry of Defence. New challenges have been accepted. For example, Bhoomi, a BSF hackathon initiative, helped find solutions in tunnel detection and an anti-drone system.
The PM’s goal is to ensure that we are combat ready for the next war, be it conventional, electronic or even two-pronged. Soon, Atmanirbhar Bharat II in the defense sector will be unveiled, which will include reforms regarding the production of core technologies through a public-private partnership (PPP) mode. It will also liberalize product testing and certification, a change from past practices.
The above case studies are just a few policy contributions that the next generation should be aware of. Such achievements of the country should be incorporated into textbooks at different levels to inculcate a sense of nationalism and pride in addition to encouraging scientific temperament among budding scientists.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Central Punjab University, Bathinda)