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7 big-ticket ‘Make in India’ defence projects that have failed to get off the ground

Projects like fighter aircraft for the IAF, submarines and choppers for the Navy and assault rifles for all armed forces have been stuck for years.

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New Delhi: India this week came out with a negative import list for defence equipment, ostensibly to boost the ‘Make in India’ programme.

However, a look at some big-ticket ‘Make in India’ projects does not inspire confidence — most projects begun in the last six years under the Narendra Modi administration, or even those dating back two decades, have failed to get off the ground.

Here are some major initiatives that have been stuck for years.

Also read: India’s negative defence import list has some hits, some misses & quite a bit of confusion

Fighter jets

In 2001, the Indian Air Force initiated the process for the induction of new fighters. The plan was to start making the French aircraft Mirage 2000 in India.

Mirage’s original manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, had offered to shift the assembly line of the aircraft from France to India.

It had, at the time, decided to shut down the Mirage line to pave the way for Rafale fighter jets.

By 2004, India had decided to float a global tender for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) rather than manufacture the Mirage 2000. It was only in 2007 that a global Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued, in which the Rafale emerged as the winner in 2012.

However, with negotiations going nowhere, the Modi government went in for 36 Rafale fighters to be bought off the shelf.

The plan was to then bring out a tender for 114 fighters, which would be manufactured in India. But a tender is yet to be issued.

Technically, the plan to manufacture a modern fighter aircraft has been pending since 2001. This project is expected to cost over Rs 1.5 lakh crore.

Six conventional submarines with new technology

This project, P75I, was first accorded sanction by the defence ministry in 2007, but is still to get started.

The procurement of the six diesel-electric submarines with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system also figures in the negative import list put out by the defence ministry.

A formal tender under strategic partnership is expected to be issued soon, and the frontrunners for this contract are state-run Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited and private player Larsen & Toubro.

Light utility helicopters — Kamov

The Modi government announced a mega deal for 200 Kamov 226T choppers to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet in 2015, but it’s far from complete.

The main issues are cost and indigenisation, sources said.

The India-Russia joint venture set up to make the light utility choppers in India is not expected to meet the 70 per cent indigenous content requirement.

Assault rifles

This was supposed to be a mega order for the armed forces, which have been struggling to replace their INSAS rifles for over two decades.

When the deal was first announced in 2018, there was a lot of excitement. However, the deal continues to be a work in progress. The delay has forced the Army to order SiG 716 rifles from the US under a fast-tracked process to arm its frontline troops.

With 72,000 SiG rifles already delivered, the Army is now pursuing emergency procurement of another 72,000.

The Indo-Russia Rifles Private Limited, a partnership between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the Kalashnikov Concern and Rosoboronexport (the Russian state agency for military exports) have failed to arrive at an offer price for the AK 203 rifle.

It was expected that the price of each rifle would be around $1,100 per piece, but it has risen due to a number of issues. The defence ministry has now constituted a committee to break this logjam.

Naval utility helicopters

Another defence procurement project that remains tied up in knots, the nearly $3 billion deal for the Naval utility helicopter could become the first challenge for the Modi government under the new ‘aatmanirbhar’ initiative in the defence sector.

This is because the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is pushing for its inclusion in the programme, while the Navy is strictly against it.

The helicopters are set to replace the Navy’s Chetak choppers.

C295 transport aircraft

The Defence Acquisition Council had cleared the IAF’s plan to buy 56 C295s in 2015, but the contract is yet to be inked.

The Air Force had selected the C295 as the replacement for its ageing fleet of Avro 748 transport aircraft that first flew in 1961.

Under the deal, the first 16 aircraft were supposed to be built at the Airbus facility in Spain, and the remainder by Tata Advanced Systems Limited.

C295 is a multi-role transport aircraft that can carry a maximum payload of 9.25 tonnes. Since its dimensions are smaller than the IAF’s fleet of C-130Js, C-17s and IL-76s, C295s can take off and land at many air strips and airports where the larger ones can’t.

Mine counter-measure vessels

This is another project that is likely to see a fresh tender. The defence ministry under Manohar Parrikar had nominated the Goa Shipyard and a South Korean firm to build 12 mine counter-measure vessels, with the contract worth over Rs 30,000 crore.

The Navy has been seeking these vessels since 2005.

Also read: Emergency procurement tells the sad reality of India’s defence purchases. Rafale’s late too


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  1. All defence deals stalled because unnecessary interference of bureaucracy at South Block, secondly project was got delayed because of tug of war between weapon manufacturers agents sitting in all concerned government offices, mentioned AK rifle price seems to be exhoberently high… in US one can get those rifles easily in open market at @40% of quoted price… lots of nonsense and who cares is the attitude…

  2. Previous Indian government’s deliberately made this situation due to the vested interest in govt.indiabspents a humongous amout of money in buying the arms.just think about the commissions of the agents involved in the deal. i think every body in India knows the picture.

  3. list of products show mental deficiency at policy level .. it is like asking owner of siva kashi cracker factory to deliver atom bombs.. With third class engineers deliver high level engineerin gproducts.. high tech product PSU can never deliver

  4. Make in India is a great initiative that should have succeeded years back if not for the kind of Gaddars and “white skins” looting India and making sure we are dependent on foreign sources so that they continue getting their kickback percentages. This has stopped now thanks to PM Modi and the BJP government. To restart the process the system needs to be flushed of the leftovers of the Nehru/Gandhi legacy and the ‘white skins’ thrown out of the country and kick start the process once again with honest, sincere and patriotic Indians.

  5. Those Gaddar MNC Agents are buying the indigenous developers, politicians and beurocrates to fail all projects Many in Media too are sold out to Agents.
    Wish this article by The Print would haven’t blames rather should expose those anti national Agents.

    • Tum china ki chatne me dhyan do.aur apni aukat me rah.72 saal se bheekh mangte mangte haat nahi dukhta.sharm nam ki cheez uperwale ne tum logon ko dena band kar diya hai.

  6. Make in India is a great initiative, it will take long actually defence line is bearing a urgent shortage every single pulse, though our defence line is capable to give a be fitting reply to any dare deeds and no need to prove and mention it, But a heap of imported and long lasting military equips to army, air and naval is a very must

  7. Get ridd of all the corrupt, foreign agents, and people willing to sell their country for small amounts. Then only will our projects succeed. Self Manufacturing of weapons and displaying that technology shows power and also gives a country an edge.
    We are a seller’s market when it comes to weapons, a global dumping grround for cheap and mostly outdated tech, which country would want us to be self sufficient.

  8. We should include a lot of private companies and focus more on research and development. For example more than 2100 people are working for the development of the new generation fighter of the RAF.

  9. There is no point in analyzing what happened 10 or 15 Years. Things have changed since then. DRDO, HAL and the other public sector companies didn’t had the capability to Research, develop and manufacture highly complex projects like LCA or the submarine Projects. They were too proud to accept the truth & ignored the capabilities of private companies. Once the projects started getting delayed by decades, out of political and public pressure they started involving the private firms. With Private firms now having joint ventures with many of the global defense majors things will get better. Even after decades of delays and project budget over runs DRDO, HAL developed equipment still have lots of foreign components. If these public companies weren’t running on public money, they would have gone bankrupt long back. More power to Private firms & we’ll see drastic changes in Indian defense industry.

  10. Burocratic India, if India were a private or state company it would have gone bust long ago. China built Aircraft carrier in 2 years, In 2 years India would not even agree on the specification among too many pundits who as a child did not have a bike nor knew to repair one, but they opine. By the time India nods the OK and the date of final delivery, the product is obsolete.

  11. We should go for a emergency procurement of a mine diffusing glass vessel & then try to build one small vessel in different configurations & test them .Once successful we can always scale it up.30000 crores is a big sum .The nation will not be able to afford it easily .Navy can also purchase the technology or seek consultancy thereafter.

  12. For a country that can develop its nuclear weapon, demonstrate an unparallel indigenous capability in space and rocketry even under sanctions, the only reason for big-ticket ‘Make in India’ defense projects failure to get off the ground is vested interests in buying them from abroad.
    Obviously the the interest groups are so strong and deep rooted that to dismantle them it might take a generation.

  13. High capital cost items like fighters and helicopters are not just the flying chassis — it is also sensor fusion, design techniques, composites, advanced metallurgy, networking, encryption methods, fault-resistant technologies and a long-term integration with industry and academia. If we think that this is going to be an overnight or even a 5-year long thing (an election cycle) where you will start to see fruits of ‘Make in India’, we are being delusional. R&D is a complex, drawn out process and takes incremental steps with tons of investment in manpower, training, education, infrastructure, etc. It will have to be a massive rising tide that funds STEM education in the country to build capabilities to build things. It will have to generate ancillary benefits downstream — for eg. composite fibre is helpful in building fighter planes and heart stents. Often defence picks up the first user mantle with uses being found downstream in different fields from there on.
    It is premature to declare this a success or failure within 3 years of starting it off. Realistically you need to check back after 30 years, when you are about to retire and then assess its success or failure.

  14. yes and the pandemic with subsequent loss of revenue will further erode the viability of theses projects. but i would hope that the PPP will hopefully reduce the gap between necessity and availability .

  15. If the reporting included an analysis of WHY these projects failed it would be helpful to the readers. This mere listing of all failed projects is of little value, really.

  16. The problem is s with indian R @D industries.
    The main reason is industries failed to develop appropriate materials required or armaments
    In west material science researc and development occupy pivotal position our university degrees are worth standard but no industry related research whweras est has abundant facilities to develop new material s

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