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

A study of the 101 items put in the negative list shows that over one-fourth are already manufactured in India and have not been imported for a long time.

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New Delhi: India’s new negative import list for defence systems, unveiled by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Sunday, includes quite a few important items, such as assault rifles, snipers, light machine guns, wheeled armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) and ultralight howitzers.

But it also misses out others like lightweight tanks and carbines, which could mean India ends up importing some products that are already available domestically, or are being worked upon.

The negative list has also thrown up some surprises, with the defence ministry stating that the Indian Air Force is looking at 123 Light Combat Aircraft Mark 1A, rather than 83, as earlier anticipated. Ministry sources said this is an indicated number for a period of five to seven years.

However, industry sources said the ministry is possibly adding up the 83 Mk1As with the 40 already ordered in the initial configuration, though they added that the figure mentioned for the deal, “over Rs 85,000 crore”, is steep.

Also read: Rifles, missiles, ammunition, drones — armed forces on shopping spree amid LAC tensions

Confusion and apprehension

Many foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and even domestic players are confused on a number of issues and projects and are waiting for the finer details to come out to understand how India’s new procurement process will work.

This is because many of the items manufactured in the country, including the LCA, have foreign components whose technology is not available in India.

A study of the 101 items put in the negative list shows that over one-fourth of items are already manufactured in India and have not been imported for a long time, including a number of naval vessels and systems.

The items in the negative list include those which are exclusively manufactured in India and have no foreign options, including the LCA Mk1A and Light Combat Helicopters, both manufactured by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

There is also an increasing feeling that the majority of the contracts will actually end up going to defence PSUs and entities, leaving little for the private players.

What Army, Navy & Air Force will get

Giving details of the break-up of funds, the defence ministry said contracts worth almost Rs 4 lakh crore will be placed with the domestic industry in the next six to seven years.

Of these, items worth almost Rs 1,30,000 crore each are likely to be procured for the Army and the Air Force, while the figure for the Navy is almost Rs 1,40,000 crore.

The Navy is likely to procure submarines, with an indicative import embargo date — the date from which the import ban is to be in place — of December 2021. It expects to contract about six submarines at an approximate cost of almost Rs 42,000 crore, the ministry said. This is the long-pending P75I project, and the front-runners to bag this contract under the strategic partnership are state-run MDL and private player L&T.

For the Air Force, the ministry has decided to enlist the LCA MK 1A with an indicative embargo date of December 2020.

“Of these, 123 are anticipated at an approximate cost of over Rs 85,000 crore. Hence, there are highly complex platforms that are included in the list of 101 items,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The ministry sources also sought to allay fears that since many systems have an embargo date of up to 2025, the armed forces will import all their demand by then, saying it is “incorrect to infer the same”.

“But operational requirements will always supersede any negative list. Even in small arms, the negative list has left out the 9mm and 5.56 mm carbines, even though they are available in India now,” an industry source said.

The hits

Another industry source pointed out that self-propelled guns and towed artillery are already manufactured in India, and that the mention of lightweight howitzers is a welcome step, because domestic players like Bharat Forge have already developed the systems.

Another important addition to the list is wheeled armoured fighting vehicles, which have an embargo date of December 2021.

The Army is currently looking to choose from three different vehicles, including the indigenous Tata Wheeled Armoured Protection, along with American Stryker Infantry Combat Vehicle, and Humvee.

This being put on the negative list could mean the contract will go to the Indian player, Tata.

The misses

The surprising misses from the list are the much talked about lightweight tanks and carbines.

The Army has shown interest in lightweight tanks and is involved in technical talks with Russia for its Sprut SDMI tanks. The miss is surprising because the DRDO is already working with private player L&T to make this tank, and a prototype is expected in the next 18 months.

On the procurement of carbines, the Army is likely to seal a contract with a UAE firm, much to the chagrin of domestic private firms who have come up with products of their own.

“If light machine guns and snipers can be put in the negative list, why can’t other small arms?” an industry source questioned.

Also read: India’s quest for armed drones gets a boost as US looks to ramp up arms sales


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  1. As a person having worked in the industries for quarter century, in my opinion, India is weak in electronics. What little eletronic products and manufactured in India contain huge import content. Therefore, it is doubtful whether the sophisticated electronics required for armed forces can be banned at all. If orders are again placed on PSUs and ordenance factories, it will be status qua ante. Good bye to any modernisation. In our country, even producing uniforms, and shoes are considered as defence production.

  2. A ‘sniper’ is a person using hardware, called, in common parlance, a sniper RIFLE.
    No Indian industrial facility is capable of producing a sniper!
    The only ‘imported’ sniper for the Indian army would be a Nepali Gorkha trained by the Indian army as such!
    Overall, a confused and confusing, hastily-put-together piece which escaped the editor’s notice.

  3. India needs to set up research cells for long term policy planning, for :
    – Foreign Policy – incorporating views of Congress party, RSS ideologues, Prominent diplomats , Experts in this field inc. professors.
    Training of student diplomats in universities as post graduate stream.
    – Defence production and research – Army, Airforce Navy + paramilitary weapons, vehicles, equipment.

    Economic Policy – incorporating advice of renowned professors of Indian n foreign universities for futuristic long term solution.

    Role of PSUs must be minimised as they have limited interest or incentive in research n time bound results. They will get paid without or with results / hard work.

    Port Infrastructure – Draw lessons from China – reclaim deep seaport by reclaiming land in the shallow coastal waters adjacent to existing ports making straight approach channels.
    Piers must be equipped with Gantry cranes to improve turn around time of ships calling our ports.

    Labour laws to be revised to cut roll of trade unions to bare minimum.

    Land Reforms.

    Environment laws to revise – so that a couple of trees comming in the way of road or infra structure should not cripple the entire project for decades. Influential persons shud not be able to stall project by obtaming Court Stay orders to protect their property.

    etc., etc.,

  4. Let the Defence Ministry and the armed force’s do their own procurement without interference from uneducated like you.So dig into Congresses rule when they Siphoned off 750crores buying TATRA Trucks?Stupid you.

  5. Well I think the defence ministry must go on updating data as more experts like SNEHESH ALEX PHILLIP point out the lapses in the list. Opinions of defence experts who are outside the DEFENCE ministry will prove to be important force multiplier.

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