Aaron Karp and I co-authored an opinion piece based on our recent paper for the Small Arms Survey, Geneva [please see the previous post] on Indian small arms production. It was published by Economic Times on April 22. But oddly, and much to my embarrassment, Economic Times listed me as the author and consigned Aaron's name to the end of the article. I do not understand why the editors did that or why they put it under my name, considering that the essay as sent to Economic Times listed Aaron as the first author and he deserves full credit for the piece. Below, I have reposted the article, with credit duly acknowledged.
[Edited: Economic Times has now -- as of Saturday, April 26, 2014 evening -- corrected its online edition, acknowledging both of us as authors]
Defence Modernisation: A Revolution in Indian Defence Procurement
Aaron Karp and Rajesh Rajagopalan
Firearms often get overlooked in discussions of military procurement policy. But with the procurement of nearly 6 million Indian military and police weapons due, the total value is anything but small, as are broader implications for Indian defense policy.
In a study, we found the Indian government has roughly 5.6 million small arms; 2.6 million in the military, the others with police and paramilitaries.
These include millions of archaic Lee-Enfield rifles, Sterling submachine guns and aging pistols. Virtually all need to be replaced — and most replacements will be foreign designed. Since the 1950s, Indian defense procurement has been guided by shibboleths of self-sufficiency and indigenisation.
Imports were acceptable only if accompanied with technology transfer and import substitution. The preference was for unique national designs made by laboratories of the Defence Industrial Base, Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) or the Ministry of Defence's own Shipyards and Indian Ordnance Factories (IOF).
Despite over 60 years of effort, selfsufficiency is a remote goal. Even the low-tech realm of small arms saw no genuine success stories. In the 1960s the IOF introduced the Self-Loading Rifle (SLR), a slightly modified version of the Belgian FAL rifle. This was to be replaced by an indigenous rifle in the 1980s. But the domestically designed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) arrived 15 years late. Basically a redesigned Soviet Kalashnikov, it is expensive and poorly made. It was commissioned into army service, but is tolerated more than appreciated. Other buyers — central government agencies, state and city police and paramilitaries — went their own way.
The Rashtriya Rifles and other paramilitaries bought Kalashnikovs, cheaper and reliable than the INSAS. Others turned to suppliers in Germany, Israel, Italy and Switzerland.
After the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, all restraint ended. Self-sufficiency and indigenous production were forgotten in the rush to re-equip, especially for the police. At the biennial Defexpo 2014 last month in New Delhi, virtually all major foreign suppliers lined up in pursuit of what promises to be the largest single small arms contract ever, initially worth an estimated $800 million, with orders over $3 billion expected by the
A prominent threat to indigenisation comes from Russia's Kalashnikov concern. The Russian firm long ago lost most of the world's Kalashnikov market to more efficient and national champion manufacturers. Struggling to survive, it hopes to attract an Indian partner to assemble 50,000 rifles annually for India.
The inability to develop suitable small arms after decades of design experience cuts to the quick of Indian defense industrial policy. The hope that licensed production might culminate in competitive indigenous designs was revealed as an illusion.
As competitiveness trumps indigenisation, the IOF must fight for new contracts.
It has introduced new products, like the Trichy rifle. The Punebased Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) recently unveiled its Multi-Calibre Individual Weapon System (MCIWS). Some of these have original features, but few attract customer interest.
The IOF will face greater pressure to suffice as a licensed manufacturer of foreign-designed rifles, carbines, handguns and machine guns. The alternative to licensed production isn't domestic design but outright imports. As imports become acceptable in small arms, old assumptions about defense industrial policy seem antiquated.
This is a cultural shift, eroding expectations that Indian customers use Indian-designed equipment. Extended to major platforms, this ends the 60-year old Nehruvian dream of military-industrial self-sufficiency.
Given the scale and capabilities of domestic arms makers, indigenous production will survive, but will increasingly be confined to niche areas like ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines. So, India will become more like other secondary arms makers such as Israel and Sweden, rather than a comprehensive market leader like the EU, Russia and the US.