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Time to end DRDO’s monopoly on defence research

We must seize the opportunity provided by the COVID-19 crisis to kick-start indigenous research efforts, recommends Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

Next to oil, arms are the second biggest item in India’s imports basket.

Like oil, the defence equipment dependency is India’s Achilles’ heel and affects the pursuit of independent foreign policy and is a threat to our independence itself.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in a welcome move, has banned imports of several defence items in order to move decidedly in the direction of self-reliance in defence.

Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has taken a personal interest in the matter and in a major decision India has jettisoned its old policy of a blanket ban on export of arms (only non-lethal materials like tents, clothing etc were kosher earlier).

Major steps are also in the pipeline to re-organise the Defence Research and Development Organisation and make it more efficient.

Move to corporatise ordnance factories is a move in the right direction.

This is not the first attempt at the reform of defence sector, and the reasons for failure of past efforts need to be understood if we have to succeed this time around.

India has had a chequered history of past attempts at self-reliance in defence.

Our Pune-based think-tank Inpad has been working towards this objective for over two decades.

In 2000, one of our founder members (who is no more with us), Lieutenant General Eric Vas, had proposed precisely this.

The idea was that the ban on imported weapons would act as a spur to indigenous research and development.

This move to ban defence imports is a ‘demand’ side measure to promote self-reliance.

The expectation was that like in case of space technology, this will spur indigenous products.