Indigenous weapons will have to wean India off Russian arms

News: According to Bloomberg News, the US is considering a $500 million defense package for India to finance the purchase of US weapon systems.

According to Researchers at the Stimson Center, 85% of India’s weapons are of Russian origin. Further, in the next 5 years, Russian arms export to India will increase.

India showed its unwillingness to condemn Russia, due to its dependency on Russian arms. After that, US is looking to reduce India’s dependency on Russian arms.

What are the issues facing India in reducing its dependency on Russia?

Like all other developing nations, India is facing the situation of an impossible trinity, i.e., it cannot simultaneously achieve autonomy, affordability and quality in weapons development or purchase from US.

Shifting its dependency on western weapons would increase India’s autonomy, but it would have to sacrifice affordability. It is because US weapons are much more costly compared to the Russian arms. For example, Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile platform is costing India $5.5 billion, whereas US-made Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system costs about six times that.

If India wants affordability and quality, its reliance on Russia is right. Some nations are getting that by close ties with the west and China. However, China is hostile toward India and the West is far away. Western countries can’t help India in times of emergency. For example, during the 1971 war with Pakistan, India found itself short of artillery shells and had to secretly import mortars from an Israel it didn’t even recognize at the time. Insufficient weapons on hand represent a loss of autonomy.

What are the issues with indigenous weapons in India?

India’s efforts toward establishing a local defence industry have not been fruitful. Indigenization offers affordability and autonomy at the cost of quality.

For example, the indigenously built Arjun tank and the Tejas fighter jet are not preferred by the army and Air force.

Arjun tank is heavy (70 tonnes), compared to Russia’s T-90 tank (50 tonnes). It could collapse most bridges in Punjab, making it unusable for a canal-heavy, militarized border with Pakistan.

Tejas’s payload is smaller than the F-16’s, and the plane takes too long to service.

What should be done?

India can take lessons from China, which invested for decades in the Shenyang J-8 fighter jet. It was able to finally build the Chengdu J-20 stealth jet, which may well be a “near-peer” of US fifth-generation fighters.

Similarly, India needs to invest in homegrown defence companies for a reliable and affordable pipeline of weapons of decent quality that arrive quickly enough to deter an aggressive China.

Source: This post is created based on the article “Indigenous weapons will have to wean India off Russian arms” published in Live Mint on 23rd May 2022.

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