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India had become an extremist country from being a secular one.

The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the Asean summit in Manila produced a significant resolution – that two of the world’s great democracies should also have the world’s greatest militaries. It was confirmed by a White House readout that once again highlighted the shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and pledged to enhance bilateral defence cooperation. Trump would like nothing better than to sell more American military equipment to India. This would not only be a geostrategic move to shore up India’s military capabilities vis à vis China but also help Trump advertise the deals as creating American jobs back home.

Nonetheless, India should take full advantage of this opportunity to enhance its military preparedness. While India’s security challenges have multiplied from terrorism to low-intensity conflict to being prepared for a two-front war, its armed forces continue to be saddled with sub-optimal weapons platforms. A key reason for this is the inability to boost indigenous defence production. Indigenous projects are afflicted by inordinate delays, which usually make the finished product out of date.

A recent example of this is the armed forces’ reluctance to induct advanced versions of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft and the Arjun main battle tank, pitching instead for acquisition of foreign single-engine fighters and futuristic armoured fighting vehicles. While the Tejas is yet to become combat ready after being in the making for over three decades, the Arjun main battle tank has proved to be too heavy in operational deployment and suffers from poor serviceability.

Such shortcomings hamper the combat-readiness of our armed forces. In fact, the air force is grappling with just 33 fighter squadrons when 42 are needed to counter the threat perception from China and Pakistan. Additionally, several squadrons of ageing Russian fighters are set to retire. At the same time acquisition of foreign weapons platforms is expensive. The only way out of this situation is to facilitate greater private sector participation in the defence industry and establish an American-style military-industrial complex that significantly reduces the time between research and field deployment. It’s welcome that the defence ministry finalised the strategic partnership policy earlier this year which envisages Indian private companies producing cutting-edge weapons through joint ventures with foreign partners. This is where American defence manufacturers can help.


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