Paving the Way

The BRAHMOS missile can be an example for Make in India programmes

Pravin Sawhney

BrahMos Aerospace, the makers of BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile, which completes 20 years on February 12, has many firsts to its credit. It is the first successful joint-venture between India and Russia; it has met manufacturing and delivery time-lines, a rarity for the Defence Research and Development Organisation; it has been accepted by all three defence services — the navy, army and the air force; with its supersonic speed of 2.8 Mach, it is difficult to intercept; given its speed, weight and accuracy, its enormous kinetic energy would blow depth targets to smithereens making it a strategic weapon with conventional warheads; with Indian joining the Missile Technology Control Regime club, its advertised range of 290km can be increased to 600km and so on.

Defence Minister Awards ToT to Solar Group for Mass Production of Propellant Booster for BrahMos

The question which begs an answer is this: can BrahMos be called a Make in India project? While the short answer is yes, some explaining on the 2014 Make in India policy as elucidated under the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP-2016) is necessary to qualify the assertion.

To begin with, there is a sea difference between Make in India and Create in India. The latter, as the name indicates, is about creating from scratch including design (based on general staff requirements of defence services), making and testing of prototypes, creating the desired eco-system by involving the national defence industry (to include both public and private sector companies), and most importantly, to continue with research to ensure that the system remains competitive globally with high-end, cutting-edge or best technologies. The ultimate proof of a successfully created weapon system lies in its exports. Since basic research is fundamental to creating and staying on top, it might be interesting to know that China in 2017 earmarked about USD nine billion for Artificial Intelligence alone, while the total research allocation of the DRDO in the same year was a mere USD 2.2 billion.

Make in India, on the other hand, is about progressive indigenisation of procured weapon systems. According to the DPP-2016, two basic criteria must be met. One, minimum 40 per cent indigenisation should be assured; this may or may not include technology transfer. And two, under the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rules, the Indian company should be the majority partner. This requirement pre-supposes little transfer of core technologies’ — which in any case few counties would part with — know-why to the recipient country.

Given this, the need is to create an ecosystem for the low and medium level technology absorption, which would generate employment, have offshoot uses in other defence programmes, and which, overtime, could help Indian industry become part of the global supply chain. A recent example would help explain the requirement. India is expected to buy the Russian Ka-226T helicopters under the Make in India programme. Given that the proven helicopter has been flying since 2003, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) would be required to progressively indigenise mutually agreed components only.

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