Indigenous Military Equipment on Display During Republic Day Parade? Not Really.

While claims that main battle tanks, howitzers, and missile and radar systems which were displayed in Thursday’s Parade had been indigenously sourced were accurate, the reality was that a majority of them were either directly imported or incorporated an inordinately high, locally-integrated imported content.

Chandigarh: Hysterical claims in official and media circles, with limited exceptions, that only indigenised military equipment was on display at the annual Republic Day parade on Thursday, need tempering and subjection to a reality check, as these assertions were somewhat economical with the truth.

While claims that land-based platforms like main battle tanks (MBTs), howitzers, and assorted other materiel like missile and radar systems which participated in the Parade had been indigenously sourced were accurate, a majority of them were either directly imported or incorporated an inordinately high, locally-integrated imported content.

These imported components, sub-assemblies and much more were critical to all these exhibited weapon systems and sundry equipment, registering thereby the Indian defence industry’s engineering and manufacturing competence, but neither its indigenous design nor developmental talents in this regard.

For starters, engines for all mobile platforms – Arjun MBTs, BMP-2/2K Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), K-9 Vajra-T 155mm/52 mm caliber tracked self-propelled howitzers (SPHs) and Wheeled Armoured Platforms (ShAPs) – displayed on Kartavya Path on January 26, were imported outright. So were all their transmission systems and other related gear, some of which was licence-built locally, albeit with continued overseas collaboration.

The Arjun, for instance, is powered by MTU MB838 ka-510 1,400 cc diesel engines and fitted with semi-automatic Renk RK 304-I transmission systems and Bosch gun control equipment, all from Germany. Its gunner’s main sight is from Belgium’s OIP, while other foreign and licence-built components include the MBTs Diehl tracks – manufactured locally by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) under a technology transfer agreement.

MBT Arjuns marching down Kartavya Path during the 74th Republic Day parade on January 26, 2023. Photo: PIB

The MBT’s fire control system is from Israel’s Elbit, day sight and thermal imager (TI) – earlier from Sagem of France and now from Israel’s El Op – in addition to Israeli frequency-hopping radios, amongst other imported equipment. Recent reports indicated that Arjun’s inordinately high imported component had fallen marginally to around 60%, but industry officials said the concomitant related shortage of spares from overseas suppliers who had closed down endured. Alternatives to these systems and apparatuses for the tank whose development began nearly five decades ago in 1974 were in the process of being domestically developed, but gaps persisted, industry officials said.

The K-9 SPHs – licence-built jointly by L&T and South Korea’s Samsung Techwin at Hazira in Gujarat – on the other hand, were powered by X1,000 horsepower (750 kW) German MT881Ka-500 MTU Friedrichshafen engines, coupled to US-designed Allison 1100-5A3 transmission systems that were being licence-built at a facility in Tamil Nadu.

The Soviet-era Boyevaya Mashina Pyekhoty (BMP)-2 Sarath ICVs, which featured prominently in the parade, were in reality platforms that had been licence-built formerly by the Ordnance Factory Project at Medak in Telangana, which was renamed Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited in 2021 after the former’s break up and re-organisation.

From the mid-1980s, the Indian Army (IA) had inducted 2,691 BMP-2Ks into service, of which a large number were imported directly and others fabricated indigenously under a transfer of technology from Russia and christened Sarath, another name for the Hindu god, Lord Krishna. Around 1,700-odd BMP-2s are presently operational, of which around 800 are undergoing an upgrade after 600 had been retrofitted earlier. And the modular 8×8 Wheeled Armoured Platforms or WhAPs, which were also part of the Parade, though designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), were powered by US-origin 600 HP Cummins engines, attached to a licence-built Allison transmission system.

Same story for aircraft too

Conversely, the fly-past display, featuring 50 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft – 45 operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF), four by the Indian Army (IA) and one by the Indian Navy (IN) – was by no stretch of the imagination indigenous. It featured numerous platforms that had been acquired directly in fly-away condition, while the remainder were either licence-built aircraft or others designed locally, but with considerable imported content.

These included Rafale and MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ combat aircraft, licence-built Sukhoi Su-30MKI ‘Flanker’ and Jaguar SEPECAT fighters from France, Russia and UK-France, AH-64(I) Apache Guardian attack helicopters, C-17 Globemaster III strategic heavy lift and C-130-J-30 medium-lift transporters, all from the US.

The Netra airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform, which was escorted in the fly-past by Rafales, was primarily a Brazilian Embraer EMB-145 aircraft, retrofitted locally, while the participating Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) variants, and the light combat helicopter (LCH), all incorporated an inordinately high proportion of imported systems like engines, avionics and weaponry.

The Netra airborne early warning and control platform escorted by Rafale aircraft in the fly-past during the 74th Republic Day parade on January 26, 2023. Photo: PIB

Even legacy aircraft like the IAF’s Antonov An-32 ‘Cline’ transporter, which starred in the 74th Republic Day spectacle, were imported from Ukraine – then a part of the Soviet Union – from the late 70s onwards. Some 60-odd An-32s of around 100 are currently awaiting an upgrade.

Moreover, the BrahMos cruise missile, that too was on display at the Parade, has been developed with Russian assistance, that includes providing its manufacturing facility in Hyderabad critical ramjet engine and radar seekers for the weapon system.

Industry officials said Russia supplied around 65% of the components for the 3.9 tonne BrahMos, and that both sides had only recently resolved longstanding issues over the missile systems intellectual property rights, rendering it eligible for export.

“Defining indigenisation, with regard to military equipment in accordance with the Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020, is not only contentious and complex but also a highly complex, jalebi-like matter,” said Amit Cowshish, former ministry of defence financial advisor on acquisitions. There is no definitive measure of what qualifies as indigenous and what does not, he added.

Designating any piece of military equipment as indigenous was determined by the base value of its overall purchase contract, less all payments made to foreign suppliers for raw material, technology and specialist services provided and any royalty that may accrue. On such a multifarious abacus, none of the military kit on display on Republic Day would strictly qualify as indigenous, except rhetorically. So why the hysteria?