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Modi airs arms export ambition

- PM promises to turn world’s biggest defence buyer into seller

New Delhi, Aug. 16: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said his government would turn India from an arms importer into an exporter of military equipment through policies that would bring in the best technology.

This is a tall order for a country rated the world’s biggest arms importer. In its March 2014 report, the think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that India’s arms imports were three times those of the second and third largest importers, Pakistan and China.

But standing on the flight deck of the INS Kolkata, the largest warship made in the country, Modi said policies such as the decision to raise the cap on FDI in defence to 49 per cent could help global arms makers set up plants in India. This, he said, will not only make the country self-sufficient but turn it into an exporter to friendly countries.

“Instead of having to import even small things (military hardware), we want India to become an exporter of these equipment over the next few years,” the Prime Minister said.

Modi was picking up from where he had left off in his Independence Day speech yesterday, during which he had exhorted manufacturers to “come and make in India”.

After fuels, defence imports account for the largest outgo of precious foreign exchange from India. Even the INS Kolkata, commissioned today, is said to be “60 per cent indigenous”. Another warship, the Kamorta, to be commissioned next week, is said to be “90 per cent indigenous”.

Both would be joining the navy fleet despite the absence of crucial weapon systems and sensors for which the country is dependent on foreign know-how. The Kolkata, a “stealth destroyer”, will lack its main long-range missile defence shield and a towed array sonar to detect underwater threats.

For the Kamorta, classified as an anti-submarine warfare corvette, the lack of the towed array sonar will particularly restrict the role it is designed for.

But the navy and the government are celebrating the induction of the Kolkata, 11 years in the making, for the additional firepower it will bring into the force. The project cost of the Kolkata-class of ships has increased from Rs 3,600 crore to more than Rs 11,660 crore.

The Kolkata is easily the largest warship taken up by an Indian shipyard, in this case the Mazagon Docks. A shipyard in Kochi has taken up an even larger venture, the manufacture of an indigenous aircraft carrier.

“Fighting a war and winning it now has become less difficult these days. But a modern military, armed with state-of-the-art weaponry alone, is a guarantee against war. When we are capable, no one can dare challenge us,” Modi said, addressing naval officers and sailors in Mumbai.

“In the coming days, the INS Kolkata will inspire confidence in our maritime trade. INS Kolkata is also a great communication platform and will be useful in securing India’s trade interests at sea,” he said.

Modi hailed the commissioning of the Kolkata as an example of “not only the military might but also buddhi bal (intellectual prowess) which is important. The launch of the destroyer is proof of India’s intellectual capability,” he added.

Delving into maritime history, he pegged the origins of India’s navy to the time of Maratha ruler Shivaji (1627-1680).

“As I stand on Maharashtra’s shores and speak of the navy, it is but natural to be reminded of Chhatrapati Shivaji. His was the first contribution to the conceptualisation and rise of the navy as a means to secure India’s maritime interests,” the Prime Minister said.

(Maritime history students, however, trace the origins of India’s navy to the time of the Cholas who reigned in the south, roughly coinciding with the territory now called Tamil Nadu, in the third century — nearly 14 centuries before Shivaji — or even to the Mauryas in the fourth century BC).

Defence minister Arun Jaitley, who had accompanied the Prime Minister, said he would encourage Indian public and private sector companies to start producing defence equipment and allow them to make their businesses viable through exports.

The INS Kolkata, a stealth destroyer that displaces 7,400 tonnes at full load, is the first of a class of three ships to roll out in the 50th year of the navy’s design directorate.

The keel of the warship was laid in September 2003 and the ship was launched in 2006. Its original commissioning was planned in 2010 but there were delays. As it joined the western fleet today, the Kolkata preceded the Kochi and the Chennai.

Its crest depicts the Howrah Bridge in the background and a leaping Bengal Tiger in the foreground. Its motto is Yudhay Sarvasannadh, a Sanskrit phrase that means “always prepared for battle”.

The commanding officer, Captain Tarun Sobti, read out the commissioning warrant.


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