New Delhi, Jan. 8: Defence minister George Fernandes today asked military production units of the government to focus on exports and on indigenising products for the armed forces.
In a veiled reference to the non-competitive approach of the units, the minister said the defence PSUs had shown little initiative on exports because of assured demand from the armed forces. Despite indigenous capabilities, Fernandes said, export of defence products was negligible. “I had set up a target of Rs 1,000 crore this year. I am not sure if we are anywhere near the mark.”
He said there were inquiries for products of defence PSUs that were not being exploited. Many of these inquiries were on the Light Combat Aircraft and the Advanced Light Helicopter being developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment and Hindustan Aeronautics. He said there were countries that wanted to be involved as partners in these projects.
Fernandes said defence PSUs and ordnance factories had technologies not available with industry elsewhere. In-house resources had made it possible for India to arm itself with nuclear weapons. The focus should now be on indigenising products for the armed forces. During the 1999 Kargil war, the forces had run short of spares and such a situation should not be repeated, Fernandes said.
Fernandes was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Society of Defence Technologists.
The defence minister said India would have become a nuclear weapons state much earlier, had it not been for the attitude of past political leaders. “Our defence scientists have done us proud. India’s status as a nuclear weapon state is their achievement — a status the country could have had much earlier, but for the self-abnegation by the political leadership.”
Fernandes said despite such development, the dependence on foreign military spares and products continued. “As of now, imported goods for the defence forces continue to outnumber the indigenous ones. Although I am aware that it is not possible to completely do away with dependence on imports, it should be surely be possible to reduce the dependence with each passing year, more so, in the field of critical technology,” Fernandes said.
A senior official of the ministry said defence production units of the government are set to enter into a series of joint ventures with foreign companies and Indian private sector firms.
Among the first such “institutional arrangements” is an agreement that Hindustan Aeronautics is set to sign with Turbomechanika of France. This will be the harbinger of many such projects, Dhirendra Singh, special secretary (acquisitions), in the ministry of defence, said.
The joint ventures would take different shapes — some could involve equity participation, others technology transfer and co-production agreements. The emphasis, said Singh, was on ensuring that the agreements were “institutional arrangements”.