“Some acquisitions due this fiscal [year] will be put off to next fiscal, as we have to tighten our belt to the extent possible for a better future,” Antony says. “Budget cuts are not limited to our ministry but across ministries.”
India's planned defense modernization will maintain its pace, “mainly because of the situation around us and the emerging volatile security scene,” he adds. “The respective forces would decide their priorities.”
Antony also says the criteria stated in the request for proposals for the MMRCAs will be final and non-negotiable for their licensed production with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL). Dassault reportedly had suggested reducing state-owned HAL's role in manufacturing the aircraft for the Indian air force.
“The deal is highest priority for us,” Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne says. “The project is very much on track.”
Three French air force Rafales were at the Ninth Aero India exposition in Bengaluru last month: two performed demonstration flights and the other was on static display.
Browne concedes that some defense programs take years to clear the negotiation committee stage. “We hope it won't happen in the case of the MMRCA,” he says. There are six or seven layers of bureaucratic approval before the MMRCA deal reaches the cabinet committee on security, which has final say on the procurement. In the meantime, HAL says it has begun advanced preparations to build a facility for assembling the Rafale fighters in India.
Nevertheless, India will take a “second look” at its policies on defense production and procurement to lessen reliance on imported weapons. Antony is urging defense forces to transform their approach of relying on imports to meet operational requirements and instead prioritize giving work to India's defense sector.
“Import should be the last resort, not the easiest resort. Indigenization of military hardware is the ultimate answer,” Antony says. “The armed forces, government, defense organization and industry should come together so that India can achieve maximum indigenization in a reasonable time.”
In a speech last month at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai called for joint design and coproduction of weapons and defense capabilities with the U.S. His statements are a sign that New Delhi is increasingly interested in more than just utilizing traditional “offsets,” i.e., local spending by Western defense companies, to build up its industry.