INDIA’S decision to procure 12 Sukhoi 30-MKI fighter jets from Russia sends out a clear signal that catering to pressing strategic needs is at the core of the country’s defence acquisition policy. Coming as it does within months of a path-breaking deal on the purchase of sophisticated US arms, it belies the notion that New Delhi is becoming more reliant on the West. The development of the domestic weapon industry and home-built hardware remains the overarching goal. Irrespective of which country India is dealing with, almost all major weapon purchases now include provisions for joint manufacture or technology transfer. Of the 272 Su-30-MKIs contracted from Russia since the 1990s, as many as 222 aircraft have been licence-built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The 12 new planes are meant to tide over the shortfall caused by crashes.
As it pushes the envelope on the ambitious ‘Make in India’ plans, India has been diversifying its import portfolio. The indication is that it does not want to rely on any one nation. Narrowing the technological gap with better-armed China remains a critical challenge. That is where India sees the potential for enhanced collaboration with the US. After the sanctions waiver over India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence systems, the Sukhoi deal will be viewed with anxiety in Washington. Put to the test again will be the US legislation which authorises sanctions on countries that purchase major defence hardware from Russia. That New Delhi does not seem overly concerned reinforces its growing global stature. What’s unmistakable is that the days of domination of a few in the global defence market are over. No country can now dictate terms.
The Defence Acquisition Council has also given the go-ahead for the purchase of key military hardware from Indian vendors. This will provide a substantial boost to the domestic industry.
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