Reducing Dependence On Russia Through Aatmanirbharta by Lt Gen P R Shankar(R)

Also Published @ First Post 





India is walking a geopolitical tight rope ever since it abstained thrice from voting in UN against Russian aggression. In effect,  it is being seen to be siding with Russia. The fundamental reason of our voting pattern is that we are far too dependent on Russia for weapons and their spare parts. It has affected our strategic autonomy. With the kind of financial sanctions in place, any future transaction with Russia will be problematic. Hence  future availability of weapons and spares from Russia is also at risk. The other aspect is that many spares for warships, aircraft and other weapons are procured not only from Russia but also from Ukraine and other erstwhile Warsaw Pact countries. With the way the conflict is progressing, this is also at risk. Spares from Ukraine are particularly at risk of immediate non-availability. For instance, Indian Navy used to procure the Ukrainian Zorya gas turbines to power its warships. That factory is reportedly destroyed by Russia in this conflict. So is the Antonov factory from where we were procuring spares for AN 32 aircrafts. There could be more such causalities since Russia seems to be methodically destroying Ukrainian defence and defence related capabilities. A related aspect is that Russian OEMs produce weapons with parts from other countries. Some of them are NATO and EU countries. Such spares and parts sourced through Russia are hereafter at risk. With the war expanding in time and space, East Europe will remain unstable for some time. The overall  problem has started compounding. From any point of view it is more than a triple whammy. The current Russo Ukraine conflict has put India in a fix. It is time to unfix ourselves by reducing dependence on Russia and also other East European countries for weapons and their spare parts. This is also an opportunity for India to become Aatmanirbhar by converting a slogan into action. In any case we do not have a choice. If we do not find answers, our defense capabilities will be adversely affected once spares in stock are consumed. Two questions need to be answered. Can we reduce dependence on Russia through Aatmanirbharta? If so, how?  Let me answer the first question anecdotally and then I will get to the second. 


In the 70s, Indian Artillery, like the rest of the Armed Forces was largely made up of Russian equipment. The 100mm Gun, the 130mm M46 and Grad BM21 MBRL made up the bulk of Indian Artillery as the second world war vintage British weapons like the 25 Pr, 5.5 inch and the 7.2-inch Guns were phased out of service. In the late 80s, India also acquired 122 mm Guns from Russia. Around that time, we had three Indigenously designed guns in the form of the 75/24 mm Howitzer, the 105mm Indian Field Gun and the 105mm Light Field Gun. In the 80s, we went in for the Swedish 155mm Bofors on a TOT basis to produce our own medium Guns. However, the ‘Bofors Khand’ and the ensuing investigations put us on a backfoot and all indigenization plans in cold storage. Design, development, or procurement of guns could not progress for over three decades. We could not modernize despite all efforts. For some strange reason, even the indigenous 105 mm gun production line was closed! The Pinaka MBRL program was stagnating.  That forced us to seek the Russian Smerch, long range rocket system early in the century. The nadir was 2010, when we were reduced to a state where we even considered importing second hand 130 mm guns from East European countries in sheer desperation. We were short of artillery ammunition.  We could not wean ourselves away from Russia. Things turned around due to determination, sustained, single-minded and clear-headed effort. Today, exactly 12 years later, we are set to have a fearsome Artillery by inducting four new 155mm gun systems (Vajra, M777, Dhanush and Sarang) and a long-range guided rocket system (Pinaka). Our 105 mm Gun production line is going strong. All our new systems are not only non-Russian but are mostly indigenous and of latest technology. Where the equipment is procured from outside, the spares are mostly indigenous (M777 and Vajra). Most of our ammunition including that of Russian origin guns is now indigenous. We have already started discarding vintage Russian guns which cannot be upgraded indigenously. With the Dhanush having cleared endurance trials, Indian Artillery is at present 90% ‘Swadesi’ as well as a model for Atmanirbharta. Very soon we will be a 100% Atmanirbhar Artillery.  This is a model which needs emulation. Very clearly, India can reduce its dependence on Russia through Atmanirbharta. I have no doubts. I can vouch for it since I was fortunate enough to be part of the effort to build our potent and fast-modernizing Artillery.


Let me get to the next question. How can we do it? At the outset, we need to understand that it will not happen overnight but will be a journey which spans a decade or more. It must be progressed on multiple pathways with a well thought out plan. It will need clarity of mind and determination to do so. It will need a whole of the government approach. In this effort the bureaucracy will have to play a huge part. Ways must be found where-in one can compress time schedules and processes and not get stuck with procedures. The Services on their part should be clear what their requirements are and what their bottom lines are. If I can assess the situation based on my experience, we will start feeling the pinch of the current conflict, within a year or two. Our operational capability will start degrading. That is the window we have, to get our act together. Reducing dependence on Russia might be a political requirement for many. However, from my point of view, as the war expands into uncharted territory, Atmanirbhata is a mandate for operational readiness. Simultaneously it is also an opportunity since many Russian and Ukrainian OEMs will need investment to recommence their operations and will be more amenable to diversification through joint ventures.    


The first step is to get a grip on the situation. We should be clear of the extent of the problem at hand. In my limited world view, the major equipment which will get affected are aircraft, warships, tanks, some specialist vehicles, and ammunition. There are two parts to this story – capital and revenue schemes. A holistic review of the capital schemes will have to be undertaken to evaluate schemes where Russia is involved. Broadly speaking, some of them would be between the contract stage and delivery stage. Some would be between trial stage and pre contract stage. Some would be in pretrial and approval stage. Each type of case at each stage will have to be dealt on its merit by taking various issues into consideration. It is not only a matter of reducing dependence on Russia but also the effect on operational readiness, with attendant financial implications, in the long and short terms. This must also be seen in the context of the Russian vendor(s) being able/unable to meet the contractual obligations in the face of the geopolitical uncertainty and international sanctions. It is also a matter of finding alternatives.  Each case will have a different fallout on the alternatives available and the legal provisions to take recourse to. Special provisions must be incorporated into the DAC to enable alternatives to be adopted without dropping the cases. Dropping cases is the easiest thing but will lead to turning the clock back. Some thought must be given to special and strategic schemes as also strategic partnerships which involve Russia. At the same time this is also an opportunity to insist on technology transfer and setting up manufacturing facilities in India with greater indigenous content. From many perspectives, Russian and Ukrainian vendors might be amenable to set up facilities here if they are incentivized. Despite all effort, in some cases, we must be prepared to continue with Russia being the main supplier. However, the bottom line is that Capital procurement from Russia can be reduced and indigenous alternatives can and should be found. It will also imply increasing certain capacities and setting up new capabilities on a mission mode. The process will take a decade or so but will achieve results if domestic industry is taken on board. 


The immediate problem at hand is how do we maintain and keep existing equipment in operational readiness state which is done through revenue route? In many cases the residual life of the equipment could be up to 2-3 decades. It involves spares for day-to-day maintenance as also for refit/overhaul/upgrades. There are multiple approaches one can adopt. The first is to go in for import substitution. Import substitution can achieved through looking for local alternatives, reverse engineering or redesigning a part, assembly, or a sub assembly. A special import substitution drive must be undertaken immediately by the Services under the aegis of the MOD. The reverse engineering/redesigning drive must incorporate DRDO, CSIR labs, IITs and domestic industry. It will yield results if we are serious about it. The 155 mm Dhanush gun was reverse engineered / redesigned/upgraded based on the TOT drawings, given to us, when we procured the Bofors gun in 1984. These were mothballed for over twenty-five years due to the investigations. When we opened them, the drawings and documents had yellowed. In some cases, we could not understand some parts and assemblies from drawings since they did not have clear explanations. Hence, we used parts/assemblies from old accidented guns to study them and re-design them on our own. We eventually succeeded.  Determination and persistence is the order of the day. The newly set up defense corridors can be coopted into this drive to get optimum results. This is a long-term option and must be of the highest priority. The second option is diversification of spares procurement base. As mentioned earlier many of these spares can be procured from other east european countries. This will provide immediate results. While it may not result in Aatmanirbharta, it will result in reducing dependence on Russia. The third option is to go in for cannibalization. This is feasible only in the case of weapons and equipment which are at the end of their life cycle or in the obsolescence stage. 


When one sees the whole issue in a larger perspective, we import many weapons and spares since we lack their technology. In many cases, these technologies have a wider usage beyond military purposes. We need to identify those critical technologies which have a wider usage and go after them at a national level on a mission mode. For instance, we import engines of all kinds, whether it is for auto rickshaws, cars, trucks, tractors, generators, warships, or for aircraft. For a growing power, this is a bit of a shame. The same goes for communication equipment or renewables. There would be other areas too. It is not only a matter of reducing dependence on Russia it is also a matter of being Aatmanirbhar. Hence there is a requirement to start a Military Civil Fusion process in those critical areas. Is it feasible? Of course, we can. If we can send a rocket to the moon and commercially launch satellites, we have the capability to master all other technologies. After all they are not rocket science! Needs some action by NITI Aayog and national leadership.  


In conclusion, it must be said that the time has come for India to start weaning itself away from Russia for weapons and spares in a focused manner. This will enhance Aatmanirbharta which is now our national slogan. At another level it will contribute to our strategic autonomy. It will also save us some foreign exchange while feeding our economy. Further it will contribute to better operational preparedness of our forces. However, it will not be an overnight process. It will need determination, dedication, and focus at national level on a mission mode. It can be done. So let us start.                 


3 responses to “Reducing Dependence On Russia Through Aatmanirbharta by Lt Gen P R Shankar(R)”

  1. Atmanirbhar and selective Nirbharta on Russia is the best policy for Sakshm India .

  2. Budget: trust based governance to build atmanirbhar bharat. Reposes faith in taxpayers, entrepreneurs, investors. Build an open, digital and inclusive India with a 25 year vision. I am proud to be Indian.

  3. Sir why can't we issue citizenship & help to the scientists from Ukraine to keep our military machine rolling till we achieve some level of aatmanirbharta?

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