India's defence triumphs in 2023: Record exports, all-time high productions, indigenous breakthroughs & more
India's defence landscape in 2023 reflects a robust and self-reliant approach, with significant achievements in exports, production, indigenisation, and technological advancements.
In 2023, the Ministry of Defence experienced a remarkable surge in defence exports, surpassing the previous financial year by nearly Rs 3,000 crore. Additionally, defence production achieved a historic milestone by exceeding Rs one lakh crore for the first time. The global demand for indigenous military assets, such as LCA-Tejas, light combat helicopters, and aircraft carriers, witnessed significant growth.
The pursuit of 'Aatmanirbharta' (self-reliance) in defence became a focal point, driving advancements in armed forces modernization. The defence ministry prioritized strengthening border infrastructure, harnessing the capabilities of Nari Shakti (women power), and ensuring the welfare of ex-servicemen.
According to the defence ministry, exports soared to an unprecedented Rs 16,000 crore in the financial year 2022-23, marking an increase of almost Rs 3,000 crore from the previous year and a remarkable tenfold rise since 2016-17. This robust performance underscored the nation's commitment to self-sufficiency in defence and its growing influence in the global arms market.
Presently, India has expanded its defence exports to more than 85 countries, showcasing the nation's prowess in design and development. The Indian industry's capabilities are evident on the global stage, with 100 firms actively engaged in exporting defence products.
Key exports and positive indigenisation initiatives
Key platforms currently exported encompass the Dornier-228, 155 mm Advanced Towed Artillery Guns, Brahmos Missiles, Akash Missile System, Radars, Simulators, Mine Protected Vehicles, Armoured Vehicles, PINAKA Rockets & Launchers, Ammunitions, Thermal Imagers, and Body Armours. Additionally, the export portfolio extends to Systems, Line Replaceable Units, and Parts & Components of Avionics and Small Arms.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh unveiled the Fifth Positive Indigenisation List (PIL) during the 'Swavlamban 2.0' plenary session conducted by the Department of Military Affairs (DMA). Comprising 98 items, this list includes highly intricate systems, sensors, weapons, and ammunition. As per the stipulations outlined in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020, the procurement of these items will be exclusively from indigenous sources, following a structured timeline.
The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) previously issued four Positive Indigenisation Lists (PILs) comprising 411 military items. Concurrently, the Department of Defence Production (DDP) released four PILs, encompassing a total of 4,666 items, inclusive of Line Replacement Units/Sub-systems/Spares and Components for Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs). The latest PIL from DDP, featuring 928 items, was unveiled in the current year.
Record-breaking defence production
In a significant milestone, the value of defence production for the fiscal year 2022-23 exceeded Rs one lakh crore, marking the first time this threshold has been surpassed. In the preceding fiscal year (FY 2021-22), the figure stood at Rs 95,000 crore. The government remains committed to collaborating with defence industries and their associations, actively addressing challenges and fostering an environment conducive to defence production in the country.
To streamline business processes, various policy reforms have been instituted to enhance the ease of doing business, with a specific focus on integrating Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups into the defence supply chain. As a result of these initiatives, industries, including MSMEs and start-ups, have shown increased enthusiasm for participating in defence design, development, and manufacturing. Notably, there has been a substantial uptick, approximately a 200 per cent increase, in the issuance of defence licenses to industries over the past 7-8 years by the government.
Boost to domestic industry
During the 14th Aero India in Bengaluru, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh disclosed that a historic 75 per cent, approximately Rs one lakh crore, of the defence capital procurement budget for FY 2023-24 was allocated to the domestic industry. This marked a notable increase from the 68 per cent allocated in the preceding fiscal year, FY 2022-23.
In the fiscal year 2023-24, the Ministry of Defence received a total budget allocation of Rs 5.94 lakh crore, constituting 13.18 per cent of the overall budget of Rs 45.03 lakh crore. Notably, the capital outlay for modernisation and infrastructure development saw a substantial increase, reaching Rs 1.63 lakh crore.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) helicopter factory
Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Helicopter Factory to the nation in Tumakuru, Karnataka. This facility stands as India's largest helicopter manufacturing unit and is set to commence production with a focus on Light Utility Helicopters (LUHs). The LUH, a domestically designed and developed three-ton, single-engine multipurpose utility helicopter, boasts exceptional manoeuvrability. Initially, the factory aims to manufacture approximately 30 helicopters per year, with plans for phased expansion to 60 and eventually 90 helicopters annually.
Advancements in aircraft technology
In Bengaluru, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) presented the first twin-seater Light Combat Aircraft 'Tejas' to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the presence of Union Minister of State for Defence, Ajay Bhatt. This aircraft, a lightweight, all-weather multi-role 4.5-generation platform, is specifically designed to fulfill the IAF's training requirements and can seamlessly transition into a fighter role when necessary.
The Tejas incorporates cutting-edge concepts and technologies, including relaxed static stability, quadruplex fly-by-wire flight control, carefree manoeuvring, an advanced glass cockpit, integrated digital avionics systems, and the use of advanced composite materials for the airframe. The IAF has placed an order for 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCAs) with HAL, reflecting its confidence in this indigenous aircraft's capabilities.
C-295 transport aircraft induction
In September, a significant milestone occurred with the formal induction of the first C-295 transport aircraft into the Indian Air Force, marking a noteworthy event in the year. The induction ceremony, graced by the presence of the Defence Minister, marked the commencement of operational service for the C-295 MW transport aircraft.
This induction is the result of a collaborative effort between Tata Advanced Systems Limited and Airbus Defence and Space S A, Spain. A total of fifteen more aircraft are slated to be delivered in a flyaway condition, with the expected completion of this delivery phase by August 2025. The subsequent production of the remaining forty aircraft will take place at the dedicated C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility, with the first 'Made in India' aircraft anticipated to be ready by September 2026.
As a medium-lift tactical aircraft, the C-295 is equipped to operate from unprepared landing grounds, and it is set to replace the HS-748 Avro aircraft in the Indian Air Force's fleet.
Strategic infrastructure development
In the year 2023, the Defence Acquisition Council, under the leadership of Chairperson Rajnath Singh, greenlit proposals exceeding Rs 3.50 lakh crore in its meetings, aimed at bolstering the operational readiness of the Armed Forces. Additionally, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh dedicated 118 infrastructure projects of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to the nation during the same period.
At present, the BRO is actively engaged in 20 tunnel projects, with 10 in the construction phase and 10 in the planning stage. Notably, 3,179 meters of bridges were completed in the current year. Furthermore, the commencement of the second phase of the Amarnath Yatra Tracks upgrade took place in September.
Women breaking barriers
Breaking through barriers, Captain Shiva Chauhan achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first woman officer to be operationally deployed at Kumar Post in Siachen Glacier in January. Siachen stands as the world's highest battlefield. Following suit, in December, Captain Geetika Koul made history as the first woman medical officer to undergo deployment at Siachen after completing induction training at Siachen Battle School. Shortly thereafter, Captain Fatima Wasim marked another breakthrough, becoming the first woman medical officer to be operationally deployed on the Siachen Glacier.
On January 4, 2023, a government order was issued, signaling the revision of pensions for Armed Forces Pensioners and family pensioners under the One Rank One Pension (OROP) framework, effective from July 1, 2019.
The ongoing initiative to induct women officers (WOs) into the Regiment of Artillery saw a significant milestone in 2023, with the commissioning of 10 women officers. Furthermore, the Agnipath scheme witnessed the successful completion of training for the first two batches, totaling 40,000 individuals, who are now in the process of being posted to their designated units.