Like many other nations, India has been attempting to move from exporting advanced weapons to producing them itself. India’s initiative is called “Make in India,” although the strategy of spurring domestic production has been around far longer than the catchphrase.
India’s push to produce indigenous warships has been notably successful. All new surface combatants coming online for India have been made in India. Perhaps more impressively, they also feature very high levels of indigenous systems integration: over 90% of the content of most Indian Navy ships is produced in India. The crown jewel of India’s naval shipbuilding program is the INS Vikrant, a 40,0000 ton short takeoff but arrested landing (STOBAR) aircraft carrier, due to enter service in 2018.
India’s program to manufacture its own tanks has also proceeded in a more or less satisfactory manner, albeit with delays. The Arjun main battle tank is India’s attempt to develop a third-generation main battle tank to supplement the T-90S, which currently fills the high end armor role in the Indian Army. Development on the Arjun began in 1972, but units were not ordered until 2000. Initially, there were teething issues and many parts for the tank had to be imported; Indian firms later produced satisfactory replacements for many of these imported components. The tank is comparable in capabilities to many other third-generation main battle tanks, featuring amenities such as composite armor, a manually loaded rifled 120mm gun, computerized fire control, and a 1400hp diesel engine (produced in Germany). The rifled gun is an interesting choice which reflects India’s past ties with the UK, the other major user of rifled tank cannons. The Arjun Mark II features further improvements, such as explosive reactive armor and panoramic optics with night vision capabilities.
Other aspects of India’s program for indigenous development have not fared so well. India’s indigenous assault rifle, the INSAS, has suffered from exceptionally poor reliability in combat, with troops complaining that it warps and even cracks under use. The problems became so bad that some frontline units actually switched to from their INSAS rifles to AK-47s; the need to swap out a modern rifle for a 60-year-old Soviet weapon is undoubtedly embarrassing and illustrates that India’s small arms industry still has a ways to go before it can mass produce high-quality assault rifles for the army.
India’s indigenous fighter aircraft, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas, has a similarly troubled development history. Its development began in the 1980s, but its first flight did not take place until 2001, and fourteen years passed between the first flight of the aircraft and its introduction into active service. The Tejas Mk 1 is finally ready for serial production, but its poor performance means that the aircraft failed the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s assessment. Now, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which manufactures the aircraft, is pushing the IAF to purchase the Mk 1A variant in order to keep production lines open while the Mk 2 aircraft is developed (a process that officials warn will take at least until 2024). The Mk1A sheds weight and adds an AESA radar, but its GE turbofans still deliver remarkably low thrust for a modern combat aircraft.
India and Russia also collaborate on some programs, for example the FGFA, a fifth-generation single-engine fighter jet that is a rough equivalent to the F-22. Israel is another notable partner of India; the two nations often work together to develop missiles and electronics systems.
India’s drive for indigenous defense production is motivated by pride as well as economics. India is the second most populous country in the world, and its economy and influence have been growing steadily. It is only natural for large and powerful countries to try to build up their own industrial base for the production of defense products in order to shed foreign reliance and prevent money from leaving the nation’s economy in the form of imports.
Like India, Turkey has a program to develop an indigenous main battle tank. Unlike India, Turkey’s program is in the fledgling stages of development. The Altay MBT also features many common staples of Western MBT design, including composite armor, advanced fire control, and a manually loaded smoothbore 120mm gun. Interestingly, Turkey and South Korea have opted to collaborate on the design of the Altay, meaning that the Altay will feature many of the advances found on the highly advanced Korean K2 MBT. The Altay took only four years to design and is slated to enter service only ten years after design work was commenced, so development was much more rapid and smooth than the Arjun.
Turkey also cooperated with AugustaWestland to produce the T129 attack helicopter, which is essentially an A129 airframe with Turkish armament and systems. Turkey also has a program to develop an indigenous fighter aircraft, with first flight planned for around 2023. The Turkish government still has to choose between multiple design options. While the aircraft will feature many Turkish-made systems and assembly in Turkey, some key components such as the engine will still need to be imported. The recent downing of a Turkish AH-1W by Kurdish militants with a 9K38 Igla may add urgency to the procurement of the T129: AH-1 helicopters have a notoriously vulnerable tail section, as the tail rotor drivetrain often tears the aft section of the aircraft apart.
Turkey and the Ukraine have also pursued defense cooperation in light of Russian activities; Russia has invaded portions of Ukraine and has been involved with border skirmishes in Turkey. The two nations agreed to jointly develop systems such as “turbojet aircraft engines, radars, military communications technologies and navigation systems,” according to DefenseNews. The move also reflects a desire for greater independence: relying on Western imports, especially for countries such as Ukraine, is dangerous given the various approvals needed before Western weapons can be sold. The West is wary of providing Ukraine with weapons, fearing an escalation of tensions with Russia.