Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said his "bold action" in meeting the country's critical military requirements were contrary to the Congress-led UPA government's "laziness, incompetence or perhaps some hidden motives" that damaged India's defence.
Inaugurating the DefExpo 2018 on East Coast Road near Chennai, he blasted the UPA over stalled defence projects and commended his own government for finalising the procurement of bulletproof jackets for soldiers and setting in a new process to procure 110 fighter planes for the Indian Air Force.
"There was a time when the critical issue of defence preparedness was hampered by policy paralysis. We have seen the damage such laziness, incompetence or perhaps some hidden motives can cause to the nation.
"You would have seen how the issue of providing bulletproof jackets to Indian soldiers was kept hanging for years. You would have also seen that we have brought the process to a successful conclusion with a contract that will provide a boost to defence manufacturing in India," the Prime Minister told his audience of international delegates, foreign industry captains and domestic manufacturers.
He was referring to a major defence contract for the procurement of 1.86 lakh bulletproof jackets signed earlier this week after the successful conduct of field evaluation trials.
The Rs 639-crore project has gone to SMPP Pvt Ltd - a Delhi-based company that has a Research and Development centre in the Okhla Industrial Area.
The contract was signed under the "Make in India" initiative nine years after the Indian Army first made a request to acquire body armour for its soldiers.
Modi also referred to the Indian Air Force's long-awaited request for information (RFI) issued last week to global vendors for the procurement of 110 single-engine and twin engine fighters under the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 to facilitate indigenous military hardware manufacturing.
"You would also recall the long-drawn process of procurement of fighter aircraft that never reached any conclusion (during the previous government).
"We have not only taken bold action to meet our immediate critical requirements, but have also initiated a new process to procure 110 fighter aircraft."
US defence majors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Swedish aircraft-maker Saab, France's Dassault Aviation, the Eurofighter consortium and Russian jet builder United Aircraft Corporation are expected to bid for the fighter project that could be worth more than $15 billion.
Modi also launched a new scheme "Innovation for Defence Excellence" (IDEX) to link young innovators to defence agencies as part of the government's efforts to boost and modernise India's fledgling military manufacturing sector.
Under the scheme, the government would set up defence innovation hubs throughout the country to provide necessary incubation and infrastructure support to the start-ups in defence sector.
"You need the government to grant a license to manufacture arms and ammunition. Since the government is almost the only buyer, you need the government to grant an order. You need the government even to grant permission to export."
He said to ease the process, his government took many steps and "made a humble beginning on defence manufacturing licenses, offsets, exports clearances, Foreign Direct Investment and on reforming India's defence procurement.
"In all these areas, our regulations, processes and procedures have been made more industry-friendly, more transparent, more predictable and more outcome-oriented.
"The defence procurement procedure has been revised with many specific provisions for stimulating growth of domestic defence industry. We have also de-notified some items earlier made exclusively by Ordnance Factories, so that private sector, especially MSMEs can enter this space."
He recounted that in May 2014, the total number of defence export permission granted stood at 118, for a total value of $577 million.
But, he said, "In less than four years, we have issued 794 more export permissions, for a total value of over $1.3 billion".
He said the government was committed to establishing two defence industrial corridors - one in Tamil Nadu and the other in Uttar Pradesh - which would utilise defence manufacturing ecosystems in the regions and further build upon it.
"The corridors will become engines of economic development and growth of defence industrial base."
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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