NEW DELHI — India has approved a 158 billion rupee (S$3.3 billion) purchase of artillery, the first acquisition of large-calibre guns since the 1980s, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to modernise the armed forces.
The Defence Acquisition Council authorised 229 billion rupees of procurements over the weekend, including the artillery, a government official told reporters in New Delhi, asking not to be identified. The meeting was the first since Mr Manohar Parrikar became defence minister earlier this month.
India has authorised US$19 billion (S$24.7 billion) of weapons purchases since Mr Modi swept to power in May and took a firmer line in border disputes with Pakistan and China. Mr Parrikar has vowed quick and transparent decision-making to spur the military of the world’s largest importer of major conventional weapons.
“The Modi government is more realistic and pragmatic when it comes to defence acquisitions,” said Mr Amit Cowshish, a distinguished fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi. “Earlier, defence procurements used to get stuck for years on flimsy grounds.”
The next step for India will be to seek tenders for the manufacture of the artillery. Mr Modi is trying to encourage domestic production, a policy discussed at the meeting, the official said. A decision on a proposal from the defence units of India’s Tata Sons Ltd and Europe’s Airbus Group NV (AIR) to supply transport aircraft was deferred, the official said.
Last year, India’s biggest state-run weapons maker tested a locally-made piece of artillery produced off 1980s blueprints in the deserts of Rajasthan. When it fired, the barrel cracked. That’s just one example of the nuclear-armed nation’s struggle to introduce its first new artillery since 1986.
Mr Modi faced defence spending near a 50-year low as a percentage of the economy when he took power six months ago.
Aside from authorising weapons purchases, the government has loosened restrictions on procurement from defence manufacturers affected by graft allegations, and made it easier for private companies to maintain military equipment.
Mr Modi has also allowed higher foreign investment in the defence industry, and his administration is said to target the signing of a contract for 126 Rafale fighter jets by year’s end.
Indian leaders have long called for a militarily-strong India to counter potential threats from both China and Pakistan and although now spending more on defence, the country’s military budget at US$38.35 billion is still less than a third of China’s US$145 billion expenditure last year, according to estimates by the Pentagon in its report to the US Congress.
New Delhi worries that China is building roads and other infrastructure along a disputed land border as well as bolstering its naval presence in the Indian Ocean that it considers its zone of influence.