Atmanirbhar Bharat: The Beginning of the End of the Era of Imports

On 9th August 2020, Defense Minister Sri Rajnath Singh introduced the import embargo on 101 items that were earlier imported from foreign manufacturers. This marked the historic step towards self-reliance, a big boost to “Atmanirbhar Bharat”. This is the beginning of the end of the era of imports.

India’s Defence Imports

Right from independence, India had imported the majority of its weapons from other countries. In the post-independence era, India imported almost all the weapons from the western world, mainly Britain and France.

Rise of Russian Weapons

There was a gradual shift from the Western world to the Soviet Union for imports. When the Cold war was at its peak, India and Pakistan became the new battlegrounds for America and the Soviet Union. At that time the entire world was getting aligned to either American or Soviet Ideology. India chooses to remain neutral, which came with a heavy price.

America and its allies began supplying Pakistan modern western weapons such as the Patton Tanks, F 86 Sabre, F 104 Star-fighters etc. India had to do something. Under former PM Indra Gandhi, a new chapter in Indo-Soviet relations was written.

The first major order was of the legendary Mig 21. It was the first time when India choose Russian Weapons over Western ones. Mig 21 was chosen over English Electric Fighters. Though a lot of allegations of KGB’s influence over that purchase were made.

Even today Russia remains to be the top exporter of India’s defence equipment

Defence Exporters of India

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the world’s second-largest importer of major arms in 2014–18 and accounted for 9.5 percent of the global total. Its imports decreased by 24 percent between 2009–13 and 2014–18, partly due to delays in deliveries of arms produced under license from foreign suppliers, such as combat aircraft ordered from Russia in 2001 and submarines ordered from France in 2008. Russia accounted for 58 percent of Indian arms imports in 2014–18, compared with 76 percent in 2009–13. Israel, the USA, and France all increased their arms exports to India in 2014–18.

Russian Weapons Used by India

Even today majority of the weapons used by Indian armed forces are of Russian or Soviet origin. The main battle tanks of India army present in huge numbers namely T-90 Bhisma and T-72 are of Soviet Origin. Frontline fighters of IAF such as Su 30 MKI, Mig-29, and Mig-21 are Russian. The flagship of the Indian Navy, INS Vikramaditya is Kiev-class aircraft carrier of the Soviet Navy. The Talwar class frigates, Rajput class destroyers, Kilo-class submarines, and INS Chakra are of Russian origin.

Israeli Weapons used by India

Israel Rafael Advance Systems, Elbit Systems, and various other companies are the major suppliers of sophisticated equipment used by the armed forces. Almost all the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles serving all the three branches are of Israeli origin. Tavor Tar 21, the standard issue rifle of the special forces are Israeli.

American Weapons.

Indian army uses various assault rifles of American origin. LCA Tejas’s heart GE-F404 Turbofan engine is manufactured by American firm General Electric. Boeing AH 64 Apache, CH 47 Chinook, and P8i are also American.

The Defence Industry of India

The Defence industry of India consists of  DRDO and its 50 labs, 4 defence shipyards, 5 defence PSUs and 41 ordnance factories, of which 80% is owned by the government. All of these roughly produces 50% of the defence equipment and rest are imported.

Major State-run Companies

Bharat DynamicsAmmunition and Missile systems₹3281 crores
Bharat ElectronicsAvionics₹7093 crores
Bharat Earth MoversTransport₹2978 crores
Defence Research and Development OrganisationResearch and DevelopmentAnnual Budget of 2018–19 of ₹17861 crores
Garden Reach Shipbuilders & EngineersNaval ships₹1694 crores
Goa ShipyardShipbuilding₹681 crores
Hindustan Aeronautics LimitedAerospace manufacturer₹17753 crores
Mazagon Dock LimitedShipbuilding₹4399.16 crores
Mishra Dhatu NigamMetallurgy₹747 crores
Ordnance Factory BoardDefence Equipment and Support₹23687.22 crores
Cochin Shipyard LimitedShipbuilding₹25.44 billion

Private Companies

  • Astra Microwave
  • Bharat Forge
  • Kalyani Group 
  • Larsen & Toubro
  • Tata Group
  • HTNP Industries
  • Alpha Design Technologies

Make in India

Make in India was launched by the Government of India on 25 September 2014 to encourage companies to manufacture their products in India and incentivize with dedicated investments into manufacturing. The policy approach was to create a conducive environment for investments, develop modern and efficient infrastructure, and open up new sectors for foreign capital. The initiative targeted 25 economic sectors for job creation and skill enhancement, and aimed “to transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub”. The Defence sector was among those 25 sectors.

The Modi government in its first year cleared 39 capital procurement proposals, of which 32 proposals worth ₹88,900 crores were categorized as Buy (Indian) and Buy and Make (Indian)—the top two prioritized domestic industry-centric procurement categories as per the defence procurement procedure.

The government’s policies to encourage domestic manufacturing and export of defence equipment under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship scheme Make in India in Defence. It has already resulted in substantial growth of defence export from the country as it jumped by 700% in just two years, from $213 million in FY 2016–17 to $1.5 billion in FY 2018–19. Encouraged by this, the government set a target of achieving defence export worth ₹35,000 crores in the next four years.

Import Embargo on 101 items.

The import ban on 101 defence items marked the beginning of the end of the era of imports. Gone are the days when India was incapable of producing defence equipment and was dependent on other countries for crucial imports. This is the first step towards complete indigenization.

Indian companies never got exposure to innovate and evolve. These companies were further paralyzed by imports and insufficient research and development funding. But with the course of time, these very companies have gained a good amount of experience in the manufacturing of defence equipment and today are capable of producing world-class equipment.

Indigenous options of imported weapons

Assault rifles and sniper rifles

Indian army is importing Sig 716 rifle for replacing its INSAS rifles. Indian army has also placed orders for Caracal International CAR 816 carbines. Indian army can consider the option of SSS defence’s P72 assault rifle and 7.62 Viper sniper rifle.

Artillery Guns

Danush, ATAGS, K9 vajra and many other indigenous options are available.

Armored Vehicles

When it comes to armor Indian options are quite good but due to some unknown reasons, Indian army is reluctant to include them. These include our very own Arjun MBT and Tata Kestrel.


The ban on 101 items is the first step toward self-reliance. Only banning the imports won’t make India self-reliant. The government has to invest a significant amount of funds in research and development. Privatization in defence sectors must be promoted and should be taken to the next level. The efficiency of various PSUs such as HAL and OFB can be drastically increased by bringing it under the direct supervision of the armed forces’ respective branch. Although this ban in the short term would benefit us. But in the long term perspective it could have a negative impact. In a short term basis, it would secure the market for the Indian players by eliminating foreign competition. But in the long term, this will negatively impact the innovation and efficiency of Indian Companies. The government has to promote multiple companies for a single product to ensure good standards. Any type of monopoly over any item must be avoided. Multiple companies manufacturing the same goods will ensure domestic competition. Various incentives should be provided to private firms for R&D. The import lobbyists must be identified and eradicated. Over the ages India has been an attractive market for various Defense exporters. Since these people are loosing market, they will try to influence the policy makers through lobbyists.

The first step is always the most difficult step, but once we start, if our will power is strong enough, then nothing will be impossible. The day when India will be truly ‘Atmanirbhar’ is not very far.


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Sheershoo Deb

I am a defense aspirant preparing to be an officer in the prestigious Indian armed forces. Earning the prestigious blue uniform is my dream.


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