India making rapid strides in military modernisation - but still far to go

But New Delhi must not be complacent, because a lot more needs to be done in acquisitions and modernisation to match the much larger and more sophisticated Chinese arsenal and to raise India’s politico-diplomatic assertiveness against Beijing's muscle-flexing.

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Apr 21, 2023
Representational Photo

China’s second aggression in 2020 necessitated the acceleration of the process of acquiring much-needed arms, equipment, systems etc for the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. 2022, in fact, turned out to be a year of acquisitions of state-of-the-art weapons, equipment, and technologies, mostly manufactured by the indigenous industry, for the Indian Armed Forces. With many countries also showing keen interest in Indian platforms, a record was set in defence exports. Also, there was major progress made in border areas' development, empowerment of women, expansion of the National Cadet Corps and setting up of new Sainik Schools.

New acquisitions

India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was commissioned by Prime Minister Narendra Mody at Cochin Shipyard Limited in September 2022. With 76 per cent indigenous content, the 262.5 m long and 61.6 m wide, state-of-the-art equipment/systems, it has a crew of around 1,600 officers and sailors and an air wing consisting of 30 assorted aircraft capable of STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) as well as a ski-jump for launching aircraft and a set of ‘arrester wires’ for their recovery onboard.

 Designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), ‘Prachand’, India’s first indigenous multi-role combat light combat helicopter (LCH), was inducted into the Indian Air Force in Jodhpur in October 2022.

Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 325, operating the indigenously built advanced light helicopter (ALH) Mk-III, was commissioned into the Indian Navy in a ceremony held at INS Utkrosh, Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar Command in May 2022. It is the second ALH MK III Squadron commissioned into the Indian Navy and can undertake maritime reconnaissance as well as carry out search and rescue at extended ranges while operating from ships, both by day and night.

 Two frontline warships of the Indian Navy – ‘Surat’ and ‘Udaygiri’ – were launched at Mazagon Docks Limited, Mumbai in May. ‘Surat’ is the fourth Stealth-Guided Missile Destroyer of the P15B class, while ‘Udaygiri’ is the second Stealth Frigate of P17A class.

Two Diving Support Vessels (DSVs) - Nistar and Nipun - built by Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam were launched in September. DSVs equipped with an array of complex Diving Support systems and Deep Submergence Rescue vessels are being deployed for deep sea diving and submarine rescue operations. The ships are also capable of conducting Search and Rescue operations and carrying out Helicopter Operations at sea. They were launched by achieving approx. 80% indigenous content, a major step towards 'Self Reliance'.‘Ikshak’, the third of the four Survey Vessels (Large) (SVL) Project, being built by GRSE/L&T for the Indian Navy was launched in November in Chennai. SVL ships will replace the existing Sandhayak Class survey ships with new-generation hydrographic equipment to collect oceanographic data.

 In a major boost to further strengthening the capabilities of the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), ALH Mk-III squadrons - 835 Sqn (CG) and 840 Sqn (CG) - were commissioned in Porbandar and Chennai in June and December respectively.

 Indigenously built Offshore Patrol Vessel for Indian Coast Guard, Saksham was inducted in February. The ship was designed and built by Goa Shipyard Ltd and is fitted with advanced technology navigation and communication equipment, sensors and machinery.

Growth in defence exports

Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation stone of the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility - the country’s first in the private sector - in Vadodara, Gujarat in October. The facility will manufacture C-295 aircraft for the Indian Air Force through a collaboration between Tata Advanced Systems Limited and Airbus Defence and Space S.A., Spain. This is the first project of its kind in which a military aircraft will be manufactured in India by a private company. The aircraft can be used for civilian purposes as well. 40 aircraft will be manufactured at the facility, while 16 aircraft will be delivered in flyaway condition, as per the contract signed between the Ministry of Defence with M/s Airbus Defence and Space S.A.

Defence exports reportedly grew by 334 per cent in five years, touching a record Rs 13,000 crore in Financial Year 2021-22. India is now exporting defence equipment to over 75 countries.

New contracts signed 

35 combat and three practice BrahMos missiles for two P-15B ships from M/s BrahMos Aerospace Pvt. Ltd., India.

957 Commander Thermal image (Ti) cum day sight for T-90 Tanks from Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) was signed in February.

Construction of eight Fast Patrol vessels (FPVs) for ICG with M/s Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL), Goa in March. 

Two Multi-Purpose Vessels (MPVs) for Indian Navy from M/s Larsen &Tubro Limited, Mumbai under Buy (Indian) category was signed in March. Construction of six 25-Ton Bollard Pull Tugs was concluded with M/s Titagarh Wagons Ltd, Kolkata. These tugs, with a service life of 30 years, will be capable of assisting naval ships and submarines in berthing and un-berthing, turning and manoeuvring in confined waters.

 Two contracts for the procurement of 42 D-29 electronic warfare systems and associated equipment and one Instrumented Electronic Warfare Range (IEWR) for Indian Air Force from M/s BEL, Bengaluru & Hyderabad for a total cost of Rs 1,993 crore and Rs 1,109 crore under Buy (Indian) category respectively were signed in March.

Projects launched

Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) Prime and 6thDefence India Start-up Challenge (DISC 6) during Def Connect 2.0, a one-day event to bring together start-ups, big companies and armed forces personnel to boost indigenous innovation in New Delhi. The iDEX-Prime aims to support projects, requiring support beyond Rs 1.5 crore up to Rs 10 crore to help ever-growing start-ups in the defence sector. The DISC 6 with 38 Problem Statements was also launched.

75 newly developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) products/technologies were launched by the Defence Minister during the first ever ‘AI in Defence’ symposium and exhibition organized by the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi. The products fall under various domains such as AI Platform Automation; Autonomous/Unmanned/Robotics systems; Block Chain-based Automation; Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Cyber Security; Human Behavioural Analysis; Intelligent Monitoring Systems; Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems; Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Operational Data Analytics; Manufacturing and Maintenance; Simulators/Test Equipment and speech/voice analysis using Natural Language Processing.

Providing a huge boost to ‘Make in India’ and adding a new dimension to the Indo-US strategic partnership, US Navy Ship Charles Drew visited L&T’s Shipyard at Kattupalli, Chennai in August for undertaking repairs and allied services. This was the first ever repair of a US Navy ship in India.

Major successful missile tests

In May, India successfully fired the Extended Range Version of BrahMos Air Launched missile from Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft. The launch from the aircraft was as planned and the missile achieved a direct hit on the designated target in the Bay of Bengal region.

A successful training launch of a Short-Range Ballistic Missile, Prithvi-II was carried out in June from the Integrated Test Range, Chandipur, Odisha. The missile is a proven system and is capable of striking targets with a very high degree of precision.

India carried out a successful training launch of an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, Agni-3 from APJ Abdul Kalam Island, Odisha in November. Earlier, in June, a successful training launch Agni-4 was carried out. It, too, validated all operational parameters as also the reliability of the system. The successful test reaffirms India's policy of having a 'Credible Minimum Deterrence' Capability.

INS Arihant carried out a successful launch of a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile in October.

In April, the indigenously developed helicopter launched Anti-Tank Guided Missile ‘Helina’ was successfully flight tested twice at different high-altitude ranges as part of user validation trials. The flight tests were jointly conducted by DRDO, Indian Army and Indian Air Force. The flight trials were conducted from an Advanced Light Helicopter and the missile was fired successfully engaging a simulated tank target.

Indigenously developed Laser-Guided Anti-Tank Guided Missile was successfully test-fired from main battle tank Arjun by DRDO and Indian Army at KK Ranges with support of Armoured Corps Centre & School, Ahmednagar in June. In the test, the ATGM hit the bull’s eye with textbook precision and successfully defeated the target at minimum ranges. The all-indigenous ATGM employs a tandem High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warhead to defeat Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) protected armoured vehicles.

DRDO and Indian Navy successfully conducted the maiden flight test of an indigenously developed Naval Anti-Ship Missile launched from a Naval Helicopter from Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur, in May. It was the first indigenous air-launched anti-ship missile system for the Indian Navy. The missile followed the desired sea-skimming trajectory and reached the designated target with a high degree of accuracy, validating the control, guidance and mission algorithms. It employed many new technologies, including an indigenously developed launcher for the helicopter.

DRDO and Indian Army successfully completed six flight tests of Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile (QRSAM) system from ITR Chandipur. The flight tests were conducted as part of evaluation trials by the Indian Army

Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missile Army weapon system has once again proved its effectiveness as two missiles, during the flight tests, achieved direct hits against high-speed aerial targets at Integrated Test Range, Chandipur, in March. The launches were carried out to establish the accuracy and reliability of the weapon system against targets covering the sea skimming and high-altitude functionality within the envelope.

Vertical Launch Short Range Surface to Air Missile (VL-SRSAM) was successfully flight-tested by DRDO and Indian Navy from an Indian Naval Ship at ITR, Chandipur.

DRDO conducted a successful maiden flight test of Phase-II Ballistic Missile Defence interceptor AD-1missile with a large kill altitude bracket from APJ Abdul Kalam Island in November. The flight-test was carried out with the participation of all BMD weapon system elements located at different geographical locations. The AD-1 is a long-range interceptor missile designed for both low exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric interception of long-range ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.

In January, DRDO successfully flight-tested the final deliverable configuration of the Man Portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile. The indigenously developed anti-tank missile is a low-weight, fire & forget missile and is launched from a man-portable launcher, integrated with thermal sight.

The maiden flight of Autonomous Flying Wing Technology Demonstrator was carried out successfully by DRDO from the Aeronautical Test Range, Chitradurga, Karnataka in July. Operating in a fully autonomous mode, the aircraft exhibited a perfect flight, including take-off, waypoint navigation and a smooth touchdown. 

India's large-scale military modernisation would not have escaped China's radar. But New Delhi must not be complacent, because a lot more needs to be done in acquisitions and modernisation to match the much larger and more sophisticated Chinese arsenal and to raise India’s politico-diplomatic assertiveness against Beijing's muscle-flexing. 

(The author, a military affairs commentator, is a former Ministry of Defence and Indian Army, spokesperson. Views are personal. He can be reached at

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