The title “Opportunities for Vietnam: Make in India” reflects the depth of our equation with Vietnam and proposes India associating Vietnam in the schemes which are essentially meant to get technology and jobs to India.
There is much background which gives a sense that it is not an off the cuff thought but a thought which is nuanced and has been on the cards. In 2011/12 the issue of Spratly and Paracel Islands was a hot issue and was unnerving most ASEAN members. The reclamation work by China had commenced on a number of islands, reefs, shoals and rocks.
Looking back, it seems that a new history was in the making. By reclamation, China was not only changing the geography but also writing a history of what appears to have become China-centric discourse. That is when discussion on India’s support for surveillance in SCS (South China Sea) and possible improvements in the capability of Vietnam began between the two countries. Vietnam considered it necessary to build its defence capability to protect its territorial sovereignty because it was under threat.
Discussions during that period revolved around two probable assets which Vietnam was considering, and both were made in India. In Delhi, MoD was in the process of writing the Defence Procurement Procedure 2013 in which indigenous production was being emphasised to strengthen self-reliance. Of these, some joint venture products would contain larger Indian content with the involvement of medium and small scale industries in the private sector.
Many components were to be made in India, both by PSUs and Private Sector. The government promulgated its first-ever Defence Production Policy in which it was stated, for the first time, that private sector could participate in the manufacturing of larger weapon platforms and equipment. Till then it was the restricted domain of PSUs and Armed Forces were complaining of slow production rate and many other infirmities with PSUs since they had assured clientele.
Now the nomenclature ‘Make in India’ given by the present Prime Minister Mr Modi is timely for which the building blocks are in place. The policy for Strategic Partnership has been promulgated. The best thing which has happened in the new DPP is the provision of ‘Empowered Committee’ which will oversee the timely completion of projects.
Our relations with Vietnam have been very strong historically and it is of the stature of a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partner’. Indian government should be willing to support Vietnamese Defence production and also other sectors of strategic importance. Vietnam has a good opportunity to invest in our indigenous manufacturing effort and reap identical benefits.
The Vietnamese establishment is very clear about its stake in the South China Sea and the capability it needs to develop. Vietnam is right of the belief that on the international stage, India-China and India-US relationship would govern geopolitical dynamics in future. Its intention of enhancing capabilities of their Armed Forces to protect its sovereignty (mainland and few islands in the Spratly and Paracel group) is also driven by the reality that China is their geographical neighbour and they have to live with it.
Vietnam is strengthening its capabilities by acquiring submarines, fighter aircraft, the long-range surface to surface missiles and India is poised to provide training and logistics support for these platforms.
The present push by the government, particularly Prime Minister Modi, towards ‘Make in India’ offers the opportunity to Vietnam to identify the platforms they need and participate in the production process with India. By such participation, Vietnam would become conversant with the technology of the platforms and weapon systems. It would afford Vietnam better understanding of maintenance and logistics support matters which could lead to self-sufficiency.
Mention has been made of the platforms which would be produced in India. It is a very wide spectrum and spread in the entire domain of conventional warfare. Components for IT systems, submarines, helicopters, fighter aircraft, tanks, artillery guns, warships etc would become easily accessible in times to come. In the dual technology domain, satellites and other space-based assets, cyber, electronic warfare equipment, nuclear power reactors etc are other areas which Vietnam could take advantage of.
For the present, ships of all categories are being built in India, destroyers, frigates, landing crafts, submarines under license, helicopters, Su 30 under license, the surface to air missiles, the surface to surface missiles, torpedoes, UAVs and many more which could be of interest to Vietnam. Fast patrol craft is already in pipeline under line of credit of $500 million.
India is on the threshold of breaking into the vast defence manufacturing domain and ‘comprehensive’ strategic partner such as Vietnam are poised to be benefited. We are at a very opportune moment in history and Vietnam should shake off its apprehension of reprimand and build capacity for the protection of its sovereignty over a well spread out territory.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM, and Bar is the former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. He is present, Member, Board of Trustees, India Foundation.