The current economic slowdown would not affect the defence acquisition programme of the Indian armed forces, defence minister A K Antony said in a lead-up seminar to Aero India 2009, which officially opens in Bangalore on 11 February.
Responding to Air Chief Marshal F H Major who spoke earlier stressing defence modernisation, Antony said, "We will provide you whatever you want to safeguard India's national interests." He added that the government was prepared to spend more on defence research and development.
However, the minister admitted that the country was "far, far away" from realising prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's dream of India becoming self-reliant in defence. He pointed out that only 30 per cent of India's defence needs are met within the country, while 70 per cent are imported.
He said that a country like India, which boasts of the world's "fourth largest scientific group" and is "growing like anything", depending on foreign sources for most defence items is "not suitable for us".
Earlier, the chief of air staff had sought an apex body to coordinate and regulate aerospace industries "in order to cut wasteful expenditure" and duplication of efforts.
India's economic upswing in the last two decades had resulted in substantial surge in aerospace industries, the Air Chief Marshal said, adding that this was "encouraging". However, as the aerospace industry is poorly regulated, "we run the risk of wasteful expenditure and duplication of efforts".
"There is a definite need for an effective apex agency to coordinate and regulate the activities of many organs that constitute our aerospace industry and to provide focus for the development of a coherent national aerospace capability," he said.
The Chief of Air Staff said India must identify core technologies to be developed, and aggressively design and manufacture them. "Attempting to design and develop everything is not cost-effective," he said.
Antony claimed that he feels "guilty" about the poor growth in indigenous development and production of defence items, saying it is "very, very slow". He said the defence ministry spends only six per cent of its budget on R&D. At the same time, government-owned and private industries in the defence sector should also increase R&D spend, he said.
The minister expressed happiness over the success of the advanced light helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, designed and developed in India. He said that two years ago there were "many doubting Thomases" who said it wouldn't be a success. But today, there is a great demand for ALH. He said even the armed forces were finding it difficult to procure the ALH as there was demand from the Home Ministry, various state governments, and many foreign countries as well.
Antony added that unconventional means of "warfare" used by terrorists, as seen in the 9/11 attacks in the US and the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, demand a "calibrated" international response.