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Surprising? Record defence exports from India

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The financial Year 2022-23, witnessed India crossing a key new milestone. Exports worth USD 1.94 Billion (INR 15,918 Crore) of the Defence Equipment and ammunition was the highest ever. This placed India, now in the league of serious manufacturer and supplier nations. However, it should not surprise anyone. 

India has been an exporter of weapons and defence materials from ancient times. Wootz* swords used by Eurpeans and “Damascus” swords used by Arabs in ancient times were manufactured from Indian steel. Europeans derived the name “Wootz” steel from its Indian names “Urukku” steel or “Uchch” Steel.

It is generally not well known, even among Indians, that India was one of the largest suppliers of munitions during the 1st and 2nd World Wars. India had 18 huge ordnance factories, all manned almost entirely by Indian manpower. These plants produced explosives of various different kinds, meant for handguns, machine guns, mortars, cannons, aircrafts, etc. 

That apart, hundred different things needed by the armies, shoes, sacks, uniforms, tents, etc were too produced in many factories of India. It might be surprising for many that besides the seas around Europe, the German ‘U Boats’ patrolled the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal to locate and hunt down British cargo ships leaving India with the lethal cargo.

Don’t we know Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose travelled from Europe to Singapore aboard a German submarine? My own Aunt, who lived in East Africa, had to travel aboard a British cargo ship, even sleeping on the boxes of explosives, for want of space, from Mumbai to Mombasa during that period. She had narrated to us her ordeal and the chaotic situation on the ship when a couple of times they sounded an alarm at an approaching danger. 

Currently India has fortified the ordnance production and have increased the number of factories from 18 in 1947 to 41 in 2023.

Apart from the defence equipment, India contributed the largest number of soldiers to the British armies in the world wars. It was unfortunate that until Indian PM Narendra Modi made it a point to visit cemeteries and memorials to the fallen Indian soldiers in France, UK, Germany and Israel that India woke up to these historical facts that Indians had contributed big time in European wars and had laid down their lives. Presence of a large number of Indian soldiers in the British army was either purposely hidden or otherwise from history books.

However, thanks to the British PM, Rishi Sunak, the world recently awoke to this fact when he blocked sale of a painting depicting Indian soldiers in the British army. The sale was blocked to prevent the painting from being lost to some foreign collections. This painting would now remain in Britain and would thus remain in the British Consciousness, helping remind Britain and the world that indeed Indians played a part in winning the war for the Allied armies.

Number of Indian Soldiers sent from India in the 1st World War1.1 MillionNumber of Indian Soldiers  died fighting in the 1st World War74,000
Number of Indian Soldiers sent from India in the 2nd World War2.5 MillionNumber of Indian Soldiers died fighting in the 2nd World War87,000
Total number of Indian Soldiers sent from India in both Wars.3.6 MillionTotal Number of Indian Soldiers died fighting during both the World Wars161,000

Apart from the two world wars, Indians soldiers were sent to many other countries to assist in the wars by the British colonial masters and then after the freedom from them, by the Gov of the independent India to the UN’s peacekeeping missions across the world.

India has recently supplied its Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers, Anti-Tank Missiles, Brahmos missiles, Swathi Radars, Naval Vessels, etc defence materials to about 25 friendly countries of Europe, Asia and Africa. Many orders are in pipeline for supply in coming years. This apart, India is a valued training partner, skilling and training army officers of various countries at their military academies. 
Gov has restructured the ordnance production by forming 7 PSU units (Public Sector Undertaking) and absorbed those 41 ordnance factories rationally into them. Besides Gov run PSUs many large industrial firms have already entered into Defence production. Indian Gov has projected an export target of USD 5 Billion by 2025 and surely, India seems to be on the correct trajectory.
*It is known that Indians processed Iron Ore using furnaces and coal even before 5th Century BCE. They produced high grade “Uchch” or “Wootz” steel by a refining process. Southern Indian smelters were well known for this craft. For the process of refining, the smelters melted steel in a furnace and at appropriate timing added a certain type of plant in appropriate quantity. This plant had additives presumably nickel, silicon, sulphur, carbon etc necessary for converting iron into a high grade steel material. This type of smelting, refining and manufacturing weapons was practised in India till as late as late 17/18th century. However with the advent of the colonial British regime, the steel industry met the same fate as the Indian fine silk and the fine mulmul (muslin) cotton industry.

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