Defence Minister A.K. Antony expressed the hope on Wednesday that LCA Tejas, the indigenously developed fighter aircraft, would get the final operational clearance of the Indian Air Force by the end of next year.

Speaking after giving away annual awards to scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) here, he said all stakeholders, including the DRDO, the IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) must put their energy together to achieve this objective.

He said India remained the largest importer of defence equipment, but the share of indigenous content in procurement was low. “Our experience has been that foreign vendors are reluctant to part with critical technologies. There are delays in the supply of essential spares. There are exorbitant price increases. The Services too realise that we cannot be eternally dependent on foreign equipment and platforms.”

Referring to the expansion of the domestic defence industry, Mr. Antony said it had to be achieved through public and private sector initiatives. There were ample scope for joint ventures too. “All stakeholders in the defence sector — the DRDO, the Armed Forces and the industry — must work in tandem and develop trust and confidence in one another’s capabilities.”

Cautioning against time and cost overruns, he said Indian companies must compete with global players in developing state-of-the-art technologies of acceptable commercial parameters and must meet customer satisfaction.

Mr. Antony complimented the DRDO on its achievements in 2012: the first flight of Agni-V; two successful tests of the ballistic missile defence programme in February and November 2012; the first flight of the LCA (Navy); the establishment of a cyber-forensics laboratory; technology transfer for composite armour for helicopters; and investment casting of aeroengine components.

Asking the scientists not to become complacent, he said the DRDO must keep its focus trained on core competence and must not fritter away its energy and resources. “In today’s world of cut-throat competition, the choice is very clear — ‘perform or perish.’ From designing to final production, time lines must be strictly adhered to and satisfaction of the end user is the litmus test of achievement.”

Referring to the grim security scenario in India’s neighbourhood, Mr. Antony said there was civil strife and turmoil in the Middle East; terrorism and threats to cyber security; piracy; illegal seabed mining in the Indian Ocean; and space-based threats. “All these present complex challenges to our defence capabilities. These require both conventional and latest technological responses.”

The Minister was glad that a large number of major systems were under production, and the cumulative production value of all DRDO-developed systems had crossed Rs.1,55,000 crore. “DRDO must make relentless efforts to accelerate the pace of self-reliance.”

Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Pratap Singh; Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne; Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral D.K. Joshi; and DRDO Director-General V.K. Saraswat were among those who attended the function.

Mr. Antony gave away DRDO awards under 14 categories to several scientists, technologists and laboratories.