Great civilisations are built on strong foundations of intellect, but are ruined by brute force of mavericks. Few nations know this better than India which suffered 497 years of decline from invaders' greed and all-round destruction. Hence, more than defensive, it's the offensive capabilities that are a prerequisite to sustain a progressive nation and its ambitions. We are well on our way.

Seventy-four years of independence brought us glory and self-reliance in multiple frontiers of technology such as space, rockets, missiles and nuclear. But such determination was clearly missing in indigenisation for defence forces. It is inconceivable that a country that can reach Moon and Mars, makes some of the world's most powerful rockets, cutting-edge satellites and nuclear power plants could never ever build an aircraft, artillery guns, machine guns or even proper clothing and helmets against extreme weather for its forces.

A lot of factors were at play. First: Big money. India, for instance, is the world's third-largest military spender ($76.6 billion in 2021) after the U.S. and China and the largest importer of weapons. It was a magnet for middlemen whose narratives discredited made-in-India defence products as inferior and incapable. As our defence needs grew, the drain on forex got unsustainable. Given the country's economic resurgence, the threats to the nation are multifarious.

India is making a break from this past to power its defence and attack capabilities — completely indigenously. An over ₹10 lakh crore ($130 billion) defence indigenisation plan involves rapid strides in local manufacturing of critical war machines and support products, including fighter jets, submarines, aircraft carrier, guns, attack drones and anti-climate clothing. The biggest step was a ban on import of 411 weapons, platforms and vital items of defence such as lightweight tanks, naval utility helicopters, artillery guns, missiles, destroyers, light combat and transport aircraft and basic trainer aircraft where even armed forces have no option but to procure indigenously.

This has set in motion a race among home-grown companies — both established and new; large firms and SMEs — and foreign firms who either have India-based manufacturing or intend to create one. The ecosystem is already throwing up some promising wins on the global stage, giving Indian companies a chance to eye the $2.5 trillion global defence and space business. So, can the future Lockheed Martins, Raytheons or Thales's emerge out of India? Read P.B. Jayakumar's fascinating account of the rise of Indian defence manufacturing.

Our Special Package this issue is the ninth edition of The Next 500: India's Largest Emerging Companies. These are companies smaller than those that figure in the Fortune 500 India list but are by no means short on grit, determination and ambition. In the lead story "When The Going Gets Good", V. Keshavdev, who curated the package, notes The Next 500 companies have set new records with cumulative topline and profits hitting decadal highs: A strong 41% growth in total income to ₹7.77 lakh crore, and an even-more impressive 256% growth in profits to ₹53,035 crore.

Ever since the list began in 2015, a record 120 companies have scaled the ₹2,000 crore summit on total income. Of these, 31 have, for the first-time ever, surged past the ₹2,500 crore threshold. Read the Next 500 success stories in the package.

Follow us on Facebook, X, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp to never miss an update from Fortune India. To buy a copy, visit Amazon.