Shortly after inaugurating the fifth international land and naval systems exhibition, DefExpo 2008, Defence Minister AK Antony took a whirlwind tour of the arms fair on Saturday. At the end of it, he must have realised that the Indian armed forces are spoilt for choice. Lusting for opportunities in the defence sector, global biggies have bombarded the bustling Indian arms bazaar with newest weapon systems and technologies.
DefExpo 2008 was teeming with such motley weapons as Israeli heli-borne-guided missiles, Rafael’s unmanned protector boats, Italian Oto Melara lightweight rapid-fire naval guns, Saab’s missiles for precision strikes and Russian air defence missile systems.
Equally impressive were American air-cooled machine guns and Lockheed Martin-developed Hummer platforms for enabling command and control on the battlefield.
It is too early to say if the Swedes can hawk Giraffe, a multi-mission surveillance system, to India or if Italian aerial targets can make their way into the Indian military inventory. But the US is quite gung ho, having sealed its largest-ever foreign military sale to India of C-130J transport aircraft as well as direct commercial sales of eight P-8I naval reconnaissance planes.
Former US secretary of defense William Cohen, who heads the US-India Business Council, comprising top American defence companies, said, “The promise of deeper US-India defence cooperation is now a reality. American firms are looking forward to being a reliable supplier and trusted partner in the long term.”
The Americans may be upbeat, but that has not dampened the spirits of the Israelis, who have come to DefExpo with high-resolution observation satellites, Spike-ER missile systems, mini UAVs, artillery radars and howitzers.
Abraham Bahar, marketing director for Asia and Australia, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) told the Hindustan Times, “We are serious contenders for Indian military business. No serious manufacturer can ignore the Indian market.” Israel hawked military equipment work $1.5 billion to India in 2006.
Russian presence at DefExpo has been a low-key affair, as compared to the aggressive marketing by American, Israeli and European firms. European biggies such as Saab and Finmeccanica are tracking India's military modernisation programme closely. Saab has offered India mine hunting equipment, air defence and acquisition radars, and UAV surveillance and foliage penetration systems.