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India kicks off South Asia's biggest airshow

South Asia's biggest airshow opens in Bangalore with firms from 25 countries showcasing their latest hardware in a chase for multi-billion dollar contracts with the Indian military.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2009 03:33 IST

South Asia's biggest airshow opened in Bangalore on Wednesday with firms from 25 countries showcasing their latest hardware in a chase for multi-billion dollar contracts with the Indian military.

Despite the global economic downturn, nearly 600 armament and aerospace companies -- half of them from overseas -- are taking part in this year's Aero India event in Bangalore.

Regional rival Pakistan has not been invited to the five-day event but China is participating for the first time.

"We don't invite Pakistan to our air shows," India's Defence Production Secretary Pradeep Kumar said. Tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours have soared in the wake of last November's attacks in Mumbai which India blames on a Pakistan-based Islamist group.

Even with India's economy showing signs of a deepening slowdown, its million-plus military says it cannot cut defence spending and plans to hand out contracts worth 30 billion dollars in the next three to four years.

India has already imported military hardware worth 28 billion dollars since 2000.

Among the prime pickings is a 12-billion dollar deal for 126 fighter jets. Six major aeronautical firms competing for the contract are participating in the air show.

Leading the pack of 303 international companies at the event are Germany and France with 31 firms each. Twenty-six British, 24 Russian and 22 US firms are also present, along with 289 Indian defence companies.

Britain's ambassador to New Delhi, Richard Stagg, said India needed modern weaponry.

"Against the backdrop of a very turbulent neighbourhood and very difficult domestic security issues, India is keen to ensure that its armed forces are promptly equipped with the best equipment," he said in Bangalore.

India says it is "fast-tracking" all arm procurement negotiations amid the heightened tensions with Pakistan.

"For the first time, there will be business-to-business meetings on a large scale," secretary Kumar said, adding that 500 such discussions had already been scheduled.

Besides the 126 fighter jets, transport aircraft and airborne early warning systems, the Indian military also plans to buy 700 helicopters worth 3.5 billion dollars and an array of air defence systems.

Israel, which replaced France in 2007 as India's second-largest arms supplier after Russia, has sent its top 10 defence firms, including Rafael, which last September grabbed a 260-million-dollar missile contract.

India also hopes to find buyers for a supersonic cruise missile it has jointly built with Russia.

Security has been especially tight this year around the Yelahanka Air Force Station venue.

"The effort is to have a fool-proof system," Kumar said.