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It’s all rocket signs

The huge success of ‘DefExpo 2008’ underlines India’s increasing importance as an attractive market and investment destination for joint ventures in defence.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2008 21:44 IST

The International Land and Naval Systems Exhibition, or ‘DefExpo 2008’, in New Delhi has been a huge success. Jointly organised by the Ministry of Defence and the Confederation of Indian Industry, the four-day event attracted participants from over 30 countries, including the US, Russia, Britain, Israel and South Africa. This underlines India’s increasing importance as an attractive market and investment destination for joint ventures in defence. This is not very surprising, given that the country has plans to buy some $ 30 billion worth of military hardware in the next five years. So it’s only natural that the international defence industry makes a beeline to the subcontinent as mercantile interests prompt heads of government as well as multinationals to woo New Delhi to promote various defence deals.

For instance, the showpiece of India’s long shopping list — the $ 10 billion contract for the 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) required by the Indian Air Force — is being fiercely contested by US, French and Russian companies. So much so that New Delhi is believed to have spend considerable diplomatic energy, striking a balance in the deal. If India has never before been so spoilt for choice, it was inarguably because of the country’s narrow focus on Russian arms supplies. New Delhi appears to have firmly put that behind, the way its acquisition bids for foreign arms is apparently driven by need rather than by ideology. The armed forces will welcome this pragmatic policy, provided, of course, India retains its freedom to choose its military wares in a competitive market without any strings attached.

Although India spent some $ 25 billion shopping for arms in foreign markets after the Kargil war, much more remains to be done to refurbish its ageing military hardware and upgrade systems for the army, navy and the IAF. Hopefully, the new Defence Procurement Policy, to be unveiled in April, will relax rules on arms imports while providing greater synergy between the private sector and the government. Defence reforms like this remain the best bet for making India a major player in the global defence industry market.