UK seeks Indian investment in defence

Indian firms have scope to leverage their "strategic strengths" in IT and software to develop affordable hi-tech weapons for UK.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2006 13:17 IST

Britain on Wednesday sought Indian investment in its defence industry and said it was engaged in negotiations for transferring up to eight second-hand Sea Harrier jets to the Indian Navy.

Lord Drayson, Britain's minister for defence procurement, said his country was keen on forging collaborations and joint ventures with Indian firms working in cutting edge IT and software to fulfil the long-term needs of the British armed forces.

"There is a market potential running into millions of pounds (under Britain's Defence Industrial Strategy)," Drayson told a news conference at the Defexpo 2006 arms fair here that is being attended by the world's largest armaments firms.

"Indian industries are currently taking a small proportion of the market," he said, adding there was scope for Indian firms to leverage their "strategic strengths" in IT and software to develop affordable hi-tech weapons for the British military.

The Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS), announced by the British government in December 2005, identifies "key gaps" and the major requirements of its armed forces over the next 10 years.

"We want the UK defence market to be as open as possible," Drayson said.

Malcolm Haworth, director of the Defence Export Services Organisation and part of Drayson's delegation, said the Indian Navy had expressed "strong interest" in acquiring six to eight used Sea Harriers that would be retired from service by the Royal Navy in France.

"We are in detailed discussions with the Indian Navy, and we also talked yesterday. There are lots of issues to resolve, and we are hopeful we can find a way to transfer them to the Indian Navy," said Haworth.

The Indian Navy plans to use the jets to replenish its ageing fleet of Sea Harriers that are deployed with its aircraft carrier INS Viraat.

Haworth and officials of BAE Systems, which last year concluded a one-billion pound deal to supply 66 Hawk trainer jets to the Indian Air Force, remarked that Britain would be keen to pitch the Typhoon fighter for India's plans to buy 126 combat jets.

Under the Hawk deal, the Royal Air Force is training 75 Indian pilots in batches to fly the trainer jet.

"This heralds a new era of cooperation between us," said Air Vice Marshal Gavin Mackay, senior military advisor with the British ministry of defence. He said 18 Indian pilots had already completed their training in Britain, and 23 were currently undergoing the course.

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 16:47 IST