Goa Beckons the Defence World

India is the biggest arms importer and India is in an aggressive mode to become an indigenous defence equipment producer, though it is still in the nascent stage

Show: Defexpo India - Day 1 By R. Chandrakanth

After eight successful editions at the Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, Defexpo 2016 has found a new venue — Goa, a land known for its beaches, fun and frolic. For four days, part of South Goa (Naqueri Quitol in Quepem Taluka) will be transformed into a fortress where arms and armament and other defence equipment manufacturers will give direction to India’s defence industry which is just opening up to the world.

The ninth edition of Defexpo, to be held from March 28 to 31, is being done at the behest of the Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar who hails from Goa and is intended to create a defence industrial base over there. That appears to be a long shot. However, the biennial Land, Naval and Internal Homeland Security Systems Exhibition is clearly steering the path of steady growth and has been receiving overwhelming and unprecedented international response with each edition.

Efforts are on at Goa to make the venue conducive for such a mega event. Unlike Pragati Maidan which offered a 50-hectre complex in the heart of Delhi, with more than 61,290 square feet of covered exhibition area in 16 display halls, as well as 1,07,00 feet of open display area, the venue in Goa has to be transformed from scratch. The Goa Government has only offered empty land, on which the Defence Exhibition Organisation (DEO) intends to set up large tented structures for the duration of the show. That reportedly has not dampened the enthusiasm of exhibitors who number almost 900 from 44 countries.

The previous edition had recorded an unprecedented growth in foreign as well as domestic companies participation over its previous editions. An impressive 232 foreign companies from 32 countries participated in the show along with 15 country pavilions. With a growth of 12.64 per cent in terms of space booking. Defexpo 2014 provided a platform to all the exhibitors to display their latest technologies and products and an opportunity to explore/tap the market and business potential for mutual benefits. The 2016 figures are expected to surpass, considering that Indian defence industry continues to garner worldwide interest for two reasons — India is not just the biggest arms importer but also is in an aggressive mode to become an indigenous defence equipment producer, though it is still in the nascent stage.

India top importer of arms

India tops the world in arms imports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in 2011-15 period. Six of the top 10 largest arms importers in the five-year period are in Asia and Oceania: India (14 per cent of global arms imports), China (4.7 per cent), Australia (3.6 per cent), Pakistan (3.3 per cent), Vietnam (2.9 per cent) and South Korea (2.6 per cent). In 2015, Saudi Arabia’s arms imports topped the world as the Middle East country has been buying aircraft and other weapons on an unprecedented scale. “China continues to expand its military capabilities with imported and domestically produced weapons,’” said Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘Neighbouring states such as India, Vietnam and Japan are also significantly strengthening their military forces.’ India merely extended its top run from 2006-2010 period. The top five exporters in the period were US, Russia, China, France and Germany. As regards India, Israel plays a key role both in exports to India as well in partnerships.

‘Make in India’ gives defence industry impetus

With the NDA Government going aggressive on the ‘Make in India’ campaign, there is increased interest in India’s defence programmes as the government is kind of laying the red carpet to foreign original equipment manufacturers. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that the government would encourage not only domestic production but also cater to the export markets.

The government has been engaging with other governments in many strategic areas. With the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, India has extended its military and security ties, even while Russia and Israel are important defence equipment providers. Narendra Modi has, with recent agreements with President Barack Obama, signalled a renewed interest in defence cooperation. The Prime Minister while taking on a greater role in the region, nevertheless is keeping India’s firepower at a high level, considering that India has to contend with two contentious neighbours — China and Pakistan — besides, the issues of internal security which have cross-border implications.

Engaging governments

If one looks at the Prime Minister’s strategy, he has been playing his cards carefully. Defence acquisitions are not happening in one basket as in the earlier years where the erstwhile Soviet Union held sway. India is buying from the US, from France (36 Rafale fighter aircraft), from UK (BAE Systems howitzer guns), from Israel (a host of defence equipment including UAVs), from Japan and so on. In 2014, India decided to buy Israeli anti-tank guided missiles and launchers and revive the joint development of a long-range missile. The $659 million of Israeli arms purchases since Prime Minister Modi took power is more than the Israel’s total military exports to India in the prior three years.

The writing is on the wall. India is going to predominantly take the route of joint ventures, while it will give precedence to imports that cannot be done away with. Whatever, the world defence industry has to keep its antenna up when it comes to marketing in India as the defence sector is becoming so so dynamic.