NEW DELHI: Global armament giants are heading to an annual defence fair in India, which plans to spend tens of billions of dollars to equip its million-plus military with new hardware.
Some 650 defence companies from 35 countries will take part in the sixth edition of DefExpo-India, which kicks off Monday, India’s Defence Production Secretary R. K. Singh told reporters.
The United States and Israel topped the list of participants in the four-day event in New Delhi while 41 other countries were sending delegations to hold discussions with Indian defence officials, Singh said.
“We look forward to facilitating these discussions,” said Singh in the run-up to the arms bazaar, the largest to be held in India.
Singh said although India’s new defence policy, to be unveiled soon, will seek to encourage greater local production of military hardware, arms imports will continue.
India buys 70 per cent of its weaponry — mainly from former Cold War ally Russia, Israel, France and Britain. The United States now is vying for contracts but still only has a limited share of the Indian defence market.
The record number of participants at the DefExpo follows an announcement by Defence Minister A.K. Antony in 2009 that India would spend 50 billion dollars on “acquisitions and modernisation” of its technology-hungry military by 2015.
India will also invest 10 billion dollars separately on homeland security by 2016 to try and protect itself against attacks such as the 2008 massacre of 166 people in Mumbai by gunmen from Pakistan, the government said in August.
“India is now the most happening place,” commented Loic Piedevache, country head of European weapons consortium MBDA, which signed a pact with India in 2005 to manufacture anti-tank missiles for the Indian and French markets.
India is among the world’s top 10 military spenders with an annual defence budget last year of 1,420 billion rupees (31.55 billion dollars).
US firms Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Britain’s BAE Systems, French Dassault and Israeli firms see the prospects of India dishing out massive contracts as it races to revamp its military.
After a huge weapons kick-back scandal in 1987, which brought down a government, arms spending was virtually put on hold for many years.
But lately the government has allocated increasingly larger sums to defence spending in a bid to rapidly modernise the world’s fourth-largest military.
India, which plans to test a nuclear-capable missile with a range of over 5,000-kilometres (3,000 miles) within the year, is also now striving to strengthen its fledgling electronics warfare systems.
Global defence solution provider ITT Corp., which is pitching for contracts from the Indian military, said it could meet India’s “emerging needs.””We are positioning ITT to be in a better position than ever to support our customers’ emerging technology needs,” company chairman Steve Loranger said.
Besides, tanks, warships and artillery, India is also in the market for nearly 400 combat helicopters worth hundreds of millions of dollars which has drawn Italian consortium Finmeccanica and European EADS group to DefExpo.
“India is a partner of strategic importance with a large and sustainable defence market growth rate and volume that offers significant opportunities,” Finmeccanica said.