Defexpo India 2010 showcases Future Weapons
With the country’s defence budget expected to increase in the wake of the growing tensions in the region, the Defexpo provided an excellent opportunity to the arms manufacturers from the leading countries like USA, France, Sweden, Russia, Israel and Germany to put on display their latest wares and the Expo this year was 40 per cent larger than the one in 2008.
From the inauguration day on February 15 and through the four days, it was heavy lobbying by the arms manufacturers as each of them were keen grabbing a good chunk of what is estimated by government sources that the defence market would be about US$100 billion spread over the next ten years even though as of now not much of purchasing has been done since defence purchases continue to be under a cloud. The defence sector has been under cloud ever since the Bofors scandal broke out and it continues to torment successive governments since 1989 even though on the face of it the amount appears miniscule by today’s standards as far as bribes go.
What is indeed ironical is that the Expo just happens to be coinciding with an land scam in the army where a senior most officer has been found guilty and faces court martial while seven firms have been blacklisted by the government for involvement in a bribery case.
However, the firms from Israel and Singapore have been allowed to set up shop at the Defexpo and the government has even allowed to start field trials of their weapons next month and these include Singapore firm ST Kinetics whose Pegasus 155 MM Howitzer with ‘shoot and scoot’ facility has been in this country for a while.
Meanwhile, Eurocopter whose bid in 2007 for selling helicopters to the army was scrapped has again entered the race to get contract which is worth about US$8 billion as its marketing vice-president Mr Rainer Farid said that they have bid for contracts from the army, navy, air force and coast guard and the helicopter unit of the European aerospace giant EADS had resubmitted a bid for US$600 million deal to sell India 197 army helicopters.
The deal was scapped after being given to Eurocopter as there were allegations that there had been some wrong doing by the firm. The company was to have sold 60 choppers to the Indian army in a “fly-away” condition while 137 were to be assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Besides Eurocopter, the others in the race for helicopters for which new tenders have been floated include Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland and Russia’s Karnov. The government last year introduced a new rule that made it mandatory for foreign defence firms to buy 30 per cent of equipment from local firms, but is now looking at gradually raising that figure to a 70 per cent target within a decade.
“We are looking to make most of the equipment locally to boost the private industry. This will not only benefit the private industry but also make it much cheaper for us,” said Secretary, Defence Production, Mr Raj Kumar Singh. “We are changing our policy, hoping that it will speed up procurement and improve standards of local companies,” he said. As Mr Singh outlined at his media briefing ahead of the Defexpo that “our plan is for the next 15 years and our policy is to encourage Indian companies to manufacture weapons,” in keeping with the avowed government policy of encouraging the Indian industry.
As the exercise for the purchase of 126 Multi role Medium Range Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) rolls on, the top aircraft manufacturers have been making a beeline towards all Indian defence personnel and the media to display their wares. “Why not, when this is such a lucrative offer. Whoever gets the contract for the over Rs 40,000 crore worth deal has probably made the biggest killing as far as arms sale is concerned,” said an official who did not want to be identified.
One of the major reasons for such a scramble is that Indian firms do not have the technology to deliver the goods required by the armed forces and specially with the government now planning to update its coastal security in the wake of the November 26 terrorist strike in Mumbai, the focus at the Defexpo was on Naval and Land systems.
This focus at the Expo has indeed drawn from countries like Israel products like equipment for tackling terrorist menace considering that the nation has been waging a relentless battle on its territory. Though the Defence Minister Mr AK Antony may have emphasised on the need to “achieve a high level of indigenisation” and also sought the help of private sector in this area, yet, the defence industry in the country still has a long way to go before becoming self-reliant.
In fact, it is as part of this plan that the government would be soon coming out with a national production policy in defence equipment and discussions with stakeholders are on. This becomes all the more imperative since India is among the biggest arms importers, and is likely to hold that position for quite sometime to come, mostly because security demands are growing and Indian firms don’t have the right technology yet. Mr Antony said India must “achieve a high level of indigenisation. Our quest for self-reliance underlines the importance of private sector participation on the one hand and in revitalising the public sector, on the other.”
Leading weapons makers like America’s Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Italy’s Finmeccanica, Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corporation, Israeli Aerospace Industries and European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS) were all present at the event. The Indian participation was spearheaded by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Tatasthe largest exhibitor from the private sector.
More than 650 companies participated in DefExpo 2010 touting their fighters, missiles and cutting-edge surveillance systems to one of the world’s biggest emerging arms importers. With the growing security environment in the neighbourhood and the constant skirmishes along the borders , the government is keen on having the latest equipment for its defence forces.
This is also in keeping with the growing economic strength of the country and increasing diplomatic activity and the signing of the civilian nuclear cooperation with countries like US, France and Russia, that India wants to upgrade its largely Soviet-era arsenal.
Having given the indications at the various seminars at the Defexpo, the arms manufacturers from Europe and USA took the cue and so the lobbying was on at the fair grounds in the capital.
One of the major hurdles that has always come in the way of defence modernisation has been the bribery scandals over arms deals that broke out with a rather high frequency rate thus putting brakes on this vital sector. “The involvement of the private sector is highly desirable, as the public sector has a glass ceiling in terms of becoming more efficient,” said Uday Bhaskar, head of New Delhi-based strategic affairs think-tank National Maritime Foundation.
With the Defexpo seeing several Indian companies like Tata, Mahindra and Mahindra and Larsen and Tubro having tie ups with foreign companies, clearly there was meat in what officials said that domestic private companies are undergoing a major shift to becoming key players in their own right.
“This collaboration with foreign companies with Indian counterparts would give the much needed boost to their know-how through shared expertise and technology transfers, officials said. However opinion on this was varied for as a former army officer Major General (Retd) Ashok Mehta said “the private sector cannot do it on their own, they need a lot of foreign collaboration as they do not have great expertise. Indian companies have to improve a lot.”
A top US aircraft manufacturing company official said, “it is a great idea to push the local industry, but it remains to be seen how the local companies grow.” Only last month, the Indian government cancelled a $2 billion order with Airbus for air tankers at the last minute, saying the planes were overpriced. It has now floated a new tender. “If we’re going to do business in India, then it is a necessity that we have Indian partners,” said Mr Walter Doran, Asia president of Raytheon International.
“When you’re dealing with India…you have to be in it for the long term. You cannot allow yourself to get frustrated by any single pursuit,” he said. Meanwhile, even as the Defexpo is on, a large group of volunteers belonging to the Control Arms Foundation of India sit on vigil outside the Pragati Maidan premises protesting against what they said “blatant sale of arms and encouragement to conflict.” The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) launched in 1997 by Dr Oscar Arias and seven other Nobel Peace Laureates claims to have gained the support of 153 governments, over 800 civil society organisations worldwide.
Their contention is there should be no arms for atrocities, genocide or violence against humanity, no arms for violation of human rights or humanitarian law and respect for sustainable development and peaceful co-existence.