Defexpo 2018: Manufacturing hub theme belies India’s status as largest arms importer

The US, UK, South Korea, Russia and France are among countries whose delegations have reached Chennai ahead of the formal opening of the 10th edition of Defexpo, which will showcase India’s arms bazaar, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 12.

But the show, off the East Coast Road from Chennai, sets rolling on Wednesday with the opening by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, whose ministry is expecting to enthuse participants by setting in motion a process to acquire 110 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force.

Defexpo’s 10th edition has as its lofty theme India: the emerging defence manufacturing hub. The theme belies the reality because India is the world’s largest arms importer and its armed forces have not yet found a home-made rifle that is worthy of use.

“For the first time, India will be showcasing its defence export potential at @DefExpoIndia. Country’s defence manufacturing capabilities will be exhibited by Indian MSMEs, private industry and DPSUs (Defence Public Sector Undertakings) at Chennai from April 11-14,” Sitharaman tweeted on Tuesday afternoon. Among the first foreign delegations, the UK said it was looking for a “two-way street”.

“The UK government and UK defence companies are seeking to deepen and broaden their strategic defence equipment partnerships with India at Defexpo 2018. The UK’s attendance at Defexpo 2018 will focus on creating a genuine “two-way street” of defence equipment collaboration, investment and technology transfer,” the UK High Commission said.

The UK delegation is led by Guto Bebb, minister for defence procurement, and includes representatives of 20 UK-based companies and government officials.Delegation-level talks between India and South Korea in New Delhi on Monday focused on defence industry and logistics cooperation.

This followed an announcement that Larsen and Toubro was ready to roll out the first of the K9 VAJRA-T  tracked howitzers, which it has assembled with Korean technology, for the Indian Army’s armoured corps later this year.

But it is the Indian Air Force’s potential order for 110 fighter jets that could be one of the biggest military contracts in the world.

Though in the initial stages (the global tender could take up to six months to issue), the race is likely to be a re-run of the now-defunct medium multi-role combat aircraft contest that was nixed by the Modi administration in 2015, nearly 10 years after it began.

In all, 47 countries are expected to participate in Defexpo’s latest edition, which will also exhibit Indian warships, aircraft and mechanized platforms.

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