India Inc shone bright at defence exposition

February 20th, 2008 - 1:03 pm ICT by admin  

By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) India Inc shone bright and clear at the just concluded international defence exposition here, sending out a clear message it was eager to manufacture military hardware comparable to the best in the world. In all fairness, it must be said some of the state-owned defence-manufacturing units, hitherto considered lumbering giants that were unable to innovate, also gave indications of pulling up their socks as they adjust to the new reality of competition in the defence production sector.

“I call this the second coming (after the liberalization of the economy). Today, you have the private players taking on the more established public sector,” said Lt. Gen (retd) S.S. Mehta, director general of event-organiser Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the co-organisers of DEFEXPO-2008.

“The third coming will be when the public sector takes on the private sector,” he said explaining the evolution that has taken place since the first edition of the biennial exposition in 1999.

“Till about six years ago (when defence manufacturing was opened to the private sector, state-owned companies did not have any competition and did pretty much as they pleased. Now that there is competition, they are waking up to this and taking corrective measures.

“In the not too distant future, the public sector units, who have the distinct advantage of possessing massive infrastructure, will begin giving the private a run for their money. That’s when an event like DEFEXPO will have arrived,” Mehta contended.

But, in a way, the event has already arrived - as was quite evident from the foreign participation at the four-day event that concluded Tuesday. Most major foreign manufacturers or companies were represented at the exhibition.

“That’s an indication that if you are a serious player in the market, and if you’re serious about India, you can’t afford to stay away from DEFEXPO,” Mehta reasoned.

Converted into figures, what this means is that the Indian armed forces intend to purchase equipment worth Rs.155 billion (nearly $4 billion) from abroad over the next five years. Thus, while foreign participation at 273 from 30 countries far outnumbered the 202 domestic participants, there were also clear indications of the new realities of the Indian arms market.

Not surprisingly, the US pavilion featured 46 companies, making it the largest single block from abroad and reflective of the growing warmth between New Delhi and Washington.

In sharp contrast, Russia, which is still India’s largest arms supplier, had a rather small pavilion that was half the size of Italy, with whom India has almost negligent military trade.

Then, Israel, which has emerged as India’s second largest armaments supplier, had an expectedly grand display as it showcased an array of weapons and equipment to the large numbers of armed forces officers who flocked to the display.

Statistically, DEFEXPO-2008 could be considered a roaring success with 40,000 business visitors against an anticipated 32,000. This was a considerable improvement from the 24,500 visitors at the 2006 edition or 5,000 at the inaugural event in 1999.

Twenty agreements were signed on the first days of the event “and many more are in the pipeline”, Mehta said. In addition, 1,200 business queries were also received.

“Don’t look upon DEFEXPO as a business generating venture. It’s meant for the foreign participants to showcase the best of what they have to offer and for our companies to showcase what they have,” Mehta said.

“Contacts are made, these are followed up and business is eventually generated. But don’t expect this to happen instantly.”

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