DefExpo 2020, which opens today in Lucknow, is the latest manifestation of India’s massive military modernization. The event will see arms industry grandees from all over the world fighting for attention of New Delhi purchasers.
Sitting on the northwest shore of the Gomti river, Lucknow is the heritage capital of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and the fourteenth most populous city in India. A cultural and artistic hub, Lucknow is also known as the ‘CCTV city’ of India, being the first in the country where more than 9,000 CCTV cameras are installed to keep an eye on crime — and where drones are deployed to keep watch on major areas during big events. Now, Lucknow will become the stage for one of the biggest defense expos worldwide.
The biannual event, held between February 5-8, has been dubbed the “mega defense exhibition” by India’s Deputy Defense Minister Shripad Yesso Naik. More than 1,000 domestic and foreign arms companies are expected to participate — as well as delegations from some 70 countries, with about a half led either by defense ministers or chiefs of staff.
Major arms exporters from the US, Russia, France, Germany and Israel will present their state-of-the-art products, hoping to win lucrative contracts. They have good reason to be hopeful, as New Delhi has long been one of the biggest arms purchasers, ranking among the world’s top five defense importers for more than a decade.
A defense giant
Indeed, India’s purchases amounted to almost 10 percent of all global arms imports between 2014 and 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Now, New Delhi is set to speed up its military modernization even further, reportedly planning to spend a colossal $130 billion over the next 5-7 years.
Yet, India is also increasingly looking beyond the simple seller-customer role, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s has tied the country’s military modernization to his ‘Make in India’ initiative. That aspect is one that all foreign companies at the Lucknow expo will be emphasizing, defense analyst and The Hindu journalist Dinkar Peri, told RT.
One of the exhibition’s top priorities will therefore be to present the nation as an “emerging defense manufacturing hub” as New Delhi expects not just offers of cutting edge military equipment, but investments and technology transfers as well.
“DefExpo will provide the opportunity to professionals and the industry to find new meeting grounds for developing military industrial enterprises,” Modi said ahead of the exhibition.
Some foreign arms manufacturers are apparently ready to share at least some of their technologies with their customers in New Delhi, while others apparently still prefer to simply rely on their most advanced product offers in a bid to kindle India’s interest.
Peri also noted that India and Russia are expected to hold the fifth joint Military Industry Conference on the sidelines of the exhibition with “over 100 Russian and over 200 Indian industry leaders” expected to participate.
Offers and opportunities
The US-India Business Council brings delegates from America’s biggest arms corporations to the exhibition, including General Atomics, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Textron. Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin plans to impress and woo Indian customers with its new multirole F-21 fighter jets, which it claims were tailored specifically to meet New Delhi’s “unique requirements.”
It also says it could team up with Tata, India’s largest automobile maker, to form a “partnership” to produce the planes in India. Little is known about the plan’s details, however, beyond that fact that it will supposedly create jobs in India while simultaneously supporting jobs in the US as well.
Offers from other companies include planes and helicopters which could be partially produced in India within the framework of the corporations’ already existing global supply chains.
France’s Thales comes to the expo with an array of “digitally driven and future oriented” products including combined targeting and tactical reconnaissance pods, biometric facial recognition systems, and “anti-submarine warfare solutions.” It also reiterated its commitments to New Delhi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative through its two ‘Global Engineering Competence Centers’ based in India.
Meanwhile, Israel Aerospace Industries is expected to sign a contract with India’s leading aerospace manufacturer HAL, which would involve joint production of what are described as advanced armed drones, although the specific characteristics of the UAV dubbed Heron TP have not been revealed.
Russia ahead of the game
Russia, which has long been India’s biggest defense partner, is likely to have one of the biggest delegations at DefExpo. Moscow is ready to present brand new military products, including the cutting-edge Buk-M3 ‘Viking’ air defense system – an export version of one of Russia’s most modern anti-aircraft weapons — which will be exhibited for the first time ever.
The ‘Viking’s’ engagement distance has tripled in comparison to older versions and the system is now capable of shooting down not just aircraft and UAVs but cruise missiles and glide bombs as well.
Another centerpiece of Russia’s exhibition stand at the event is the MiG-35 – an updated variant of the iconic MiG-29, which now boasts capabilities similar to a 5th-generation fighter with new airframe geometry and an upgraded onboard radar system. The jet can track up to 30 airborne targets at a distance of up to 160km (100 miles) and can hit six aerial and four ground targets at once.
“This is the latest fighter designed with all the state-of-the-art aviation technology,” Mikhail Khodarenok, a retired colonel in the Air Defense Forces and former General Staff officer, told RT. Khodarenok explained that the jet could be particularly attractive to India, since it belongs to the MiG family, which the Indian military are already familiar with.
Moscow also plans to “move away from a seller-buyer’ relationship to a more inclusive industrial-technological model” that would fit into India’s national industry development program, the analyst added. In fact, Russia has had a bit of a head start in that field already.
In 2019, Modi opened an Indian plant set to produce hundreds of thousands of Russia’s newest Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles under an agreement with Moscow. The two nations later signed a contract envisaging more than 460 cutting-edge Russian-designed T-90 tanks being assembled in India from prefabricated parts supplied by Russia.
Now, Moscow and New Delhi are even discussing the possibility of moving part of Russia’s iconic state-of-the-art air defense system’s production to India as well.
Like this story? Share with a friend!