Partner with India, Modi urges foreign defence firms

Bengaluru: From being just sellers of defence equipment, foreign firms must evolve into strategic partners as India wants their technology, skills, systems integration and manufacturing strength, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said here Wednesday.

"From sellers, foreign firms must turn into strategic partners and use India as part of their global supply chain," Modi said at the inaugural ceremony of the Aero India trade expo in this tech hub. Noting that defence budgets the world over were shrinking, Modi said in his brief address to the gathering, which included defence ministers and air chiefs of a dozen countries from the world over, adding that the country's frugal manufacturing and engineering services sector could help foreign firms reduce costs.

"India can also be a base for export to third countries in view of our growing defence partnerships in Asia and beyond. A strong defence industry will not only make us more secure but also more prosperous," Modi told global aerospace firms participating in the five-day air show at the Yelahanka base of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on the city's outskirts.

About 600 multinational and Indian firms, including state-run enterprises, are showcasing their technologies and products in a dozen pavilions spread over 2.5 lakh square metres at the sprawling venue. Of the 110 countries participating in the event, the US is represented in a big way with a 64-member delegation, followed by France with 58 delegates, Britain with 48, Russia with 41 and Israel with 25.

Admitting that India had the reputation of being the world's largest importer of defence equipment, the prime minister, however, said the country would not like to be in that position though imports were inevitable in the military arena. "India being the largest importer of defence equipment may be music to the ears of some of you here, but this is one area where we would not like to be number one," Modi said.

He said that in view of the security challenges in the region, there was a need to increase the country's defence preparedness by modernizing the defence forces. "We have to equip for the needs of the future, where technology will play a major role. As a nation of a billion people, we have huge requirements for managing internal security," Modi said.

Terming the 10th edition of the biennial air show as the largest ever, reflecting the country's new confidence level and global interest in India, Modi said the trade expo was a mega-meeting of the global supply chains, with the most advanced technology and equipment.

"For me, this (Aero India) is not just a trade fair for defence equipment, but a platform to launch our defence manufacturing sector. A nation with a strong defence industry can not only be more secure, but also reap rich economic benefits," Modi said, delivering his 20-minute address in English.

Pointing out that India was spending tens of billions of dollars on acquisitions from abroad, which accounts for 60 percent of the defence equipment, Modi said even 20-25 percent reduction in imports would create an additional 120,000 skilled jobs in the country.

"If we can raise the percentage of domestic procurement to 70 percent from 40 percent, in the next five years, we will double the output in our defence industry and create thousands of jobs in the manufacturing and services sector," Modi said.

Increasing localisation has also spin-off benefits on other sectors in terms of advanced materials and technologies. "We are focusing on developing our defence industry with a sense of mission with Make in India programme at the heart. We are also reforming our defence procurement policies and procedures, with a clear preference for equipment manufactured in India," Modi added.

Aero India got off to a flying start with a spectacular display of India's air prowess and daring aerobatics by fighters, helicopters and transport aircraft. Modi and about 1,000 invitees were treated to thrilling aerial feats by different types of aircraft, including the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), Sukhoi SU-30MKI, Mirage-2000, Jaguar and the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT).

French aerospace major Dassault Aviation flew its Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft to demonstrate its awesome strike force as the IAF has short-listed the MMRCA for induction in its frontline fleet in place of the ageing Soviet-era MiG-21.

The IAF pilots also flew the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) as the Sarang aerobatics team, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster-III heavy-lift transport and the Russian-made Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft. Daring feats by Flying Bulls of Czech Republic, AeroSuper Baltics and Aerowind Services from Britain, Scandinavian air show team Wasp and Open Skydiving of the US Special Forces drew cheers from the spectators.

In all, 72 military aircraft are on flying and static display at the air show, including P8-A maritime reconnaissance aircraft and KC-135 tanker of Boeing and EMB-145 Embraer from Brazil. In addition, 17 types of civil aircraft, including business jets and helicopters are on display for hard-selling in the growing Indian aviation market.

The state-run defence exhibition organisation has chosen the 'Make in India' programme of the government as the event's theme to pitch for overseas investments in designing, developing and manufacturing aerospace products and platforms for the global military and civil aviation markets, especially in the Indian sub-continent.

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