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The 11th edition of DefExpo 2020, the flagship biennial event of India`s Ministry of Defence (MoD), is one of the largest events of its kind. Held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (UP) from 5 to 9 February 2020, the event saw at least 200 partnerships being signed.

These partnerships take India closer in realising the theme of DefExpo, which was that of becoming a ‘Facilitator and collaborator in defence production’, rather than just having a buyer-seller relationship. About 1,000 companies participated in DefExpo, with 165 foreign companies coming from 70 countries. Service Heads of 35 countries participated in the exhibition. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh described the signing of partnerships as a step in the direction to achieving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US$5Bn defence exports target in the next five years.

The sub-theme of DefeEpo 2020 was ‘Digital Transformation’ of the future battlefield and it focussed primarily on manufacturing for the aerospace and defence sector through application of newer technologies. In addition to exhibiting products and technologies and live demonstrations by the Services, Defence Public Sector Undertakings and industry showcased the land, naval, air and internal security systems. The ‘India Pavilion’ showcased the jointness between the public and private sector, including Small and Medium Enterprises/Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and innovation eco-system.

The Indian Government set up two Defence Industry Corridors, one in the northern State of UP, of which Lucknow is the capital, and it has identified six nodes. A Defence Planning Committee has also been formed. The UP Government plans to set up a defence manufacturing corridor along with the proposed Bundelkhand Expressway in order to make India self-reliant in terms of defence production. DefExpo-2020 played a key role of a catalyst in attracting not only investments but also cutting-edge technologies to the region. The second defence corridor is the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Memorandum of Understanding

Among the Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) signed, 23 of them were by the UP Government. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath said that these MoUs envisaged an investment of Rs 50,000 crores in the defence corridor setup in the state and generate around three lakh job opportunities. He also announced that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would soon supply a Dornier 19-seater civilian aircraft to UP.

Defence Research and Development

Dr. Sateesh Reddy, the Chairman of India`s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO9) said, “It was DRDO’s duty to ensure that the Defence corridor in Uttar Pradesh flourishes, hence DRDO signed a Technological partnership agreement with the state government, imparting skill training, hand holding and providing guidance in all aspects related to technology.” A collaboration cell has already been setup to facilitate the process, and a research and development centre would also be setup there to act as a catalyst with respect to defence development. Technology transfer was made available at no cost to companies in order to further the defence ecosystem in the region. Moreover, patents held by DRDO were given free to Indian companies to further develop technologies that would assist Indian companies.
Mr. Reddy said that the recent success of DRDO products, such as the Anti-Satellite Missile, a man-portable ATGM, a naval LCA, the naval torpedo VARUNASTRA, and radars, sonars and other advanced materials, have not only made India more self-reliant but also contributed to job creation and state building.

The DRDO handed over 15 licences for Transfer of Technology to 17 industries on DRDO-developed technologies in electronics, laser technology, armaments, life sciences, materials science, combat vehicles, naval systems, aeronautics, sensors, etc. Among many others, the products are Mine Field Marking Equipment MK-II, the Bi-Modular Charge System, an electronic fuse for 81mm mortar bombs, a Post-Impact Delay Fuse for Air Delivery Bombs, a vehicle-mounted ECM System, and high-power Li-ion Battery Technology. These high-tech products will boost the defence sector and enhance the capabilities of India`s armed forces.

Indian Companies at DefExpo

At DefExpo, the Initial Operational Clearance certificate was awarded to HAL for its Light Utility Helicopter, which will replace the CHEETAH and CHETAK helicopters currently operated by the Indian armed forces.
The Ordnance Factory Board launched the SHARANG 155mm artillery gun with a 36 km range, the JVPC Alpha gun with 100 metres range, and a Light Machine Gun with an effective range of 800 metres.

The company Bharat Dynamics Limited presented its new AMOGHA-3 guided man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile and VARUNASTRA anti-submarine torpedo.

HAL and the Kanpur Institute of Technology entered into an agreement to provide logistic support to the Do-228 or HS 748 aircraft as part of the institute’s projects in ‘Cloud Seeding’.

The DRDO signed an MoU with the companies HAL and New Space Research and Technologies Private Limited to jointly develop unmanned products, swarm technology and space systems.
HAL and the Indian Coast Guard agreed on a midlife upgrade for 17 Coast Guard Do-228 aircraft manufactured by HAL Kanpur.

US Contracts

At the Indo-US 2 + 2 Dialogue in 2019 in Washington DC, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh signed several key agreements and said that “the Indo-US relationship will move from a traditional ‘Buyer-Seller’ approach towards a collaboration approach”. He also said he appreciated the improving trade relationship between both countries. When it comes to contracts signed at DefExpo with US-based companies, Lockheed Martin and Bharat Electronics Limited signed an agreement to explore industrial opportunities in the F-21 programme, and Bharat Forge Limited and General Atomics signed an MoU to develop and integrate power generation, storage, control and distribution technologies to surface and underwater naval platforms for the Indian Navy.

Russia

The 5th Indian-Russian Military Industrial Conference was co-chaired by the Indian Defence Secretary Dr. Ajay Kumar and the Russian Deputy Minister for Industry and Trade, Mr. Oleg Ryazantsev. At the conference, a total of 14 MoUs were signed between Russian OEMs and Indian companies.

In his opening remarks, Dr. Ajay Kumar said that he had signed, on 4 September 2019, the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) on joint manufacturing of spares in India. The IGA provides a framework for partnerships of Russian OEMs with Indian companies for manufacturing spare parts of Russian origin equipment in use by the Indian Defence Forces. The Russian Deputy Minister, Mr. Oleg Ryazantsev highlighted that the Russian side would actively contribute to the IGA and would take steps to facilitate manufacturing of parts in India.

Furthermore, the Pune-based High Energy Materials Research Laboratory signed a technology development contract with Rosoboronexport, Russia for the development of Advanced Pyrotechnic Ignition Systems.
JSC Rosoboronexport and HAL agreed on exporting spares and services to friendly countries and, in this matter, Rosoboronexport awarded a licence to HAL. The spares are for Su-30 MKI, AL 31 FP engine, RD33 engines, and accessories.

Israel

At DefExpo, several Israeli companies also signed agreements with Indian companies. For example, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed an agreement with HAL and Dynamatic Technologies Ltd. for marketing, manufacturing and selling of IAI’s UAVs to the Indian armed forces and armed police forces. Elbit Systems and HAL signed a contract for conducting a feasibility study on the joint development of a Vertical Take-Off and Landing rotary UAV of the 2000 kg class for both maritime and land-based military operations, and HAL and Elbit Systems agreed on promoting and marketing Digital Head-Up Displays to the Indian defence services and other potential customers.

Outlook

India has liberalised its Foreign Direct Investment cap to 49% through the direct route, and above that up to 100% through the government route. The procedures for industrial licencing, defence procurement and defence acquisition have been simplified. Also, a single window clearance system was also introduced to reduce the time needed for obtaining permission when setting up of defence manufacturing units in India.

At Defexpo, Indian Defence Minister Singh said that technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AR), Augmented Virtual Reality, Autonomous Systems, Internet of Military Things and Industry 4.0 are government priorities.

Suman Sharma is a Delhi-based journalist covering foreign policy and defence. Before that, she was an instructor in the Indian Military Academy.