22.10.2022 Author: Vladimir Platov

India exhibits its state-of-the-art weapons

The 12th International Defense Exhibition DefExpo 2022 opened on October 18 in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Defense ministers from 25 countries are expected to attend the exhibition, with representatives from 75 countries participating. The theme of the exhibition is “The Path to Pride,” reflecting Republic Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intention to make India a strong and self-sufficient power by supporting, developing and strengthening partnerships both within the Indian defense sector and with foreign manufacturers. The implementation of the previously proclaimed slogan “Make in India” should eventually enable the country to fully rely on the products of the national military-industrial complex to meet its defense needs and no longer be dependent on the whims of foreign suppliers. In this way, India’s defense sector will be able to protect itself from the sanctions or external political pressures that the country has faced for decades in its relations with the West and, more recently, with the United States.

The exhibition is dedicated to ground, naval, and national security systems. As part of DefExpo, live demonstrations of various Indian Army departments took place daily in the evening, including aerobatics in a Sarang helicopter, gliding from a helicopter into a boat, diving in a speedboat, and neutralizing an enemy post.

According to the Indian Ministry of Defense, 400 memoranda of understanding have already been completed for signing during the exhibition. As Indian Defense Ministry Secretary Ajay Kumar noted, the signing of these memoranda is intended to “lead India to independence in the defense sector and seek to make the quality of products competitive at the world level.”

It is natural for the exhibition to focus on Indian products and joint developments by local and foreign manufacturers. DefExpo 2022 will be attended by more than 1,000 national companies, as well as foreign players producing or willing to produce weapons in Indian companies. A number of African countries have already expressed interest in a significant portion of these products. Indian manufacturers held related discussions with the defense ministers of such African states and presented some 430 products, including strategic and tactical weapons systems, defense equipment, and technologies.

Apparently fearing to lose the Indian military market completely in this regard, the UK tried to interest Indian military representatives during DefExpo. As reported by the British Embassy in New Delhi, India and the United Kingdom have formed a “new joint defense industry group for more effective cooperation” on the sidelines of the DefExpo defense exhibition and even held their first meeting. According to the diplomatic mission, “the joint working group is part of the two countries’ ongoing initiative to strengthen defense and security partnership through industrial cooperation.”

The Indian pavilion demonstrated the maturity of local defense products, startups, and the latest technologies, including artificial intelligence in defense. The Indian Defense Research and Development Organization showcased about 430 products, including strategic and tactical weapon systems, defense equipment, and technologies. As Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh pointed out at the opening of the exhibition, India, once known as one of the world’s largest importers of defense equipment, has now become one of the 25 largest exporters of defense equipment in the world.

The delegation of JSC Rosoboronexport (part of the state corporation Rostec) actively participated in the work of DefExpo 2022, proposing, in particular, the discussion of mutually beneficial joint projects that fully meet the conditions set by the Indian side for the transfer of technology (ToT).

Already today, India together with Russia is implementing several essential projects, including, in particular, the plant for the production of Kalashnikov assault rifles AK-203, which is scheduled to start production before the end of the year, a joint venture of Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited, in which from the Russian side Rosoboronexport and the Kalashnikov concern are involved.

The exhibition also featured another Russian-Indian joint venture, BrahMos Aerospace, which manufactures the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile developed by the Russian NGO Mechanical Engineering and the Indian Defense Research and Development Organization. The missile’s first test launch took place in 2001, and various versions of the missile are now in service with all three branches of the Indian armed forces: air force, navy, and ground forces.

Tests of the new-generation Russian-Indian BrahMos missiles are scheduled for 2024. The new version of the cruise missile will be nearly half the weight of the old one and can be launched by Su-30MKI fighters and other Indian Air Force aircraft. BrahMos is also developing a hypersonic version of the missile, which will be called BrahMos II. This BrahMos II hypersonic missile will not be exported due to restrictions imposed on India by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Accordingly, the country can build a missile with a range of more than 300 km and weighing more than 500 kg, but it is not allowed to transfer these technologies to other countries. According to analysts, this joint project significantly strengthens military-technical cooperation between the two countries.

Russia and India continue to develop joint defense projects, despite the pressure exerted by Washington on New Delhi. This is partly because BrahMos products are vital to India and the country has already invested heavily in this project.

Over the years, Russia has supplied India with weapons worth more than $70 billion, which today form the basis of the technical equipment of the country’s armed forces. India’s announced intention to abandon arms imports in the near future and shift to local production can be used by Moscow to further deepen military-technical cooperation with India. Russia already has experience in localizing production in that country, as evidenced by the success of the BrahMos missile and the Kalashnikov assault rifle, as well as the T-90 tank and the Su-30MKI multirole fighter. Western manufacturers are in no hurry to transfer their technologies to India, and under the new circumstances, they may remain out of the game

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar explained why his country buys weapons from Russia, noting in particular, “Moscow has always cooperated with New Delhi, while the United States has favored Pakistan … The US government under the Trump and Biden administrations has been particularly unhappy that India has acquired Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems – a five billion dollar contract was signed in October 2018.”

Over the years of its existence, the DefExpo exhibition has become the largest Asian platform for weapons and military equipment for ground, air, and naval forces. The growing interest in this exhibition is not only due to the fact that India remains the largest arms market in the world, but also because this country is establishing itself as an exporter of weapons of various kinds.

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.