THIRUVIDANTHAI: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday said the government cannot walk a “thin line” to compel Indian armed forces to buy indigenous weapons, after she opened a major defence trade fair that projects India – world’s biggest global arms importer – as one of the major military equipment manufacturing hubs.
The four-day DefExpo India, themed “Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub,” and being held at Thiruvidanthai off the East Coast Road near here, is the 10th biennial exercise aimed at establishing Brand India and highlighting the manufacturing capabilities of the country’s defence sector.
Asked about the huge export-import gap in the defence sector of a country that does not even figure among the top 25 exporters of arms with its own forces hesitating to buy locally-manufactured weapon systems, Sitharaman said she could only tell the Indian armed forces to procure from indigenous companies “as much as possible”.
She said she could not cross a “thin line” to impinge on the freedom of the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force or the Indian Navy “to make their own decisions” as per their operational requirements.
“When I am promoting Indian exports, Indian manufacturing, I am also telling the forces to procure domestically as much as possible.”
“I would want to draw a thin line between the government’s enthusiasm to make sure the production capabilities are such that they meet international standards and are export-worthy and the other side of the line where the Army, Navy or Air Force make their decision on what they want, what combination of equipment they want and in that combination if an India produced item fits in well.”
“I can only go that far and not further, just as they can only go that far and not further without compromising each others’ interests. I can’t imagine prevailing upon them. We will only want them to give space to local manufacturers and buy indigenous products.”
With the third largest armed forces in the world, India’s defence market is one of the most lucrative in the world. According to estimates, the country is expected to lay out a $620-billion budget for defence procurements till 2022, offering foreign as well as local businesses immense opportunities.