Tuesday, April 3, 2012

DefExpo 2012 Opens

By Ghazala Wahab
Pragati Maidan, New Delhi: Three pieces of news emerged from the inaugural ceremony of DefExpo 2012. First, increasing the ambit of defence offset banking, the government now offers three more options -- civil aviation, internal security and training -- to the original equipment manufacturers to fulfil their offset obligations. Mentioning this in his inaugural address, defence minister A.K. Antony said, “Offset banking is permissible in our defence offset policy, the scope of which has now been expanded to include civil aerospace, internal security and training within the ambit of eligible products and services for discharge of offset obligations.”

The second bit of news is that the government is in the process of finalising the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) for the Indian armed forces. Once this plan, covering a period of 15 years, is ready, a public version of it would be uploaded on the ministry of defence’s (MoD) website. “This would enable the domestic industry to plan investment in the defence sector and take up research and development, technology upgradation and forge tie-ups and arrangements of collaboration with their associated foreign industry partners in order to meet the future requirements of the armed forces,” hoped minister of defence M.M. Pallam Raju.

The third news is that DefExpo 2014 would be held in Pragati Maidan from February 6 to 9. Hopefully, this time the MoD would remember to block the space well in time.

Beyond these, the inauguration ceremony hovered between fantasy and reality, with a substantial part of it falling in the domain of wishful thinking. There were several ‘if only moments’, where one held one’s breath hoping that something which has not been said so far would be finally be uttered, but in vain. Treading the tried and tested, all the protagonists of the inauguration chose to be safe than sorry.

Even though the DefExpo event manager, FICCI has added internal security to the land and naval systems show, it seems to have done so as an afterthought and primarily to cash on the growing homeland security market. Both the Antony and Raju referred to DefExpo as land and naval systems show in their addresses. There is no denying the fact that internal security is a very important aspect of national security and given the increasing vulnerabilities in the homeland, DefExpo should factor it in. Ideally, ministry of home affairs should have been co-opted. If MHA joins hands with the MoD, it will only add to the stature and size of DefExpo.

Coming back to the ministerial duo, both Antony and Raju spoke about how the defence procurement procedure is being constantly evaluated and revised and how the government was committed to giving equal opportunity to the private sector. Even as the defence minister intoned that, “The government allows the private industry 100 per cent participation in defence sector and 26 per cent to the foreign companies,” a very senior private industry player sniggered: “It is nothing but fantasy. When it comes to signing contracts with the private industry, the ministry sits on the projects for years, even if the value of the programme is a mere Rs 300 crore. But for the public sector, programmes are cleared overnight with hardly any scrutiny.”

Perhaps, sensing all-round scepticism and growing impatience among the foreign OEMs who have invested substantial amounts in India in the hope of future work, the defence minister once again dangled the bait of growing Indian economy and the modernisation of the Indian armed forces. “We invest two per cent of our GDP in defence,” he said, adding that, “Given that our economy is likely to grow at the rate of eight to 10 per cent in the next two years, substantial amount would be available for modernisation of our armed forces.”

However, lest one construed India’s aspirations for modern armed forces as a desire to exercise power, Antony did not forget to qualify this bait with, “India has always been recognised as a responsible power and a stabilising factor in this region, in the face of various security challenges originating from different sources around us. India has traditionally been a peace-loving nation. However, we have to be ready to meet any challenge to our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

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