At a time when corruption, slowdown in the economy, lack of decision-making and approaching national election have all but paralysed the government's ability to govern on most fronts, the first day of the eight edition of the DefExpo - India's biggest biannual defence exhibition - saw a surprising, near-robust participation from arms manufacturers, allied marketing and public relations firms, armed forces personnel as well as governmental agencies from multiple nations.
However, far from growing on parameters like number of companies participating as well as gross exhibition area, the present edition has just managed to stay afloat. While defending the show, Dr A Didar Singh, Secretary General, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, "Yes, we weren't sure especially since it is an election year. But it has turned out higher and better when compared to the last."
At the India Pavilion, BrahMos the Joint Venture between Indian & Russian governments announced its first ever and successful launch of BrahMos missile fired in salvo, at an interval of 3 seconds. "Last week, for the first time we tried this out from onboard a naval frigate in the Arabian Sea and it worked well. This gives the user the option to fire as many as he may want to, depending on how many missiles he has," said Dr. A Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, BrahMos Aerospace.
That apart, a brand new and smaller, BrahMos Mini - 1.5 ton missile - as compared to the regular 3 ton - was announced by the team. "These missiles, the engines of which we have readied and are now configuring, will have a smaller diameter to fit it into aircrafts as well as torpedo tubes of submarines," announced Dr. Pillai. Another version, BrahMos II - a hypersonic cruise missile with enhanced speed features - too was discussed.
The Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) which is currently building for the Indian Navy its biggest and deadliest assets also promised a faster delivery of these vessels. R. Adm (R) RK Shrawat, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD), MDL said, "By the end of March, I am hopeful of being able to deliver to the navy the first ship of Project 15A - the destroyer INS Kolkata which has completed her sea trials for her machines and presently in dry dock condition." When asked about the much-delayed Project 75 for the construction of six Scorpene submarines with assistance from France's DCNS, he replied, "The delay is behind us. Deliveries for critical items have already commenced for the first boat and we are already installing the same into it. I am hopeful that by September 2015, the boat will be launched and in a year thereon, it will be commissioned too. A global Request For Proposal (RFP) for the follow on, Project 75 - India too should be issued in a couple of months."
However, as far as armed forces personnel themselves were concerned, there was a guarded response.
"All of this is fine but where is the delivery? If we look at the army, they have been perpetually crying for artillery which we have not inducted a single piece in nearly three decades. Air Force has just had its Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft team postponed to the next government and navy has its submarine fleet and medium lift helicopter fleet depleting," said a senior officer. He added, "When there is a global tender being called, obviously one will win and the others will not. But if one of those losing parties even write a single, anonymous letter making frivolous allegations, we are ready to stop work and begin probe."
Defence Minister AK Antony at the Defexpo
MMRCA deal will have to wait till the next financial year. He admitted that the ministry had not enough in its coffers to ink the deal.
The Indian Navy is aware and has promised to look into the cause behind the string of accidents which have impacted its assetsBlacklisting of foreign vendors, for alleged corrupt practices, has not affected our modernisation of the armed forces. It may have delayed things a little but we have been able to send across a message that corruption will not be tolerated.
May not completely cleaned the system but yes efforts are on. We had no option but to cancel the VVIP helicopter deal. In other countries, like the US and UK, they impose heavy penalties but our procedure is that of cancelling the entire deal. We will soon come up with an alternative for the helicopters.
We are not militarily involved in Afghanistan. But we are concerned about the fallout of the withdrawal of the NATO forces this year.