News / Asia

India Increasing Defense Spending as Economy Grows

Assorted military guns are on display at India's defense show in New Delhi, 15 Feb 2010
Assorted military guns are on display at India's defense show in New Delhi, 15 Feb 2010

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India is expected to spend $100 billion in the next decade on its military.  The South Asian nation is believed to be the world's largest buyer of weaponry, and there is an intense competition among foreign arms merchants for a slice of that market.  The key players have gathered in New Delhi for the four-day India Defense Exhibition.

India Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony says he expects military spending, currently 2.5 percent of gross domestic product, to substantially increase as the nation's robust economy continues to grow.

That is welcome news at this biennial defense show for the dozens of countries pitching their armaments and other military equipment to India's armed forces.

But the defense minister cautions India's ultimate goal is self-reliance.

"We want to produce equipment for the armed forces internally, domestically. We want to strengthen our defense industries in India. India needs a strong defense industrial base," he declared.

That has the international defense industry scrambling to find Indian partners. For the time being, foreign entities are still the source of 70 percent of India's military acquisitions. Russia remains the top supplier but has slipped since the end of the Soviet era.

The Israeli exhibit at India's defense show, New Delhi. 15 Feb 2010
The Israeli exhibit at India's defense show, New Delhi. 15 Feb 2010

Israel - which has the biggest amount of floor space at this year's defense exhibition - is now number two and believed to be supplying most of India's advanced weapons systems.  

The United States - which has the most companies exhibiting at the expo - is hoping to increase its share, pitching everything from handheld tactical field radios to naval warships.

Mark Kronenberg is a vice president in the defense systems division of U.S. aerospace giant Boeing.

"There's been increasing cooperation between India and the United States from both the defense side and security side," he said.  "More importantly, from the Boeing perspective, it's not just about increased presence on the military side - we've always had a strong commercial presence here - we think with Indian suppliers and partnerships we can be here for a long time to come," said Kronenberg.

Boeing is among several companies competing to replace India's aging fleet of Russian-made MiG-21 fighter jets with a newer system.  India is expected to choose a supplier in the first half of next year.  The purchase of 126 jets is potentially worth $11 billion.

Since gaining independence in 1947, India has had several military confrontations with neighboring Pakistan and fought a one-month war against China in 1962. Neither Pakistan nor China was invited to participate in this year's India Defense Exhibition.

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