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Global Arms Makers Hawk Their Wares in India

Some of the world's leading weapons manufacturers have participated in a defense exhibition in India. The companies are eager for a share of a major market - India is one of the world's biggest importers of arms.

More than 400 companies from 38 countries, including Britain, France, the United States, Israel, South Africa and Russia, showcased their wares at a four-day defense show held in the Indian capital over the past several days. Taking part were leading manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Rolls Royce.

The companies are eyeing India's massive defense budget, which has been rising steadily as the country modernizes its outdated hardware. In 2004 India was the developing world's leading buyer of conventional weapons, spending nearly $6 billion on arms purchases.

Rahul Bedi of Jane's Defense Weekly says over the next two to three years India will spend billions of dollars more on an array of defense equipment ranging from fighter jets to missile production systems.

"It is looking at acquiring 126 multi-role aircraft, which is a contract worth anywhere between $7 and $9 billion; it is looking to buy submarines from Russia; it is looking to buy artillery from various competitive sources…; it is looking to buy a range of equipment in all the three services; so it is really poised for a huge explosion," said Bedi.

Much of Indian defense hardware still comes from Russia - a traditional arms supplier to New Delhi since the days of the Cold War.

But Israel has been catching up rapidly, almost doubling its market share in the last three years with sales worth nearly $3 billion. France and Britain have also made steady inroads into the Indian defense market.

U.S. manufacturers were well represented at the New Delhi exhibition. Defense experts say aviation companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing are vying for a massive contract for combat aircraft.

Rahul Bedi says the American share of the Indian market has been small so far, but that could change as relations between the two countries improve steadily.

"There is an inherent mistrust of buying equipment from the U.S. because of the possibility of sanctions being imposed in case it contravenes American law… But the Americans and Indians are working on this trust deficit, and they are trying to develop a relationship, because by 2015 the American arms industry wants about 15 to 20 percent of basic Indian military hardware to be of American origin, and they are pushing very aggressively into the Indian market," added Bedi.

India is also inviting foreign defense companies to form joint ventures in the country. Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee told exhibition participants that India wants to manufacture state-of-the-art defense equipment in collaboration with overseas companies both to export and to supply the Indian armed forces.