Defence exports: India on an overdrive

The Indian government has set a defence export target of US Dollars 5 billion by 2025 and several initiatives are being launched to reach this figure.  Among the top items intended for exports are the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas; BrahMos missiles; Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System, Pinaka rocket launchers and Combat Management System, among which Tejas has attracted the maximum attention.

Over the years, India’s defence exports have been modest owing to several restrictions and limitations. However, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced liberal policies since 2014,  defence exports have gone up substantially.  According to official data, the figures have, in fact, gone up by 700 per cent in just two years. While the export authorisation was US Dollars 213 million in 2016–17, it rose to US Dollars 1.5 billion in 2018-19.

Moreover, the government has set a defence export target of US Dollars 5 billion by 2025. In order to achieve this figure, the Department of Defence Production recently released a list of 152 items that friendly nations could purchase.  As many as 85 kinds of equipment and 47 sub-systems are included in the list and they are expected to be of interest to countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and Africa.

Among the top items which India intends to export are the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas; BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles; Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers and Combat Management System. Meanwhile, Arjun tanks and Astra air-to-air missiles are included in a separate list put out by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The latest list, released during the Aero India show in Bengaluru, also comprises products from private sector industries that are yet to be acquired by India’s armed forces.

LCA, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has already attracted interest from South East Asia and West Asia. The HAL Chairman said that each LCA MK1A jet would be priced at Rs 306 crore for exports. Meanwhile, the trainer would cost Rs 280 crore.

As part of boosting exports, India’s defence attaches posted in IOR and African countries have been directed to explore requirements in those nations for Indian systems. Currently, Tejas, helicopters and missile systems have attracted the biggest interest. Alongside, a number of Indian private companies are searching for markets for their products abroad.

Among the 30 land systems mentioned in the list for exports, the major ones are Akash and BrahMos missiles and artillery guns. Countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam are reportedly interested in procuring BrahMos. The ATAGS; the in-service K-9 Vajra howitzer; 155mm/52 Caliber towed gun and Garuda 105 lightweight field gun are among the artillery guns that have found a place on the export list . The last two are built in the private sector by Bharat Forge. Military vehicles produced by Ashok Leyland, mine protected vehicles, combat helmets and vests manufactured by private company MKU, multi-mode hand grenades and many types of ballistic protection are also meant for export.

The anti-submarine warfare corvettes made by the public sector Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, various kinds of patrol and interceptor boats and Landing Craft Utility are the major naval items which are offered to friendly countries. Lightweight and heavyweight torpedoes, naval 30 mm guns, rocket launchers, coastal surveillance systems and communication and combat management systems for ships too are planned to be exported.

Regarding air systems, India has included the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) along with the LCA in the export list. Incidentally, neither the Indian Air Force nor the Indian Army has ordered the LCH so far.

India’s defence exports were Rs 4,682 crore (US Dollars 0.66 billion) in 2017–18 and Rs 10,500 crore (US Dollars 1.47 billion) in 2018–19. Eight Defence public sector undertakings and 41 ordnance factories are engaged in exports, apart from private firms. Though there were export restrictions on organisations like OFB (Ordnance Factory Board) earlier,  OFB currently exports arms and ammunition, weapon spares, chemicals & explosives, parachutes, leather and clothing items to more than 30 countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Egypt, Oman, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana, Chile, Suriname and the USA.

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