India showcased its arsenal of indigenously developed weaponry at the annual Republic Day parade yesterday, with a display of its long-range artillery gun and a fly-past of the Tejas supersonic fighter jets, as it seeks to highlight its potential as a maker of sophisticated military hardware.
The parade, an annual event to show off the South Asian country's military prowess and cultural diversity, included a fly-past of attack helicopters and fighter jets, as well as horse- and camel-mounted columns, dancers and floats from different states.
There were some unique additions to the 68th Republic Day parade yesterday, when a 149-member contingent from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), including the presidential guard, the air force, the navy and army, marched with hundreds of Indian soldiers on Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard in the capital city.
This is the first time Arab troops have taken part in the Indian parade, which was watched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This year's chief guest was Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan.
India invites heads of state it would like to woo and considers key to its diplomacy as the chief guest for the Republic Day parade.
In reciprocation of the friendship gesture, the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, was lit up in the tri-colours of the Indian flag on Wednesday. "#BurjKhalifa wishes The #RepublicOfIndia a Happy National Day," the official account of Burj Khalifa tweeted.
Big arms exports a long way off
NEW DELHI • India is the world's largest importer of defence equipment, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing to convert the South Asian country into a defence manufacturer.
Over the past few years, India exported its first warship valued at US$50 million (S$71 million) to Mauritius, and its helicopters to Afghanistan, Nepal and Namibia. It is building offshore patrol boats and has extended a line of credit for defence equipment worth US$500 million to Vietnam. It also supplies weapon parts to other countries.
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said last year that the government's aim is to raise India's defence exports to US$2 billion in the next couple of years from the current US$330 million.
Experts said it would be some time before the world's largest importer could become a significant exporter of military hardware. "We can't overnight, even in the next couple of years, become exporters and we can't emulate China, which, as an exporter, is selling most of its weapons to Pakistan and other allies. If we start building fighter aircraft, which country would come to us?" said Mr Amit Cowshish of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. "To expect India to become an exporter in the next five to 10 years is unlikely."
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank, last year said that a key reason for India's high level of arms import is that the "Indian arms industry has so far largely failed to produce competitive, indigenously designed weapons".
Said Dr P. K. Ghosh, senior fellow at Delhi think-tank Observer Research Foundation: "The Make In India in defence is a grand initiative and has the best intention. But as far as defence manufacturing is concerned, a lot needs to be done."
French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest last year, while the year before, it was then US President Barack Obama.
Crown Prince Al Nahyan, along with a large UAE delegation of ministers and officials, watched as India brought out its indigenous weaponry and also those developed with other countries such as Russia.
India, which last year imported three times more arms than China and Pakistan, has been attempting to crank up its ability to manufacture defence equipment, including by cooperating with other countries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 opened up the defence sector to 100 per cent foreign direct investment.
The show, under overcast skies amid light rains, included a fly-past of the Tejas fighter jets and the T-90 Bhishma tank - the upgraded Indian version of a Russian battle tank. There was also the mobile autonomous launcher of the missile system of BrahMos, a short-range supersonic cruise missile developed jointly with Russia, a weapon-locating radar system, and the Dhanush artillery gun.
India and the UAE signed a defence agreement on Wednesday to explore joint production of weapons, and New Delhi is also keen to sell arms to the Gulf country.
India, which last year imported three times more arms than China and Pakistan, has been attempting to crank up its ability to manufacture defence equipment, including by cooperating with other countries. Mr Modi in 2014 opened up the defence sector to 100 per cent foreign direct investment.
Experts noted that the locally built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was the highlight of this year's parade.
India already inducted two of the jets into the Indian Air Force last year. It is now developing an upgraded version and will induct the remaining 118 jets over a period of 13 years. The jets took more than three decades to develop.
Said Mr Amit Cowshish, a former ministry of defence adviser who is now with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses: "The highlight of the Republic Day parade is the LCA. India has showcased its latest aircraft. How much time it will take to be inducted is another thing. But it is a confidence-building measure."
Still, the parade is also about showcasing India's cultural diversity. Said Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in a speech: "It is my firm conviction that India's pluralism and her social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity are our greatest strength. Our tradition has always celebrated the 'argumentative' Indian; not the 'intolerant' Indian."