DefExpo 2022: The Giant Stride of India’s Military Might
Deep space technologies, cyber warfare, underwater swarm drones, unmanned fighter jets that can be controlled by mothership, use of artificial intelligence, space warfare, and the biggest-ever 1,600 drones swarming display.
This is not a wish list of an international Sci-fi movie, but is the reality which was on the agenda and display of the recently conducted marquee military event ‘DefExpo 2022’. Taking the technological leap to bolster the war-fighting edge, these state-of-art technologies have been finding their way into the arsenal of the Indian defence ecosystem.
India’s technological progress powered by local defence manufacturers showcased country military prowess as Asia’s largest defence exhibition saw the inking of over 345 Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), 42 Major Announcements, 18 Transfer of Technology (ToT) agreements, and various product launches, which in total pegged around an envisaged investment worth Rs 1,50,000 crore.
During the Expo, the evening skies of Gandhinagar left thousands in awe by uniformed personnel’s daredevil exercises, breathtaking combat free falls, daring displays by the elite Marine Commandos (Marcos) and Para Commandos, which left indelible impressions on the spectators
But the marquee event was not restricted to this, as focus areas also included aero-engines, advanced military materials & technology and a production line for semiconductors to facility domestic manufacturing of ‘Semiconductors’, which are used in combat jets, tanks, naval warships, submarines, missiles, night-vision devices, radars, displays for pilots, space applications and communication networks.
DefExpo 2022 showcased India’s defence industry as a sunrise sector for investment on the global scale, as the event witnessed unparalleled participation of over 1,340 exhibitors, businesses, investors, start-ups, and delegates from several countries, with engagements spread over four venues. One of the brightest minds of the defence sector came together at over 20 seminars across three business days to brainstorm over wide ranging topics.
India’s Race to Space
Gracing the inaugural ceremony of DefExpo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of an imperative Air force station Deesa air base in Banaskantha, which is just 130km away from the Indo-Pak border and promises to strengthen the security architecture in the Western sector.
With an aim to harness India’s power in space to not just benefit the people of the country, but to the entire globe, PM also launched ‘DefSpace Mission’ to provide the armed forces with innovative solutions for 75 items used in the space sector. The space programme aims to develop innovative solutions for the Defence Forces through industry & startups.
Notably, India’s military use of space started in the 1990s when imagery was used from international satellites. In 2013, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the GSAT-7 (known as Rukmini) to connect all Indian naval ships and planes. In December 2018, the ISRO launched the GSAT-7A satellite equipped with Ku-band transponders to interlink Indian Air Force combat aircraft, airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platforms, unmanned aerial vehicles, ground radar stations, and major air bases. The Indian Army also uses 30 percent of GSAT-7A’s capacity for communication until its own GSAT-7B is launched.
In November 2021, the ‘GSAT-7C’ satellite was approved to provide secure communication for the Air Force. Last year only, a satellite was also launched to track ships in the Indian Ocean Region, which provides a direct feed at a multi-agency centre headed by the Indian Navy.
“There are more than 60 developing countries with whom India is sharing its space science. Many African countries and many other small countries are benefiting from this, the Prime Minister mentioned.
The ‘South Asia satellite’ is an effective example of this. By next year, ten ASEAN countries will also get real-time access to India’s satellite data. Even developed countries like Europe and America are using our satellite data, he added.
A mega domestic deal also made the headlines, when Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) inked a Rs 6,800 crore contract for 70 HTT-40 trainer aircraft, which was unveiled by the PM on the 2nd day of the expo at the India Pavilion. The state-of-art aircraft has been indigenously designed and developed by HAL, is equipped with modern, cutting-edge systems and has been designed with pilot-friendly features.
The aircraft would be utilised for basic flight training, instrument flying, night flying, close formation flying, aerobatics, and basic flight training. In July 2022, HAL signed a contract worth over $100 million for the supply and manufacture of 88 ‘TPE331-12B’ engines/kits along with maintenance and support services to power its indigenously built Basic Trainer Aircraft (HTT-40).
On domestic defence push, PM also announced ‘Fourth Positive Indigenization List’ of 101 items, which will be procured from indigenous manufacturers as per provisions given in Defense Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020. The MoD had earlier promulgated ‘First, Second and Third Positive Indigenization Lists’, comprising 310 items in the past 3 years.
The Start of Indian Defense Startup Ecosystem
The expansion of the defence sector is not limited to household names of the industry, it also throws up a wide variety of opportunities for start-ups and MSMEs. The Defense Ministry has already approved Rs 300 crore so far for more than 100 iDEX winners to develop products/technologies in over 50 technological areas to further support this growth.
Notably, the start-ups under the iDEX network have been working in the cutting edge technology including deep tech, AI, drones among others to equip the Armed Forces with innovative solutions for modern and futuristic warfare.
On 26 July 2022, iDEX (Innovations for Defence Excellence) achieved yet another milestone of signing its 100th contract. Within a short span of time, iDEX has emerged as a game changer in the Defence eco-system through its flagship programmes like Defence India Start-up Challenges (DISC), Prime and Open Challenges (OC).
The framework of iDEX was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2018 with an aim of providing the platform of co- creation and co-development in the Defence sector, and to engage start-ups to contribute to the defence sector and develop defence and aerospace setup in the country.
The Technology Development Fund (TDF) scheme on the other hand, is executed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which supports indigenous development of components, products, systems and technologies by Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups.
At the first-ever marquee event of the Ministry of Defence ‘Invest for Defence’, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh mentioned the government has reserved 68% of the defence capital acquisition for domestic procurement for the year 2022-23, which is approximately Rs 85,000 crores and 25% of this has been reserved for domestic private industry.
Further, the Defence Ministry has dedicated 1/4 of the Defence R&D budget to industry led R&D to encourage the participation of private firms in the defence sector. Sharing the government’s future endeavours for the defence sector, Rajnath Singh asserted that the target is to increase defence production in India from USD 12 billion to USD 22 billion by 2025.
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