Aero India Opens: Despite economic crisis, country remains a lucrative defense market
By WENDELL MINNICK
BANGALORE - Aero India 2009 was officially inaugurated during a huge rally Feb. 11 at the Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bangalore, in a ceremony attended by official foreign dignitaries, defense exhibitors and senior Indian officials.
The Indian Air Force Sarang helicopter display teams flies into the exhibition space during opening ceremonies held Feb. 11 at Air Force Station Yelahanka, Bengaluru, India.
Dignitaries included Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Fali Homi Major, Chairman, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Ashok Baweja, Chairman, CII Defense Committee, Shri Atul Kirloskar, and Defense Minister A. K. Antony.
Prior to the inauguration, attendees were given a demonstration by the Indian Army Aviation Corps with "special commandos" in HAL Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters. Teams of commandos were airlifted to the site and secured the landing zone.
The anti-terrorist demonstration was another reminder of the tighter than normal security at the base for the show. India is still reeling from the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed 173 and wounded approximately 300.
During the inauguration Antony welcomed attendees.
"Over the years, Aero India has increased its reach both in terms of participation, as well as infrastructure," he said. "This year, the domestic participation has gone up by 40 percent, compared to last year. It is heartening to know that 50 delegations, as well as 16 ministerial delegations are attending the Aero show."
At the political security level, Antony reminded attendees India had "always been recognized as a responsible power and a stabilizing factor in the region in the face of various security challenges originating from different sources." Antony did not directly name Pakistan during the speech, but there are growing concerns over Pakistan's role in the Mumbai attacks and increasing concerns over the Pakistan government's stability.
India is gearing up for the threat. The air show is clearly a demonstration of that fact. There is a major competition for a multi-mission fighter aircraft with Russian, European and U.S. fighters battling it out.
And despite the global economic crisis, India appears prepared to continue expensive procurements programs in the near term.
"Our defense expenditure, at present, is about 2.5 percent of GDP, in keeping with our security interests," said Antony. "Despite the economic recession, there is no question of scaling down our defense expenditure, or compromising with our ongoing acquisition programs."
This year's Aero India demonstrates India's lucrative defense market. Major defense contractors are showing off their best wares and the recent selection of eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime aircraft to the Indian navy has raised hopes India will begin procuring more U.S. and European equipment in the future. India has a long history procuring arms and equipment from Russia.
"India is presently among the fastest expanding aerospace markets in the world," said Antony. "Our leading aerospace organization - Hindustan Aeronautics Limited - has evolved into an integrated aerospace organization."
"Our defense industry is now open up to 100 percent Indian private sector participation, while foreign direct investment is permissible up to 26 percent," he said. "Aero India 2009 will showcase India's emergence as an attractive market and a key outsourcing hub for global aerospace firms."