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Can’t force forces to procure indigenous weapons: Sitharaman

Cheni, April 11: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday said the government cannot compel Indian armed forces to buy indigenous weapons, after she opened a major defence exhibition that projects India — the biggest global arms importer — as one of the major defence manufacturing hubs in the world. The four-day DefExpo India, whose theme is “Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub, held at Thiruvidanthai off the East Coast Road near hear, is the 10th in the biennial exercise aimed at establishing Brand India and highlighting the manufacturing capabilities of the country’s public and private sectors. Asked about the huge export-import gap in the defence sector of a country that does not even figure among the top 25 exporters of arms and reluctance of its forces to buy locally manufactured weapon systems, Sitharaman said she could only tell the Indian armed forces to procure from indigenous companies “as much as possible”. She said she could not cross a “thin line” to impinge on the freedom of the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force or the Indian vy “to make their own decisions” as per their operatiol requirements.

The defence exhibition that targets India’s futuristic goal of building a self-sufficient domestic arms industry — a key facet of Prime Minister rendra Modi’s “Make in India” slogan — comes even as the armed forces of India facing multiple security threats continue to be saddled with sub-optimal weapon systems. At the heart of this is the country’s ibility to boost indigenous defence manufacturing, which is often blamed on inordite procedural delays, making a product redundant by the time it gets market-ready. At the defence exhibition, dozens of foreign and local companies and defence public sector undertakings are hard selling their products to the Indian armed forces and foreigners, including defence attaches.
Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar said the government was not targeting a specific number of deals or agreements expected to be signed at the exhibition that “showcases the strengths of India’s public sector and also uncovers India’s growing private industry and spreading MSME base for components and sub-systems”. The response from foreign companies this time, as compared to the previous DefExpo held in Goa in 2016, has not been that good. A total of 232 foreign companies had participated in Goa, while it is 154 this time. (IANS)

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Ankur Kalita