| NEW DELHI: International armament majors continue to vie with each other in a desperate bid to woo India, which outdid even China in buying military hardware and software for the first time last year.
Consider the latest official figures first. India spent a staggering $6 billion to buy weapons and platforms for its armed forces in 2004-2005, says the defence ministry.
This when Saudi Arabia and China, the next two largest armament buyers in the developing world, notched up defence deals valued between just $2-3 billion each during the year.
So, its not a surprise that DefExpo-2006, which will kick off here on Tuesday, will witness as many as 220 armament companies from 30 countries as also 200 Indian companies displaying their lethal wares.
"We also have confirmation from 44 official delegations from abroad, with at least 10 being led by their ministers," said Defence Exhibition Organisation joint director Wing Commander RK Dhingra.
Armament majors, of course, know India has several more mega deals in the pipeline. For one, the gigantic $6.5-billion contract to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft for IAF is now poised to take off.
Apart from the American F-16 and F\A-18, French Mirage-2000-V, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen and Russian MiG-29M2 fighters already in contention, other jets like the French Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon are also now flying into the equation for this.
For another, the Armys Rs 8,000-10,000-crore artillery modernisation project to progressively induct over 2,000 towed and self-propelled 155mm 52-calibre guns is also expected to be finalised next year.
Then, of course, the armed forces are looking for more helicopters, UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), radars, minesweepers and long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, among others.
There are several other ongoing modernisation projects in the armed forces. The Army, for instance, is now trying to "fast-track" procurements, ranging from specialised assault rifles to laser range-finders, for its seven Para-Special Forces battalions.
Of the Rs 2,000-crore modernisation package for the Army in 2005-06, Rs 400 crore have been earmarked for the Special Forces. "We have identified 40 items 20 of them will be sourced from the US for the modernisation of our Special Forces. In the next one-two years, they should be fully equipped," says Army chief General JJ Singh.
Taking all this into account, several countries led by the US and Israel will make their presence count in the forthcoming DefExpo. While the US is aggressively trying to tap into the huge Indian market, Israel has already notched up $2.7 million in military sales to India over the last three years.
Russia, France, UK, Italy, Sweden and Poland are not too far behind. Russia, still the largest defence supplier for India, for instance, will be showcasing its Smerch and Grad multiple-launch rocket systems; Amur-1650 and Amur-950 diesel-electric submarines; 2C31 Vena self-propelled automated guns; Club-M multi-mode mobile missile systems; and Tor-M1 and Buk-M1-2 surface-to-air missile systems.
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