India opens massive weapons fair, denies arming for war
A massive defence fair opened in India's capital on Saturday, with hundreds of global weapons firms competing for billions of dollars of sales to one of the world's largest armies and biggest spenders.
Some 450 firms from countries including the United States, Russia, Britain, Russia and Israel are displaying their latest hardware to technology-hungry India, the top arms buyer among emerging nations and expected to shell out $30 billion (Dh110bn) over the next four years.
The four-day "DefExpo" in New Delhi is also expected to see several big-ticket deals confirmed, with US firms hoping to take a slice of a market that was traditionally the domain of India's Cold War ally Russia.
India's Defence Minister A K Antony insisted the event did not signal that his country was engaged in an arms race with its nuclear-armed neighbours and rivals Pakistan and China.
"India is buying equipment so that we can offer a deterrent. We are not preparing for war," he told reporters.
Since 1999, nuclear-armed India's military purchases have been worth $25bn.
And the country, which has the world's fourth largest military and is Asia's second-fastest growing economy, will be spending even more in the coming years to modernise its Soviet-era weaponry.
Up for grabs are deals for six submarines worth $2.3bn, an artillery contract tagged at $3bn and a global tender for helicopters.
India, which has a history of tense relations with neighbours Pakistan and China, also plans to issue a tender for 126 war planes worth a colossal $10.2bn as early as March.
The defence minister also told participants that the days of bribing Indian officials to win government contracts were over, citing a ban on the use of local brokers and backhanders in defence deals.
"We will not show favours to anybody as it is our objective to get the most advanced technology at a reasonable price," Antony told a press conference.
"The government stand is very clear: no middlemen in defence deals. And whenever we see any complaint, we go to the root of the complaints," he said.
India imposed the ban after 1986 when the purchase of 410 howitzer guns for $1.23bn from then-Swedish firm Bofors sparked allegations that brokers bribed politicians to clinch the deal.
The scandal contributed to the collapse of the government of then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1989.
But the problem lingers.
India in December scrapped a $600m deal to buy 197 military helicopters after allegations of corruption in the bidding process involving Eurocopter, a unit of the European aerospace giant EADS.
The minister did not name Eurocopter, or problems surrounding a $1.5bn artillery tender that was frozen last year, but said "two-three deals" threatened to "compromise transparency" in India's arms buying.
"All our procurements are on schedule and two or three contracts we cancelled despite pressure from international quarters. These were big-ticket contracts... and we have gone for fresh tenders," he said. (AFP)
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