February 22, 2023
NEW DELHI – Addressing the press in Bangalore prior to Aero India 2023, the US Charge d’Affaires, Elizabeth Jones, stated “India is a partner of choice for the US,” and added, “our growing diplomatic and security cooperation over the last year is evidence of this.” She went on to state that “the size of this year’s US delegation to Aero India is one of the biggest ever.” The US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, who was in attendance, added, “The BidenHarris administration is focused on putting maximum effort into bolstering India’s military capabilities and rise as a defence industrial power.”
The US deployed two of its latest F 35 aircraft at the show, in a sign of growing bonhomie and security cooperation, though there were no inputs on these being offered to India. The recent signing of the iCET (initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology) is another display of growing proximity.
The UK delegation was led by the minister for defence procurement and comprised of members from the government, defence and industry. Alex Ellis, British High Commissioner to India, stated, “The UK is committed to partner with India in its journey towards becoming Atmanirbhar in its defence and security needs.” He added that the British delegation was the largest ever and Britain wants “to work more closely with the Indian Government and companies.”
The French Ambassador, Emmanuel Lenain, mentioned in Bangalore on the sidelines of Aero India, “French industries have been committed and have been pioneering for decades in Make in India. We really believe that we should work together for strategic autonomy. It was the commitment of French companies to provide the best technology for India, on time. It will be the same in the future.”
Alexander A Mikheev, Director General of Russia’s ROSOBORONEXPORT, which has been a permanent exhibitor at Aero India stated, “The military-technical cooperation between Russia and India is an example of industrial partnership with a number of completed and ongoing joint projects for all services of the (Indian) armed forces. Today we are offering new points of cooperation within the joint development and production of high-tech products along with the Indian companies under the ‘Make in India’ program.”
India is the nation which states compete to partner with.
Aero India brought together participation by 98 countries, defence ministers of 32 countries, air chiefs from 29 and 73 CEOs of global and Indian original equipment manufacturers. A total of 809 companies were represented. India is now the destination for the best in the world. The current Aero India is not just any exhibition but a display of India’s global power. Aero India is flying high from its humble beginnings in 1996.
The Prime Minister rightly stated in his opening remarks, “The country, which was the biggest defence importer for decades, is now exporting defence equipment to 75 countries. There was a time when it (Aero India) was considered to be just a show or just a window to ‘sell to India’ in a way. Today Aero India is not just a show; it is the strength of India. Today it focuses on the scope of the Indian defence industry and also on self-confidence.”
The defence minister sent a clear message when he stated that India does not want to continue being an ‘assembly workshop’ for military platforms but aims to produce ‘cutting edge defence hardware.’ India has moved forward with nations rushing to partner it and gain.
The Bandan ceremony witnessed 266 partnerships including 201 MoUs, 53 major announcements, nine product launches and three transfers of technology, worth around Rs 80,000 crore. Its theme ‘runway to a billion opportunities” is in tune with India’s mantra of ‘make in India, make for the world.’ Nations are competing with each other for the Indian market which is growing by the year.
The order for 470 commercial aircraft signed by Air India was an indicator of the impact India has on the global economy. On its signing the contract for 220 Boeing aircraft, the White House commented, “This announcement reflects the strength of the US-India economic partnership,” adding that this would provide a million jobs within the US. Its other contract for 250 Airbus aircraft was witnessed online by the Indian PM and French President, Emmanuel Macron. President Macron stated, “This achievement shows that Airbus and all its French partners are fully dedicated to develop new areas of dedication with India.”
Britain also stands to gain as the A 350 Airbus aircraft would be powered by Rolls Royce engines. The British PM, Rishi Sunak commented, “By building trade ties with growing economic powers like India we will ensure UK businesses remain at the forefront of global growth and innovation.” He also added that it would provide jobs within Britain.
It is rare for an Indian company’s order being the source of employment for millions across the US and Europe. The splitting of the order between Airbus and Boeing has benefitted both the US and Europe, especially at a time when global economies, less India, are shrinking and there are fears of job cuts.
The order from Air India is just the tip of the iceberg. Indian airports have risen to 147 from the existing 74. With the Indian civil aviation sector expected to become the world’s third largest within the decade, Indian airlines are expected to order 2,000 new aircraft. India is insisting global aircraft manufacturers establish their plants in India in case they desire to benefit from the Indian market. They will do so, aware of the benefits of the same.
Government representatives and global organisations’ top honchos rushing to India to participate in Aero India displays their desire to gain from India’s economic growth. Global leaders are desperately advocating their products, aware that trade deals with India are the solution to securing economies and saving jobs. No wonder the British Finance Minister stated that her priority is closing the Free Trade Agreement with India. India beckons and nations respond, aware that delaying means missing the bus. The era of a new and powerful India has arrived and is here to stay.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)