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Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out ambitions to more than triple annual defence exports to $5 billion over the next two years. The arms firms flocked to a major air show for a slice of the nation’s massive import budget.

India is looking to sign defence deals worth 750 billion rupees ($9 billion) at the biennial five-day Aero India event. The airlines try to complete jetliner purchases to meet civilian demand and press global aircraft manufacturers to produce more locally, mainly through partnerships. India has been one of the world’s biggest importers of defence equipment for decades, but it has punched below its weight in the global arms export market. India’s export ambitions are a sign of its growing clout as it uses the leverage of huge imports to attract investment in its domestic industry. Today, India is not just a market for defence companies, it is also a potential defence partner,” PM Modi said in a speech at the show. “I call on India’s private sector to invest more and more in the country’s defence sector.  India exports defence products to 75 countries, he added.

Past exports include Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Dhruv helicopters to the Philippines. Mauritius and Ecuador and Russia-India venture BrahMos Aerospace supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines. HAL has also offered its Tejas light fighter jet for sale to Malaysia. India has also exported other items such as offshore patrol vessels, coastal surveillance systems, avionics, chaff rocket launchers, and spares for radars. The air show aims to promote exports of indigenous air platforms such as Tejas, Dhruv, HTT-40 training aircraft, Dornier light utility helicopter, and the light combat helicopter. India also wants smaller domestic companies and start-ups to make parts for large defence products globally as well as to attract foreign investment for joint product development and production.

Russia supplied India with around $13 billion of arms in the past five years.

Defence experts were circumspect about India’s ambition. Russia supplied India with around $13 billion of arms in the past five years. Russian state news agencies reported suppliers in the European Union and the United States have been lobbying for a bigger share of the market. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it imperative for India to further diversify its supply base. Amid fears of possible Russian supply disruption and Western pressure on the nation to limit ties with Moscow.

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