Foray to South Korea signals arms export ambitions of India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 20 October 2013

Foray to South Korea signals arms export ambitions of India

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21 Oct 13

For over six decades, slow progress in developing indigenous defence equipment and a quaint Nehruvian squeamishness about exporting arms have together made India’s presence in the international arms only that of a buyer --- last year the world’s biggest.

Now that has begun to change. A large Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) team is heading to Seoul, in South Korea, where it will be one of the biggest exhibitors at the Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX-2013) later this month.

The DRDO will display a variety of indigenous defence systems at Seoul, including the Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM), the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the Pragati surface-to-surface missile (SSM), an airborne early warning system (AEWS) and several other high-technology systems like sonar, battlefield radars, and identification-friend-or-foe (IFF) systems.

After half a century of operating below the international radar, often in the teeth of tough international sanctions, the DRDO’s emergence at Seoul highlights a growing confidence. With Rs 1,57,000 crore worth of DRDO-developed systems already in service with the Indian military and more on the cusp of delivery, the DRDO is targeting the Asia-Pacific region, where the rise of an assertive China is driving strong defence spending.

“A large number of products developed by DRDO and produced by Indian Industry including those being displayed at ADEX-2013, have immense export potential,” says the DRDO.

The military’s reluctance to induct DRDO weaponry into its arsenal has hindered overseas interest in Indian equipment. But that is changing with the army and air force placing large orders of Akash SAM systems, the Tejas fighter entering squadron service, the Arjun tank proving its capability in comparative trials with the Russian T-90, and a string of development successes in ballistic missiles, radars and avionics.

The DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander, confirms that at least two south-east Asian countries have expressed interest in buying the Indo-Russian Brahmos supersonic cruise missile. He has declined to name the countries, but MoD insiders say they include Vietnam and Indonesia. There is also interest in the Akash SAM.

Significant foreign orders would drive down production costs, which are high because the Indian military places such small orders that economies of scale are unobtainable. The air force has so far ordered just one squadron of Tejas (20 aircraft), with one more squadron promised later. The army has ordered just 124 Arjun tanks, while an order of at least 300 tanks is needed for indigenising key components like the thermal imaging sights by purchasing technology and manufacturing them in India.

The DRDO intends to set up a marketing arm, a measure recommended by the Rama Rao Committee in its still classified 2008 report, entitled “Reconfiguring DRDO”. Meanwhile, the DRDO is doing its marketing in-house. In August, it sold an American company the technology to manufacture an Explosive Detection Kit in the US.

“We have been hesitant in showing our capabilities in building weapons. But in ADEX-2013, we will be telling the world that India is here. Our presence at Seoul will provide an opportunity for building technology partnerships for R&D and manufacture, and for creating export potential,” says Chander.

Several private sector companies that have partnered DRDO in manufacturing advanced defence platforms will also attend ADEX-2013. Tata Power (Strategic Electronics Division), which has built two of the Akash launchers that will be on display, will make its presence felt in Seoul. So too will public sector undertakings, Bharat Electronics Ltd and Bharat Dynamics Ltd.

“We want to project not just the DRDO, but all of India’s emerging defence capabilities. Indian industries are well-poised to emerge as Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers to foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), which will build capabilities and enhance exports,” points out the DRDO chief.

Amongst the hurdles before foreign vendors who choose to partner Indian companies are: obtaining licences to produce defence equipment in India; and obtaining export permissions. The DRDO chief says that these are not major issues, and the MoD would evaluate overseas requests on a case-by-case basis.

ADEX is being held at Seoul from Oct 29 to Nov 3, with more than 30 countries participating. The MoD has planned an Indo-Korean defence meet, where the Minister of State for Defence, Mr Jitendra Singh will deliver the inaugural address, and an Indo-Korean industries meet. 


  1. Shabash!I have often wondered why are arms export are so low.It is good to see something is being done to redress this.Many of our skilled people could be employed in this
    sector.Plus we could rake in foreign exchang(aka dollars)

  2. Greetings Sir,

    "the Pragati surface-to-surface missile (SSM)"?
    Is this Prithvi?
    Surprisingly I found a reference here also:

    Request please clarify.

  3. @ Deep

    It's a lower-range version of the Prahaar.

  4. I think the DRDO is getting a little
    ahead of itself. Lets first make
    this `indigenous' stuff work and get
    our defence forces to adopt/use. I
    don't know of any major weapon system
    built by DRDO ever being successfully
    deployed. Arjun ? LCA ? INSAS ? all
    failures. The much touted missiles
    are also suspect. The naval design
    bureau, on the other hand, is another

  5. Private sector should be allowed to develop wespon systems for the indian military and also for export after vetting of the government.

  6. @Ajai sir

    I think Pragati surface-to-surface tacticle missile system is nothing but the 120km range upscaled version of Smerch M codeveloped by OFB and Rosoboronexport which is also air mobile, means may well be transported by C130J-SH.Its a case in point for manufacturing more C130J-SH in India as a replacement for Avro HS 748

    I say this bcoz Prahaar missile system has not been accepted in its present form by IA and with 120 km Pragati being present to replace 150 km Prithvi 1 there is no need for Prahaar. What is needed is the upscaled version of Prahaar with 200 Km+ range that will eventually replace the Prithvi 2.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  7. Sir,

    1) Why we are sending LCA. is for export market when it is still not ready and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) is not achieved ! And secondly if there is an order then can HAL. built them is time !

    2) We should have asked our private players to participate in this exhibition with their products like say "Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher" etc.

    3) This just for info, during trials our " Deshi Bofors' " barrel got burst ! Even it is a licence produced and the composition of the material was known . Now how the other " Deshi 155 mm howitzers" ( Like Tata SUD. and L& T made) are performing ? Any news ?

  8. Hi Ajai!
    A small correction: Brahmos in Indo-Russian and not Indo-Soviet.

  9. Good, but I think the Koreans are way ahead of India in manufacturing. Their civilian industries are advanced in Electronics and Shipbuilding. They can always count upon them to pick any assignments from their military establishments. Koreans have already built a subsonic cruise missile. We seriously need to send Indian students on scholarship to Korean universities and expand Internship for Electronics and shipbuilding for technical college students with Korean industries.

  10. @ Indranil

    You're quite right... careless mistake. Have corrected it. Thanks.

  11. earlier drdo had a bad name in INida now it will earn international safe gguard our national image the govt should ban it organisation which cannot produce an assault rifle or a squad automatic and only obese tanks like cavalry generals...should not be allowed onto the international stage...remeber no orders for ALH after crashes in ecuador !!

  12. Great news. Jai Hind!


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