The expo will feature performances by the Tejas light combat aircraft, light utility helicopter and Arjun tanks

CHENNAI: India’s mega defence exhibition, the DefExpo 2018, will begin in Chennai on Wednesday. The event will underscore India’s first serious attempt to project itself as a major military manufacturer.

The event will be formally inaugurated on April 12 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The event is happening even as work on the Tamil Nadu defence industrial corridor has begun. The corridor will be a quadrilateral extending from Chennai to Hosur, Coimbatore, Salem and Tiruchirappalli, opening new opportunities for the industry.

According to defence ministry, the message being sent out through the DefExpo — which extends up to April 14 — is that while big players in the defence field are welcome, India has attained significant manufacturing capabilities.

"While showcasing the strengths of India’s public sector, it will also uncover India’s growing private industry and spreading MSME base for components and sub-systems," the ministry said in a statement.

Around 677 exhibitors, mainly including 523 Indian companies and the rest being international ones, will participate. The response from foreign companies this time as compared to the previous DefExpo held in Goa in 2016 has not been good. About 232 foreign companies had participated in Goa, as compared to 154 this time.

"The overall participation this time is 10% lower than last time," Dr Ajay Kumar, Secretary Defence Production of the MOD told reporters in a briefing in Delhi last week.

While the strength of Indian exhibitors is higher this time indicating a stronger focus on Make in India, the scheme’s landmark policy — the Strategic Partnership model — is facing implementation issues, putting several major strategic projects such as the Project 75-I submarines on hold.

Aiming at bolstering India’s defence cooperation with foreign countries, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday addressed a meeting of India’s 44 defence attaches from missions abroad. These attaches will attend the expo, according to reports. She also spoke about expanding defence manufacturing in India and stressed that the attaches needed to engage more with all stakeholders in the defence sector, including DPSUs, to expand broader defence cooperation links. This could also mean India's desire to export its defence equipment. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, however, in one of their reports recently tabled in Parliament had said that most of the DPSUs (being the primary builders of defence equipment in India) have not had much exports in the past few years.

As a special feature of the expo, there will be live demonstrations of naval, air and land systems. These would include performances by the Tejas light combat aircraft, light utility helicopter and Arjun tanks.

Several countries are also looking at engaging with startups, so there will also be the launch of a national scheme for creating defence innovation hubs throughout the country for encouraging entry of startups into defence production.

There will also be two major international collaboration events — the Joint Commission with South Korea and the Military Industry Cooperation with Russia.