India's ASTRA Air-To-Air beyond visual range missile has great potential for export to the Gulf

Qatar and India have held bilateral defence dialogue for several years. And after its Gulf neighbours began a blockade on it in 2017, Qatar has looked eastwards for trade partners

India is a preferred partner for the Gulf countries who are keen on diversifying their economies and getting into developing their defence industries which are in their nascent stage. And on its part, India is increasingly interested in expanding its relations with countries in the Middle East and the Gulf countries are a natural direction for this expansion.

Countries, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE), see India as a growing defence market providing opportunities for collaboration. Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Derek Bisaccio, analyst at US based Forecast International Inc., says that “Throughout 2018, the UAE inked a few defence cooperation agreements with India to deepen their ties and at the recent IDEX military exhibition in the UAE, Indian Ordnance Factories signed a deal to supply ammunition to the Emirati military.”

Financial Express Online, in 2018, had reported that a defence delegation led by UAE Minister of State for Defence Affairs, Mohammed Ahmed Al Bowardi Al Falacy had expressed interest in buying `Made in India’ Akash surface-to-air missile system. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had made a presentation for the ‘Akash’ surface to air missile system to the visiting minister of UAE.

Besides expressing interest in the world’s fastest anti-ship cruise missile, BrahMos, which is Indo-Russian joint venture, UAE is also looking at India’s indigenous Astra 70-kilometre range air- to-air missile which can be fitted on the Mirage combat aircraft which are in service in the air force of that country.

While the UAE government is also looking at air defence systems of India including the Akash and BrahMos missile systems, an Abu Dhabi based company Caracal International has been declared as L1 for the procurement of Indian Army’s Close Quarter Carbines.

During the recent visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the two sides signed an agreement on joint defence production of parts and components. Though Saudi Arabia has expressed its intent for setting up its own defence manufacturing base, there is a lack of technical expertise and Saudi skilled workers.

In an earlier analysis, Dr Mohd Muddassir Quamar, Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said that both India and Saudi Arabia have strengthened cooperation in the security and defence sectors and the two are in discussions to improving defence cooperation and investments in India’s defence manufacturing sector.

Qatar and India have held bilateral defence dialogue for several years. And after its Gulf neighbours began a blockade on it in 2017, Qatar has looked eastwards for trade partners.

Bisaccio points out that “Defence cooperation between Oman and India goes back decades. Given that both Oman and India border the Arabian Sea, the two have developed ties between their Navies, in particular. Navies of India and Oman have been conducting joint naval exercises since 2017 and recently concluded the al-Nagah exercises involving land forces from the two countries.”

Being India’s oldest defence partner in West Asia Oman has given access to the Port of Duqm, which India can use for military purpose and logistical support, which will enable India to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean Region. This Gulf country is already buying spare parts for some of its military equipment from Indian DPSUs, and has expressed interest in tying up with Indian companies for joint production of defence equipment.

Oman has typically pursued a moderate foreign policy in the region. While it has been conducting exercises with the Indian military, it has also recently engaged in joint drills with Pakistan, as well. The two regularly hold a naval exercise called Thamar al-Tayyib, the most recent of which was in January 2019, the US based analyst points out.

These countries are primarily interested in munitions, small arms, ship building, unmanned platforms and designing armoured vehicles and are interested in Western, Russia or even Chinese platforms and systems.