Themed ‘Path to Pride’, the Expo portrays India’s growing military production ability

From small handguns to helicopters to submarine sights, the exhibited items at the Defence Expo 2022 represent India’s ability to produce indigenous defence equipment

Set in the backdrop of the homemade aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, larger-than-life hoardings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi dot every few hundred metres of Gandhinagar’s wide streets skirted by rows of leafy trees.

Erected to publicise the ongoing DefExpo—the 12th edition of the Indian defence production’s showcase event—the resolute look on the PM’s face is reflective of the new-found confidence and buzz that the country’s defence industrial complex seems to have generated. Aptly, the event is themed “Path to Pride”.

From small handguns to helicopters to submarine sights, the exhibited items and their wide range seemed to represent the country’s prowess to churn out home-made defence equipment for itself and for the world.

Mumbai-headquartered Paras Aerospace is fielding a medium-altitude long-endurance Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle a.k.a. an armed drone that is named ‘Griffon’. The company’s CEO Pankaj Akula said: “We are hoping that the government stands with the indigenous private companies for strategic projects such as these. It is time for ‘Make in India’ to be ‘Made in India’.”

Still on the drawing board, the Griffon’s entry has generated considerable attention in the market.

“Its recently-posted YouTube video has been watched by more than one million viewers from across the world and is averaging about 40,000 views a day,” adds Akola.

The excitement is particularly palpable among the about 100 start-ups that have set shop at the venue—engaged in an entire range of activities—from making nuts and bolts for fitments in military platforms to combat drones to placing satellites for a fee.

Moin SPM, co-founder of Agnikul, a Chennai-headquartered private firm that uses its launch vehicle to place satellites in space, said: “We have been a space-faring nation for about 50 years now, so we have the experience. Moreover, compared to others, Indian firms are much more cost-effective. With the current buzz in the market and also the so many inquiries in this exhibition, we are very confident of bagging many orders.”

Agnikul has already tested its launch vehicle for low earth orbit positioning from India’s rocket launch pad at Sriharikota.

This year’s biennial showcase event has seen more than 80 countries being represented by military heads and defence officials.

The Kanpur-headquartered Parasnath TechGarments, specialising in special apparel for militaries and paramilitary forces, is also upbeat. Shailesh Tiwari, country head, said: “Demand is on the surge, largely because the government is keen to equip its forces better than before.” Tiwari’s firm is eagerly waiting for the Indian Army’s apparel orders which will amount to a huge Rs 350 crore.

Said an exhibitor at the Chennai-headquartered Anil Metals, a metallurgy firm producing alloys: “Russia is a leader when it comes to metallurgy. But with the Ukraine conflict on, we expect the demand for Indian metallurgy products to spike. If the queries in our products in this DefExpo are an indication, we expect a 20-30 per cent surge in orders.”

Exuding enthusiasm on Thursday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said this is a ‘golden period’ for the defence production sector that will be a ‘sunrise sector’ in the years to come.

The minister said the target is to increase defence production from USD 12 billion to USD 22 billion by 2025.

There are about 1,350 exhibitors—mostly indigenous, some joint ventures associated with Indian companies, and MSMEs. PM Modi had pointed it out on Wednesday: “This is the first defence expo where only Indian companies are participating and it features only Made in India equipment”.

Already, India’s defence exports—being exported to more than 75 countries worldwide—have grown eight-fold in the last five years. In 2021-22, defence exports were valued at Rs 13,000 crore while the target is to touch Rs 40,000 crore ($5 billion) in a few years.

Spread over a sprawling 1,00,000 sq metres, the event is organised across three venues—Mahatma Mandir centre, Helipad Exhibition Centre (HEC), and live shows at Sabarmati River Front (SRF).