Inaugurating Aero India in Bangalore, PM Modi said govt is targeting increase in defence exports from $1.5 billion now to $5 billion by 2024-25

Bangalore: Aero India, the country’s biennial air show, began here with Prime Minister Narendra Modi laying emphasis on fast-tracking India’s journey from a defence importer to an exporter. Inaugurating the five-day event being attended by representatives of 98 countries and over 700 defence companies, Modi said Aero India used to be “just a show and a window to sell to India”, but the perception has changed now.

“Today, Aero India is India’s strength and not just a show,” the prime minister said, adding that besides showcasing India’s self-confidence, the event is also an exhibition of the scope of the Indian defence industry. Talking about the growth of the Indian defence sector in the last eight-nine years, PM Modi said the government is targeting an increase in defence exports from $1.5 billion now to $5 billion by 2024-25.

“From here, India will take rapid strides to be included among the largest defence manufacturing countries and our private sector and investors will play a big role in that,” he declared as he called upon the private sector to invest in defence which, he said, will create new opportunities for them in India and in many other countries.

As Aero India began, the highlight of the event was two gleaming F-35 fighter aircraft that flew in and landed in the afternoon.

The flights that landed were the multirole F-35A Lightning-II and F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. Flying in from the Hill Air Force Base in Utah in the United States, the F-35A Lightning-II Demonstration Team will give a demo of its aerial capabilities, while the F-35A Lightning-II which flew in from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska will be on static display.

Major General Julian C. Cheater, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of the US Air Force (International Affairs) said in a statement, “The F-35 represents the leading-edge of U.S. fighter technology. Aero India is an ideal forum to showcase the most advanced, capable, lethal, and interoperable weapons systems the U.S. has to offer. This system and others are designed to penetrate and defeat advanced adversary air defences.”

The aircraft’s debut at India’s air show comes at a time when the Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to enter the market scouting for 114 Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRFA).

Aero India: US Wooing India With F-35

The MRFA contract is unlikely to go to an American fighter – F-21 or F-15EX – since French fighter Rafale is the frontrunner, but things could change if Washington offers the F-35, said sources in the defence establishment.

The US is yet to make an official offer for the F-35 stealth aircraft to India which is working on an indigenous fifth-generation aircraft called the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

Sources said that the US is wooing India with the F-35 but there is still no official word from Washington on offering the same to New Delhi.

Under the US system, F-35’s manufacturer Lockheed Martin cannot offer its aircraft on its own and would need the government’s permission to do so — similar to the permission granted to its F-21, an upgraded version of the F-16 designed specifically for India.

On static display, the Americans also have the F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornets that are in the fray for a naval contract.

However, as ThePrint reported earlier, the scales have tilted in favour of the Rafale Marine, something that the US hopes can be rolled back.

“The F-35 is using capability show-off to woo India and to show what it can gain from a closer partnership with the US in terms of technology and capabilities,” said one source.

Sources also said that AMCA is the future of India’s aviation prowess and its critical design review has been completed by the Aeronautical Development Agency of the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation).

The F-35 and F-22 Raptors of the US, the Su-57 Felon of Russia and Chinese J-20 are the only operational fifth-generation fighters in the world.

Talking about Aero India, officials from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said defence ministers of 32 countries, air chiefs of 29 countries and 73 CEOs of global and Indian original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are expected to attend the event.

A total of 809 defence companies, including MSMEs and start-ups, are showcasing the advancement in niche technologies and the growth in the aerospace and defence sector.

Major countries attending the Aero India include both Russia and Ukraine, besides the Americans, French, British and others.

The event also aims to promote the export of indigenous air platforms like Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-Tejas, HTT-40, Dornier, Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).