India seeks greater defence role in Africa with revitalised strategy

Wednesday February 26 2020

India's Prime minister Narendra Modi and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House in Nairobi on on July 11, 2016. Modi wants his country to be a leading defence equipment exporter in the coming decades, targeting developing countries in Africa and his neighbourhood. PHOTO | AFP

By Aggrey Mutambo

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is often described as a charismatic politician with some sort of nationalistic credentials.

This week, he is hosting US President Donald Trump where defence deals are likely to be cemented.

But he also wants his country to be a leading defence equipment exporter in the coming decades, targeting developing countries in Africa and his neighbourhood.

And the Indian leader has been making it known whenever he speaks to a gathering.


At a Defence Expo in Lucknow, northern India, Mr Modi said his country’s rising tech enthusiasts were positioning it better to start rolling out affordable military defence equipment, which could easily be tapped into by developing countries, especially in Africa.


“Our aim is to develop 25 products based on artificial intelligence in the next five years,” he argued at a gathering attended by delegates from 70 countries as well as more than 170 defence technology firms.

The Expo is India’s latest bid to attract both investors and buyers of military equipment and it runs biennially. This year’s was the 11th edition and saw some 856 Indian defence companies showcasing their wares.

“Be it artillery guns, aircraft carrier, frigates, submarines, light combat aircraft, combat helicopters, many such equipment are being manufactured in India,” Mr Modi said.


According to the Defence ministry, India’s equipment export has risen considerably since 2010.

In 2019, it was at $1.5 billion and Mr Modi’s government wants to double that in five years.

He is banking on what he called the changing technology, which he argued could help the defence export business reach $5 billion.

Officials won’t say who the annual buyers are yet, but India’s Defence ministry did say some 460 military manufacturing licences had been issued since 2015, twice as many as those issued before Mr Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, suggesting the business was doing well.

At the Expo, officials unveiled the Akash Surface to Air Missile System, Dhanush Artillery Gun system and Light Combat Aircraft, all produced by local companies.

Officials also announced that a maiden flight of a locally produced autopilot aircraft known as Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) was conducted successfully.

Its producer is Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a state-owned company based in Bangalore.


But Mr Rajnath Singh, India’s Defence minister, argued India’s vision will largely depend on what he called “cooperation” with other countries and defence firms.

“Companies from around the world are bringing together their individual competencies in order to collaborate and share know-how with Indian companies to create a win-win situation,” he told the gathering.

“India, with its large market base and recent technological advancements, software know-how and a fast-developing defence industry, is ideally suited to facilitate in this field.”

In a way though, India’s policy vision for defence manufacturing follows its path of generic drugs. Since 2008, India has implemented a policy known colloquially as “medicines for the people” where the state encourages use of generic unbranded medicines which are cheaper.