Bengaluru: AeroIndia 2009, South Asia's biggest Air Show, opened at the Yelahanka Air Force Station here on Wednesday, with firms from 25 countries showcasing their latest hardware in a bid for multi-billion dollar contracts with the Indian military. The global economic downturn seems to have made little difference, as nearly 600 armament and aerospace companies – half of them from overseas – taking part in this year's event, which covers an area of 44,000 square metres.
After an exciting aerobatic display, Defence Minister A K Antony opened the Air Show, and asserted that India would not cut defence expenditure or compromise on its acquisition programme despite the recession. ''Our defence expenditure at present is about 2.5 per cent of its (India's) GDP, in keeping with our security interests,'' he said. The five-day event is the seventh edition of this biennial exposition. Antony said that AeroIndia-2009 would showcase India's emergence as an attractive market and a key outsourcing hub for global aerospace firms.
''It (India) fulfils all the pre-requisites – low costs, skilled engineers, good organisations, software and technology,'' he said. ''I am confident that Aero India-2009 will provide ample opportunities to domestic and international players in the aerospace and aviation sectors, to tap the market and the business potential for mutual benefit.''
Leading the pack of 303 international companies at the event are Germany and France with 31 firms each. Twenty-six British, 24 Russian and 22 US firms are also present, along with 289 Indian defence companies. Among the biggest prizes being sought is a $12 billion deal for 126 medium multi-role fighter jets. Six major aeronautical firms competing for the contract.
India says it is 'fast-tracking' all arm procurement negotiations amid the heightened tensions with Pakistan. ''For the first time, there will be business-to-business meetings on a large scale,'' Union Defence Production Secretary Pradeep Kumar said. He added that 500 such discussions had already been scheduled.
Besides the 126 fighter jets, transport aircraft and airborne early warning systems, the Indian military also plans to buy 700 helicopters worth 3.5 billion dollars, and an array of air defence systems. India also hopes to find buyers for its Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and for Brahmos, a supersonic cruise missile it has jointly built with Russia. Israel, which replaced France in 2007 as India's second-largest arms supplier after Russia, has sent its top 10 defence firms, including Rafael, which last September grabbed a 260-million-dollar missile contract.