As DEFENSE & SECURITY 2019 in Bangkok got underway on 18 November, so a comprehensive presentation took place with regard to the importance of India for the region and the potential of closer Indian industrial cooperation with Thailand.
A total of 40 Indian companies are exhibiting in Bangkok, mostly under the aegis of the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and over 50 currently operate in Thailand. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh highlighted recent trends, as India has the second largest (1.3 million) and the fifth most powerful armed forces in the world, coupled with the fourth largest defence budget. The country is aiming to become a Top 5 global defence and aerospace exporter by 2025, in the range of $5 billion from a total turnover of $25 billion for its defence industry. The Indian economy now stands at $2.3 trillion in GDP which, based on current predicted economic growth of 6.1% for 2019–2020, should increase to $4.8 trillion by 2025, while its population will increase to 1.5 billion. Also, its domestic innovation potential has been rapidly growing, leading to the second largest global start-up ecosystem with 50,000 companies, employing 900,000 engineers and with market capitalisation of $100 billion.
Current government initiatives include the ‚Make in India‘ programme, which is designed to institute far-reaching reforms, including streamlining of regulation, increasing industrial self-reliance, fostering innovation and foreign direct investments (FDI), and stimulating public-private partnerships (PPP) in defence. The required investment in defence procurement until 2025 is estimated at $133 billion.
Although the country's defence spending is rather moderate, at 2% of GDP, its budget represents a total of $60 billion in 2019–2020, of which $15 billion is earmarked for acquisitions and other capital investments. Recent iniatives, epitomied by the Naval Indigeniation Plan (2015–2030), have led to the current situation in which 75% of defence procurement is domestic. Among key programmes is the acquisition of six submarines of the P75(I) SCORPENE-class with air-independent propulsion (AIP), for which the lead boat (INS KHANDERI) was launched in September. Aerospace programmes alo play a key part, including the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), DHRUV Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and AKASH medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile defence system. The realisation of two defence industrial corridors in the states of Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh is leveraging existing infrastructure and fostering closer regional cooperation.
The strongest potential for industrial cooperation with Thailand and the wider ASEAN market is recognised in the military electronics and shipbuilding industries. Bharat Electronics (BEL), with annual turnover of $1.7 billion, nine factories and 9,726 employees (including 4,676 engineers), focuses on network-centric warfare (NCW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), electro-optical sensors, radars and naval electronics but also on homeland security market segments. India has recently reached an 80% share for indigenously-produced radars, developed in cooperation with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). BEL also produces artillery system upgrades, including legacy Soviet anti-aircraft systems such as SHILKA and naval AK 630, or FH 155mm and L 70, electronic warfare (EW) systems, night-vision devices, coastal surveillance systems, and counter-IED jammers. The largest exposition in Bangkok is that of BrahMos Aerospace (India-Russia Joint Venture of Ministry of Defence) which showcases its naval platform and missile designs. The Indian presence also includes Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) which in 2019 delivered its 100th warship to the Indian Navy (since 1961) and laid the keel of its first P17A advanced stealth frigate. Also niche products lines are well represented, e.g. by Applied Systems, the producer of the unique ANJALI anti-riot full body protection system, deployed by Indian security forces in Kashmir.