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Speedy arms procurement not at cost of transparency: Antony

New Delhi, Feb 15 (IANS) While acknowledging that arms procurement was slow in India, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Monday said that acquisition could not be hastened at the cost of transparency. However, he assured the new procurement policy would address the problem.

Speaking to reporters after inaugurating the 6th edition of the defence exhibition here, Antony said that India will do whatever it takes to strengthen its armed forces so that they can act as an ‘effective deterrent’.

‘Our government is conscious of that (delay in procurement process). As compared to our neighbours, our acquisition is slow. Our situation is different… we are a democracy. So for national security whatever is possible we will do…. But we are buying it from exchequer’s money so we should spend it judiciously. So while we want to speed up the procurement we can not compromise on transparency,’ he said.

The new procurement policy will try to reduce the delay in acquisition while also providing thrust to indigenisation.

‘I assure you that when we come out with Defence Procurement Policy 2010, one of the thrust area is to reduce delay in defence procurement also. Instead of depending too much on foreign supply, we would see if it is possible to produce it indigenously,’ Antony said.

A new policy on defence production is also in the offing.

‘With a policy on defence production we will give thrust to indigenisation. More equipment will be brought under ‘make Indian category’,’ the minister said.

Speaking at the inauguration, Antony said that India’s defence expenditure, which is 2.5 percent of its GDP, is going to increase in proportion with the overall growth of the economy.

‘The Indian economy is expected to grow at 8 to 10 percent for the next two decades. Expenditure on defence in absolute terms is bound to increase in equal proportion.’

He said the country’s political security situation demands rapid modernisation of armed forces.

Antony called upon the private sector to participate in the process of indigenising India’s armament production.

‘Though we are traditionally known to be a peace loving nation, at the same time we are ready to meet any challenge to our territorial integrity and sovereignty. Our government is committed to rapid modernisation of armed forces as we want our forces to be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and equipment to defend our sovereignty,’ he said.

‘We want public and private sector to work in close cooperation as friendly partners. Our defence industry is open up to 100 percent for Indian private sector while foreign direct investment is allowed up to 26 percent,’ the defence minister pointed out.

Eyeing a share of the $31 billion India is expected to spend on arms imports over the next decade, a clutch of global arms majors have descended for the sixth edition of Asia’s largest defence exposition that opened here Monday.

DefExpo has come a long way since it was first held in 1999 with just 197 participants. This time around, 650 exhibitors from 28 countries, including hosts India, will be participating in the exhibition, which will feature 10 country pavilions and 41 official delegations. This is up from the 447 exhibitors at the 2008 edition of the show.

Among the foreign participants are the world’s leading arms manufacturers – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Finmeccanica, Rosoboronexport State Corporation, Israeli Aerospace Industries and European Aeronautics Defence and Space Company (EADS).

The Indian participation is headed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), followed by the Tatas, the largest exhibitor from the private sector.

Russia remains India’s biggest supplier of military hardware with deals estimated at $1.5 billion annually. However, countries like Israel and the US are fast catching up, as are France and Britain. Israel has emerged as the second largest supplier, with annual sales estimated at $1 billion since 2001.

Not surprisingly, pavilion-wise, Israel is the largest participant at DefExpo 2010, with 21 companies.

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