In an expected development just six days ahead of DefExpo 2022, India on Friday said that the defence exhibition has been deferred on account of “logistics problems” faced by participants, even as officials linked the decision to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
About 1,000 defence firms and 55 countries were expected to take part in the show that was to be held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat from March 10 to 14. The US, Russia, several EU countries and Ukraine were among the nations that were to take part in Asia’s largest defence exhibition.
“Due to logistics problems being experienced by participants, DefExpo 2022 is postponed. The new dates will be communicated in due course,” the defence ministry said in a brief statement. It did not elaborate on what the logistics problems were or which participants were affected.
The postponement of the biennial show came as a shock to several firms that had made all arrangements. “It’s quite disappointing that the show has been deferred. We have no details about why this has been done. We need to figure out what we have to do now,” said the representative of a foreign military contractor, asking not to be named.
Foreign companies had already begun setting up their booths and chalets at the exhibition area. “We encountered no logistics problems. We aren’t even sure if the event has only been deferred or cancelled altogether. Firms will lose crores of rupees,” said the representative of another foreign firm, who also asked not to be identified.
The focus of India’s flagship defence exhibition was on projecting the country as an emerging defence manufacturing hub. Of the 1,000 exhibitors scheduled to participate, more than 100 were foreign players. The event was also to be attended by venture capitalists looking at the possibility of making investments in defence startups.
There was no indication till Friday morning that the event is not on.
In fact, defence secretary Ajay Kumar tweeted, “Defence startups pitch to VCs at @defexpo2022. Great opportunities for VCs to invest in best technological brains of India.”
From booking hotels to taking up space at the venue to displaying equipment, firms taking part in such defence shows make their arrangements months in advance, experts said.
“Who was facing logistics problems is not clear. Deferring such a big event at the last moment is a bit baffling though the Russia-Ukraine conflict could have been a factor,” said an expert, asking not to be named.
Major hotels in Ahmedabad were fully booked for the duration of the show, HT has learnt. Five-star hotels that usually charge ₹8,000 to ₹10,000 per day had sold rooms for up to ₹40,000 per day, said the representative of another arms firm.
A 1,000-drone display was expected to be one of the highlights of the exhibition. Only the US, Russia and China have the capability to put together a show with 1,000 drones.
This would have been the second time such a show was being organised in the country. It was first organised at the Beating Retreat in Delhi on January 29.
Foreign delegations headed by at least 50 defence ministers/service chiefs were to take part in the show.
The US pavilion was the largest among the global participants, while Indian firms that had taken maximum space were the Adani and Tata groups.
The seven new defence firms carved out of the erstwhile Ordnance Factory Board were also supposed to take part. The board was corporatised last year to boost its efficiency and competitiveness in a long-awaited reform in the country’s defence manufacturing sector.
The show was planned at a time when the government has sharpened its focus on promoting self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector and positioning India as an exporter of military hardware.
DefExpo was traditionally held in Delhi until 2014 after which it has seen a string of new venues — Goa (2016), Chennai (2018) and Lucknow (2020). The venue was shifted to Goa when Manohar Parrikar was the defence minister, it moved to Chennai when Nirmala Sitharaman held the portfolio and it was staged in Lucknow with Rajnath Singh as the defence minister.
From raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence manufacturing to creating a separate budget for buying locally-made military hardware and notifying two lists of weapons/equipment that cannot be imported, the government has taken several measures to boost self-reliance in the defence sector over the last two to three years.
In the Union Budget announced on February 1, India earmarked ₹84,598 crore — 68% of the military’s capital acquisition budget for 2022-23 — for purchasing locally produced weapons and systems to boost self-reliance in the defence sector, besides setting aside 25% of the defence R&D budget for private industry, startups and academia to encourage them to pursue design and development of military platforms.