The limited presence of Russian defence manufacturing companies at Aero India 2023 was not surprising. Rosoboronexport the arms export arm of the Russian Government was the sole large representation.
While in the normal course Rosoboronexport occupies the centre stage in one of the halls, this time around the presence was restricted to a rather quiet flank in Hall B. While there were some Russian companies likely to be present it was difficult to easily located them.
This comes in contrast to the domination of the United States and the European defence majors with large companies as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault Aviation, Saab and so on occupying much of the space including chalets. Chalets are sold by the Ministry of Defence at prohibitive costs while booking of a large space in the halls is also frightfully expensive.
In fact some companies in general which usually have a presence at the Indian Expos felt that the cost was not worth the business that would be generated at the Aero India.
Nevertheless cost was possibly not the factor that kept Rosoboronexport at a low profile, in fact it was not even mentioned in the press releases of the Ministry of Defence issued over a number of days but also be the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi in his inaugural speech.
The Ministry of Defence has mentioned major exhibitors as Airbus, Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Lockheed Martin, Israel Aerospace Industry, BrahMos Aerospace, Army Aviation, HC Robotics, SAAB, Safran, Rolls Royce, Larsen & Toubro, Bharat Forge Limited, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) and BEML Limited.
Even in the CEOs Round Table organised on the theme ‘Sky is not the limit: opportunities beyond boundaries,’ there was no mention of Russia participation. The participating companies in CEOs Round Table included Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Israel Aerospace Industries, General Atomics, Liebherr Group, Raytheon Technologies, Safran, General Authority of Military Industries, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bharat Electronics Limited, Bharat Dynamics Limited, BEML Limited, Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited, Larsen & Toubro, Bharat Forge, Dynamatic Technologies and BrahMos Aerospace.
Sanctions on the Russia defence sector by the United States and European Union could be one factor of restraint that may have been imposed presumably by the Indian side for participation of large Russian delegation
In the past major Russian defence companies such as United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) and MiG usually held a media conference but were conspicuous by the absence.
Does this imply that Russian defence companies are now on the way out of the Indian defence market?
The saga of India Russia military technical cooperation is far from over and while the West including the United States and Europe is gaining a lead this is unlikely to squeeze Moscow out of the defence industrial sector in India.
The existing weapons and equipment portfolio of the Indian Armed Forces has large number of critical items from Russia for example the Su 30 MKI, the T 90 S tanks, the BrahMos joint project, INS Vikramaditya amongst others.
Secondly new inductions such as the S 400 air and missile defence system and the AK 203 Assault Rifle some 600,000 of which are being procured by the Indian Army starting March this year will also be in the Indian military domain for decades to come. The VSHORADS and the Igla are also procured recently.
Thirdly procurement of Russian military equipment is mostly done on a G to G basis or Government to Government basis be it the S 400 or the AK 203, thus there may be lesser necessity for a public face for the companies at air and defence shows.
Perhaps to make up the deficit of presence the Wire reported that Russian state news agencies including Tass and Interfax on, February 12 highlighted $13 billion worth of arms provided to India by Russia. Tass also went on to add that Russia will present some 200 systems during the Aero India 2023.
India is no doubt shifting away from Russian military imports to possibly Atma Nirbhar Bharat in defence supported by the United States and the West, but dependence on Russia will continue for decades to come.