SPEAKING at the inauguration of Aero India 2021, after formally sealing a Rs 48,000 crore deal to procure 83 Tejas light combat aircraft, in what the government has described as the ‘biggest’ Make in India defence contract, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Wednesday asserted that India was vigilant and capable of handling any challenge.
“India faces threats and challenges emanating from multiple fronts,” Singh said, mentioning “state-sponsored and state-inflicted terrorism”. “We have long witnessed unfortunate attempts to employ force to change status quo along our unresolved borders. India is vigilant and prepared to counter and defeat any misadventure to defend our people and territorial integrity at all costs,” he said, adding Aero India will showcase the country’s “commitment” to growing defence capabilities.
The Defence Minister began his speech with a mention of the Tejas deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, saying, “India’s growing strength and capabilities in aerospace and defence sector are now being realised by everyone.”
Singh also mentioned the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Defence Minister’s Conclave, “themed on enhanced peace, security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region”, and said that Aero India “provides an opportunity to discuss our security environment”.
He said, “India has a vast coastline, but our interests also lie beyond our shores… It includes our people who reside and work across continents, especially in the IOR. It is our bounden duty to remain capable to assist them in times of natural calamities and security challenges. We also feel responsible to offer assistance to all countries in the region… be it piracy, challenges to security, humanitarian assistance or emergency situations.”
Singh said the government wanted to make India “one of the biggest countries of the world in the defence sector, from design to production, with active participation of the public and private sector”, and that its goals were both self-reliance and exports. “We have set a target to achieve a turnover of Rs 1,75,000 crore, including exports of Rs 35,000 crore, in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2024.”
Singh also raised India’s role in the IOR at the Chiefs of Air Staff conclave later, saying, “Geopolitically, India is a reliable partner… and can take on the role of being the net security provider in the region.” Emphasising the importance of air power in this, he said it allowed “freedom to manoeuvre” and to “exert influence in a sustainable and an easily escalable manner”.
Speaking at the conclave, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria praised the Tejas. “LCA is the best in its class of light-weight fighters and would become an important part of the IAF’s future combat capability,” he said.
Also talking of India being “central to peace, stability and security in the region”, he said, “We have witnessed a paradigm change in the geopolitical landscape in recent years, and globally, we are facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty, volatility and interconnected threats. While the world was grappling with the pandemic, the worsening inter-State relations, rising mistrust and geopolitical tensions have only reinforced the importance of mature and balanced cooperation at the international level.”