India has been working diligently to increase its presence in the arms trade and compete with powerhouse nations like Russia and China. This ambition has seen India focus its efforts on selling its domestically produced weapons to African militaries, which are often unable to afford Western-made equipment. India has already had some success in this sector and is now looking to build upon this as it hopes to become a major player in African arms deals.
India has developed and manufactured a vast array of weapons and defence systems, ranging from small arms to sophisticated aircraft. These are made available to African militaries at a fraction of the cost of their Western counterparts, making them an attractive option for poorer nations. India has also made great strides in providing maintenance and support for its weapons systems, making them a reliable and cost-effective option for African militaries.
India is hoping to capitalize on its growing presence in Africa to not only sell more of its domestically produced hardware but also to gain access to new markets and further strengthen its global presence. India has already made strong inroads into the African arms market and is confident that, with the right strategies in place, it can become a major player in the sector and compete with Russia and China for arms deals.
Investment in the defence sector paying off
India has invested billions into its defence sector in an effort to become less reliant on imports, including from Russia, as it faces off against China on their disputed border.
India showed off domestically made helicopters, drones, and artillery at a gathering of army chiefs and officials from 31 African nations on Wednesday, as the world’s largest arms importer seeks to become a major exporter too.
India’s arms sales to Africa have increased in recent years, as India has been looking to expand its influence in the continent. India’s arms exports to Africa have primarily been focused on small arms, ammunition, and other military equipment. However, India has also been able to secure some significant contracts for the sale of larger weapons systems, including naval vessels and aircraft.
“We are making equipment which is affordable and reliable,” retired Indian army general VG Patankar told AFP at the event.
On Wednesday 29, March, the Indian military showed off the goods on offer with a simulated operation featuring commandos abseiling from helicopters, armoured vehicles, and bomb disposal robots.
Also on display in Pune in western India — the country’s key defence manufacturing hub — were assault rifles, artillery shells, and models of missiles.
The gathering, which followed nine days of joint military drills called the Africa-India field training exercise (AFINDEX-2023) with soldiers from 23 African countries, included delegates from Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa.
India’s competition with China is fueling increased arms export
One of the primary reasons behind India’s increased arms sales to Africa is its desire to counter China’s growing influence in the region. India has been competing with China for influence in Africa and has been trying to position itself as a reliable partner for African nations. By selling arms to African countries, India is hoping to build stronger ties with these nations and increase its presence in the region.
“With the aim to empower African partner nations to indigenously meet their defence requirements, India is committed to sharing its expertise and knowledge in defence manufacturing, research and development,” the defence minister added. Lt Gen James Mugira, representative of the Chief of Defence Forces of Uganda, said defence and security cooperation between India and Africa remains an area that has not been fully exploited and it should be given priority.
He emphasised technology transfer to African nations and setting up of manufacturing plants on the continent. “We, however, strongly feel that Africa needs to be taught how to fish and not to be given fish,” Mugira said at the conclave.
Another factor contributing to India’s arms sales to Africa is the growing demand for military equipment in the continent. Many African countries are facing security challenges, such as terrorism, insurgency, and piracy, and are in need of modern military equipment to address these challenges. India has been able to tap into this demand and provide African nations with affordable and reliable military equipment.
The country aims to more than double its annual arms exports to $5 billion in the coming years from about $1.7 billion currently.
Less than 20 per cent of its arms exports currently go to Africa, with customers including Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mauritius, and Seychelles, officials said on condition of anonymity.
As part of these efforts, India has held its first-ever trilateral Navy exercise with Africa on November 3, 2022, as part of initiatives to expand its defence partnership with the continent. The Trilateral exercise comprises the Navies of India, Tanzania and Mozambique.
INS Tarkash first arrived at Lagos port in Nigeria on Thursday, 8 September, as part of her voyage across 3 Oceans, over 24000nm and 133 Days with the mission to strengthen bridges of friendship and celebrate “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”.
India’s ambition to become a global power
India’s arms sales to Africa reflect its growing ambition to become a global power and its desire to expand its influence in the continent. While these sales have helped India build stronger ties with African nations and counter China’s influence, they have also raised concerns about the potential for increased arms proliferation and instability in the region.
The move appears to be bearing fruits as the Tanzanian Defence minister Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax led a delegation consisting of Senior Armed Forces officials where they visited the manufacturing facilities of Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) to explore opportunities for collaboration last August.
Likewise, India and Egypt signed a pact to deepen military cooperation, including between their defence industries.
Russia still dominates the arms export market
Nevertheless, India intends to compete with Russia which has become the primary arms supplier to Sub-Saharan African militaries, despite ongoing armed conflicts with Ukraine. This development has seen the nation overtake China as the leading arms provider in the region. Russia has actively sought to expand its presence in Africa, and this has been mirrored in the increased supply of weaponry to African nations.
Data by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a global arms trade tracker, shows that Russia supplied 26 per cent of the artillery imported by sub-Saharan Africa in five years. Even though Beijing has for long been the region’s largest seller of weapons.
On the other hand, India has accomplished a considerable achievement in defence exports in the Financial Year 2022-23.
Exports reached an all-time high of $1.9bn, almost $364m more than the previous financial year. This represents a tenfold increase since the 2016-2017 financial year. India has expanded its export market to more than 85 countries, with 100 firms currently exporting defence products.
India’s defence sector has undertaken significant reforms as the government is interested in reinforcing the nation’s defence power by curtailing import dependency. Actions such as simplifying the procedure for procurement of defence products, provision for funding of up to 70% of development cost by the government, and a hike in foreign direct investment (FDI) to 74 % through the automatic route are expected to boost investments in the sector further. The government has targeted defence manufacturing worth INR 1,75,000 crore, including defence exports of INR 35,000 crore by 2024-25.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to express his admiration for the domestic manufacturing industry, citing the recent achievement as a clear manifestation of the country’s talent and enthusiasm. The current developments in this sector indicate that the reforms implemented in the past few years have yielded positive outcomes. According to Modi’s statement, the government has pledged to continue its support towards the initiatives aimed at transforming India into a hub for defence production.
Indian defence exports are predicted to touch Rs 35,000-40,000 crore by 2026, announced Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at a recent lecture held in Pune. The ease of doing business has significantly improved due to the reforms made in laws and research and development. Singh also mentioned that the reduction of red tape has made it convenient for young entrepreneurs to launch their businesses smoothly.
Key strategies to aid India’s quest for increase arms export
India can compete with China, Russia, and Turkey in the sale of weapons to African militaries by focusing on several key strategies:
- Offering high-quality weapons at competitive prices: India has a strong defence industry and can produce advanced weapons systems, such as missiles, fighter jets, and submarines. By offering these weapons at competitive prices, India can attract African countries that are looking to modernize their military capabilities.
- Building strong relationships with African governments: India can build strong relationships with African governments by offering development assistance, such as infrastructure projects, education programs, and health initiatives. By doing so, India can earn the trust of African leaders and increase the likelihood that they will choose to purchase weapons from India.
- Providing training and support services: Indian defence companies can offer training and support services to African militaries, helping them to use Indian-made weapons effectively. By providing these services, Indian companies can differentiate themselves from competitors and build long-term relationships with African militaries.
- Customizing weapons to meet African needs: Indian companies can customize their weapons to meet the specific needs of African militaries, such as by adapting them to local conditions and terrain. By doing so, Indian companies can offer unique solutions that are tailored to African requirements.
- Focusing on transparency and ethical practices: Indian companies can differentiate themselves by focusing on transparency and ethical practices. By adhering to high ethical standards and being transparent about their business practices, Indian companies can build trust with African governments and set themselves apart from competitors that may have a reputation for corruption and unethical practices.
By focusing on these strategies, India can compete with China, Russia, and Turkey in the sale of weapons to African militaries and establish itself as a leading provider of military equipment in the region.