Wednesday, October 4, 2023

India-Africa Defence Dialogue: What Indian Hardware May Be On The Table For Africa?

By Staff Correspondent

The India-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) was held on the sidelines of DefExpo 2022 in Gandhinagar, Gujarat on October 18, 2022. Fifty African countries, including 20 Defence Ministers, seven Chiefs Defence Staffs/Service Chiefs and eight Permanent Secretaries participated in the Dialogue. On the sidelines of the IADD, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt met with the visiting African Ministers where issues related to defence and bilateral relations were discussed.

The dialogue successfully brought out various aspects of the IADD’s theme ‘Adopting Strategy for Synergising and Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation. Delivering the keynote address, Singh defined the theme of IADD as the underlying commitment of India and African countries to explore new areas of convergence for defence engagements, including capacity building, training, cyber security, maritime security and counter-terrorism.

Emphasising that India and Africa share a multi-faceted defence and security cooperation relationship, Rajnath Singh reiterated India’s support to Africa to deal with challenges of conflict, terrorism and violent extremism. “Our partnership with Africa is centred on the ten guiding principles articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the Parliament of Uganda in 2018,” he said. 

Singh invited African countries to explore Indian defence equipment and technologies, stating that a “defence manufacturing ecosystem has been created in India which has the advantage of abundant technical manpower. Our defence industry can work with you to fulfil your defence requirements.”

Later, the Gandhinagar Declaration was adopted as an outcome document of IADD 2022. It proposes to enhance cooperation in the field of training in all areas of mutual interest by increasing training slots and deputation of training teams, empowerment and capability building of the defence forces of Africa, participation in exercises and humanitarian assistance during natural disasters. India offered fellowship for experts from African countries through Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis.

Can India Deliver Africa’s Defence Wishlist?

While the collaboration of Indian and African industries is a welcome step, amidst New Delhi’s aims to be a major player in the global defence export market there seems to be a prevailing view from the sidelines of the dialogue that India is relatively late in the business of military and security collaboration in Africa and while India maintains a smaller diplomatic footprint in Africa likely due to its non-expansion ideology, unlike its main competitors– Russia, Turkey, and China. The latter already has lucrative offerings for African countries, especially wither their low-priced tanks and other combat vehicles.

India however is offering a lot of guns. The state-owned AWE India Limited in particular is offering its entire catalogue for export with an emphasis on small arms and artillery. This was seen at the recent Africa Aerospace and Defense (AAD) 2022 exhibition, which took place from 18 to 22 September 2022. One of AWE India’s product offerings is an assault rifle modelled along the lines of AKMs which the company has the economies of scale to produce.

This might be a lucrative product range given the continent’s tryst with terrorism and violence by non-state actors. However, Russia and China have already been seen to have made significant inroads into the hearts and minds of African leaders for decades. Turkey recently began a series of diplomatic activities to increase its influence in the region.

Some industry watchers from African countries feel that in order for India to catch up with China, Africa’s largest trading partner, it will have to look beyond just selling arms to the continent since most African countries already have a well-developed defence-industrial complex. An important area that is known to be a deal-sweetener is the transfer of cutting-edge technologies, licensed production, research, training, and other essential supports in direct government-to-arms sales.

In recent years, Africa has been plagued with constant attacks by non-state and violent extremist groups. These are the areas India needs to focus on. Technologies like drones, border surveillance and monitoring technologies, Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, and communications devices.

Other important assets that African forces need include light scout helicopters, and transport helicopters like the Indian-built helicopters. Trainer aircraft, low-cost aerial platforms, and light patrol naval vessels are very important to African forces. To demonstrate this requirement, the Nigerian Army earlier this year approached India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to train its pilots for the newly formed aviation corps.

Ekene Lionel, the Director of Military Africa is a leading African defence industry analyst. He believes that the Nigerian Army may potentially consider buying the Chetak and Dhruv helicopters to equip its aerial forces. Egypt may also acquire the Tejas light fighter jet and trainer. Uganda continues to rely on Hindustan Aeronautics Limted (HAL) to provide maintenance and technical support for its fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MK multi-role fighter jets.

However, Miguel Miranda, a Philippines-based Asian and African defence industry analyst highlighted India’s indigenous defence sector has little to no experience supplying African militaries although this may change soon with the advent of hi-tech start-ups who can present themselves as better options than the competition from China and to a lesser extent Israel and Türkiye.

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