CNBC-TV18: "Military exhibitions beyond exhibitionism"

February 18, 2020

One of India’s flagship biennial military exhibitions – DEF EXPO 2020 (the other being Aero India) – was concluded recently in Lucknow. This is the 11th edition of the grand event, dubbed 'Mahakumbh' for defence manufacturers, saw participation of over 1,000 exhibitors/companies from India and foreign countries, 120 number of MoUs signed, over 80 B2B (business to business) interactions, display of over 1,000 different military and dual-use products and services, close to 20 numbers of seminars/thought sessions and seven ideational webinars (prior to DEFEXPO) and numerous interactions between armed forces of participating countries and exchange of critical notes on defence and security matters.

DEFEXPO 2020 has conceptually evolved for a variety of reasons:

a) the 11th edition of DEFEXPO has numerical superiority over its previous three editions, a period (from 2016 onward) marked by less enthusiasm from all stakeholders; b) thematic narratives have numerically and ideationally outnumbered previous editions (previous editions used to emphasise bilateral defence cooperation, product compatibilities, etc.) with new and emerging concepts like role of artificial intelligence in military matters, display of next-generation military and dual use products; c) overt diplomatic overtures in military industrial domains (first India-Africa defence conclave has taken place amid bilateral interactions with US, France, UK and Israel, among others); d) emphases on different dimensions of domestic manufacturing capability development (aimed toward enhancing MSME potential and emphasising next-generation technology development by smaller and medium sized companies, including start-ups) and exports potential (a target of achieving Rs 20,000 crore investment in defence industrial corridors as well as aiming for Rs 35,000 crore worth of military exports in the next five years); and e) last but not the least, look for reasonably priced products by the armed forces, which should preferably be built within India through effective collaborations. DEFEXPO 2020 marks a new phase of pragmatic direction for the Indian armed forces as well as military-industrial eco-system.

DEFEXPO 2020 also entails a few additional pondering pointers: a) from being held for long at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, it has now been held in places like Goa, Chennai and now Lucknow (the latter two being dubbed as nerve centres of two proposed military-industrial corridors), with a possibility of being held in either Gujarat / Maharashtra or Telangana / Karnataka (the other two large regions with bustling military-industrial activities) in future; b) the event has seamlessly embraced non-Army and non-Navy products (DEFEXPO is an exhibition traditionally meant for land-based and naval products and technologies) with overt technological, supply side, diplomatic and strategic overtures (India-Africa conclave again being a case in point); and c) bringing new enthusiasm among domestic manufacturers and new entrants back in the business.

Military exhibitions are all about the exchange of knowledge on strategic military and technological affairs, notes on demand and supply in arms bazaar, possible collaborative efforts between domestic and foreign manufacturers, bilateral military-technical cooperation and meeting of minds between prospective suppliers and the host. DEFEXPO 2020, analysed from this giant prism, appears to be on a course correction path.


DEFEXPO 2020 has denoted some signs of evolution that most importantly signifies a departure from the past – exhibitions must go beyond exhibitionisms and embrace strategic objectives.

The Modi 2.0 regime has sent a few signals: a) foreign biggies ought to pair with their Indian counterparts as bulk of strategic purchases will be conducted through collaborations (Indian biggies must then recalibrate their strategies); b) industrial corridors and their numbers are likely to grow in size and importance; c) start-ups, MSMEs and scientific research institutions are likely to grow in stature and importance; and d) last but not the least, India must become a formidable globally competitive defence manufacturing hub.

Deba Mohanty, Vice President, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi. Views are personal. He can be reached at 

Originally published in CNBC-TV18, February 17, 2020. For the complete article, Read Here.

Deba Mohanty, CNBC-TV18, February 17, 2020