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PM Modi Vows to End India's Status as Top Defence Importer

BENGALURU: Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed today to end India's status as the world's number one defence importer, saying he wanted 70 percent of hardware to be manufactured domestically by the turn of the decade.

Speaking at the start of Aero India Expo, a major aviation industry conference, PM Modi told hundreds of foreign and local businessmen that his government would favour domestic firms when awarding defence contracts as part of a larger push to boost India's manufacturing sector.

"We have the reputation as the largest importer of defence equipment in the world. That may be music to the ears of some of you here. But this is one area where we would not like to be number one," he said, adding. "We are reforming our defence procurement policies and there will be a clear preference for the equipment manufactured in India."

India, which has long been the world's largest buyer of defence equipment, is in the midst of revamping its ageing military hardware and recently lifted a cap on foreign investment in defence.

But while his government has pledged to push forward with planned military purchases which were stalled under the previous Congress administration, PM Modi is also determined that the ramp-up in firepower must not be at the expense of the domestic defence industry.

The PM said he wanted domestically made equipment to account for 70 percent of the procurement budget within five years, up from the current 40 percent, in what he said would be a major boon to the economy.

"A nation with a strong defence industry will not only be more secure. It will also reap rich economic benefits," he said.

"Nearly 60 percent of our defence equipment continues to be imported and, we are spending tens of billions of dollars on acquisitions from abroad," he said. "There are studies that show that even a 20 to 25 percent reduction in imports could directly create an additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India," he added.

The five-day air show attracts the bosses of hundreds of aviation and defence firms, including Boeing and French firm Dassault. The defence ministers of at least 10 countries are also attending what the PM noted was the largest ever Aero India.

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