What to expect at DefExpo 2014

A rough guide to India's biennial land and maritime defense exhibition, DefExpo 2014. You're welcome.

A Russian T-90S at DefExpo 2012 | StratPost

A Russian T-90S at DefExpo 2012 | StratPost

The latest edition of DefExpo is back in Delhi next week and we’ve put together a guide to the show for those planning to attend. So here’s what to expect, generally speaking:

Utter chaos at the entrance during opening hours

If the experience of past editions of DefExpo is anything to go by, get ready for a fight to get into the show. There will be a single baggage scan and too few turnstiles for entry into the venue. This, of course, does not apply to VIPs, who will have a separate entrance. Just because Delhi has an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government doesn’t mean anything’s changed.

Lots of uniforms

Unsurprisingly, the brass will be present in strength. This will include not only personnel from the Indian armed forces, paramilitary and police forces, but also foreign defense attaches. So if you get bored (inevitable after a point), try counting uniforms and identifying affiliations.

Puzzled reporters

There will be a lot of reporters assigned to cover the show, taking some time off from their regular Jal Board beat, trying to figure out what a piece of technology does, while automatically assuming ‘India’s buying this, right’. This also goes for those defense beat reporters who should be covering the Jal Board.

Stressed PR types

PR executives stressed over trying to get media to show up to client briefings, exasperated over reporters like those mentioned previously ‘not getting it’, and worrying about what’s going on with their clients at the other show in Greater Noida, the Auto Expo.

Consultants

Expect to see a lot of suited-booted types with no direct connection to either the government’s arms procurement machinery or defense industry, trying to see if they can (pretty girl in tow) ‘help’ companies conclude deals, with their ‘consultancy’ services.

These include former bureaucrats, defense personnel and wannabes with tenuous political connections. Some will offer information on discussions at meetings taking place at the show, ‘for a small fee’. We understand that ‘Help with offsets’ is the latest thing, even though there are only seven people in Delhi who understand the concept.

Free advice (especially to foreign reps with no idea how India works): You may as well buy an expensive camera from a man on a scooter at a bus stop in Delhi. That was sarcasm. At any rate, Google the tout’s name before doing business with him. Much heartburn could have been avoided if certain foreign company reps had done as much.

Not Abhishek Verma

Still in jail.

…Or blacklisted defense industry executives

We’re also unlikely to see executives from blacklisted companies or those under threat of blacklist, pending investigation. But, it could happen.

VIPs

As mentioned before, there will be a separate VIP entrance (of course). And as they say, if you build it, they will come. Note: In the Indian context, V = f(Very), where the value of (Very) can go up to five. For instance, in the AgustaWestland procurement, V = 3.

Russians and Israelis

Expect a large representation from the top two defense suppliers to India. The Russian and Israeli pavilions are, typically, the largest with a wide spectrum of products on display. Their executives will typically be sullen and reticent, with their slightly embarrassed PR reps trying to get them to open up without coming across as offensive.

No deals of substance

Unfortunately for the consultants mentioned above, things aren’t going to be easy for them, with the defense ministry under AK Antony having taken a hard line against reports of shenanigans. Antony has even ordered the seizure of bank guarantees in a couple of cases in the the last year or so. This has never actually happened before.

Whoda thunk it?

So defense ministry mandarins have been treading very slowly and carefully and are in no hurry to sign off on anything, lest they end up in a minefield with no one to hold their hand. Understandably, the armed forces are not happy about this.

Smaller show

Unlike previous editions of DefExpo, this year the show is likely to be smaller in participation. This could be partly due to the fact that the defense ministry has barred 27 companies from attending the show, either because they, or associated companies, have been blacklisted or are under consideration for placement on the blacklist.

But more generally, the perceived reluctance of a government in its last couple of months to conclude any procurement programs of substance has led to a sense of disinterest in industry to spend money on a presence at a show unlikely to achieve anything.

Another factor could be that if the show were longer, it might have clashed with the Singapore Airshow, which begins February 11.

Private bars inside stalls

Observe carefully. Especially at the stalls from European countries. Ostensibly for VIPs, but stall managers stop waiting, come lunchtime.

Bored booth babes with no idea what they’re selling

You’ll have no trouble spotting these ladies, most of whom are freelance models. No surprise then, that they haven’t a clue what it is the company they’re fronting, sells. If you ask them a question, they might occasinally stop texting on their phone and say, “That person’s not here. Leave your card and we’ll get back to you (picture evil grin, a la Dr. Rajesh Koothrapali).”

Lots and lots of awesome stuff you don’t see except in the movies

Your correspondent with an Igla, just before collapsing at DefExpo 2012 | StratPost

Your correspondent with an Igla, just before collapsing at DefExpo 2012 | StratPost

This is true. How often do you get to lift up a MANPADS on your shoulder from the counter of a stall, and pose for pictures, just before you sag under the weight? Or sit inside a fighter aircraft flight simulator? Or check out cutaway models of the latest submarine and warship designs?

And hopefully, some surprising Indian startups

The rare, but best part of DefExpo. When, hopefully, some gutsy youngsters put up a stall and present innovative technologies cooked up with code, Raspberry Pi or Arduino. Maybe throw in some balsa and control surfaces.

Utter chaos at the exits during closing hours

Expect a traffic jam on Mathura Road in front of the venue, Pragati Maidan, at closing time when chauffeur-driven cars will cause a gridlock, trying to pick up people who couldn’t be bothered to take the shuttle to the parking lot.

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Follow Saurabh Joshi on Twitter @ http://www.twitter.com/saurabhjoshi Saurabh is a journalist based in New Delhi, India who has worked in print, television as well as internet news media. Besides defense and strategy, his past assignments have included reporting from Kashmir, coverage of terror strikes as well as election coverage from all over India. He has a Bachelors degree in Journalism (Honors) as well as a law degree (LLB), both from the University of Delhi.
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