India opens its largest helicopter factory in new defence push
India unveiled on Monday its largest helicopter factory, which can turn out at least 1,000 aircraft a year, as part of defence self-reliance push to counter China’s growing assertiveness.
New Delhi also announced a double-digit increase in its annual defence budget last week with an eye on its geopolitical rival, with which it shares a disputed northern border.
India is one of the largest arms importers in the world and, even with its recent push towards local defence production, still relies heavily on hardware from Moscow, its largest and oldest military supplier.
The new helicopter facility fulfils “our government’s pledge to gradually reduce India’s dependence on foreign countries for its defence needs”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the inauguration.
“I am happy that hundreds of different weapons and defence systems — from modern assault rifles to tanks, aircraft carriers, helicopters and transport aircraft — are now being made in India,” he said.
What was trumpeted as Asia’s largest helicopter factory would initially produce Indian-designed and developed Light Utility Helicopters and then expand to build other multirole helicopters.
The factory in southern Karnataka state was inaugurated only months after New Delhi unveiled its locally made attack helicopters, designed for use in high-altitude areas such as the Himalayas.
India also introduced its first locally made aircraft carrier in September 2022, a significant step in its efforts to counter Beijing’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean region.
Asia’s third-largest economy also became only one of six countries with nuclear strike capabilities on land, sea and air after it tested a ballistic missile from its first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine.
India has fought wars and has long-standing border disputes with both its nuclear-armed neighbours, arch-rival Pakistan and China.
Twenty Indian troops were killed in a border clash with China in 2020.