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An African Army soldier checks a weapon at the weapon display session during Africa-India field training exercise (AFINDEX-2023), in Pune on March 29, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Pune: India showed off domestically made helicopters, drones and artillery at a gathering of army chiefs and officials from 31 African nations on Wednesday, as the world’s largest arms importer seeks to become a major exporter too.

India has pumped billions into its defence sector in an effort to become less reliant on imports, including from Russia.

At the same time it has been trying to sell more of its domestically produced hardware to other countries, particularly poorer nations unable to afford more expensive Western-made kit.

“We are making equipment which is affordable and reliable,” retired Indian army general VG Patankar told AFP at the event.

On Wednesday, the Indian military showed off the goods on offer with a simulated operation featuring commandos abseiling from helicopters, armoured vehicles and bomb disposal robots.

Also on display in Pune in western India - the country’s key defence manufacturing hub - were assault rifles, artillery shells and models of missiles.

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An African Army soldier checks a weapon at the weapon display session during Africa-India field training exercise (AFINDEX-2023), in Pune on March 29, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

The gathering, which followed nine days of joint military drills with soldiers from 23 African countries, included delegates from Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa.

India opened its largest helicopter manufacturing plant in February, months after it unveiled its first locally made aircraft carrier and test-fired a ballistic missile from its maiden domestic nuclear-powered submarine.

The country aims to more than double its annual arms exports to $5 billion in the coming years, from about $1.7 billion currently.

Less than 20 per cent of its arms exports currently go to Africa, with customers including Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Mauritius and the Seychelles, officials said on condition of anonymity.

S.P. Shukla, head of the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers, told AFP that the focus of the Africa sales pitch was “defensive” in nature, including armoured vehicles, radars, telecommunication equipment.