Wednesday 18 May 2022, 02:20 AM
Defence Exhibitions: An Overview and Appraisal
By Dr Laxman Kumar Behera[1] | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 2/2/2021 8:10:35 PM
Defence Exhibitions: An Overview and Appraisal

The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) is organizing the biennial Aero India 2021 at the Yelahanka Air Force Station, Bengaluru between February 03-05, 2021. The biennial event is the 13th edition since the first exhibition was held in 1996. Along with the DefExpo, which is also conducted by the MoD in alternate years, the Aero India marks India’sforays into a growing number of arms fairs organized by various countries at regular intervals. What are the benefits of the such exhibitions, who gains from such events and what has been India’s experience in organizing its two premier defence and aerospaceexhibitions?


Major International Defence Exhibitions


A simple internet survey shows over two dozenmajor defence and aerospace fairs conduced in various parts of the world. Some of the biggest trade fairs are discussed below:


Table 1. Major International Defence andAerospace Exhibitions






Paris Air Show


Indo Defence Expo


Farnborough Airshow


Dubai Airshow




Singapore Airshow



South Africa















Aero India






Russian Expo Arms


Source: Media Reports


Paris Air Show


Paris Air Show is arguably the biggest fair in the aerospace sector. It is organized by the SIAE (Salon International de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace), a subsidiary of GIFAS (French Aerospace Industries Association). So far, the show has been conducted 53 times since 1909with the latest one being held during 17-23 June 2019. The 54th edition which was scheduledto take place on June 21-27, 2021, has been cancelled due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The next edition will be held in 2023.


It is worthwhile to look at the some of the key figures of Paris Air Show. The 53rd edition of 2019was attended by 2,453 companiesfrom around 49 countries. Some 3,16,500 visitors (including 1,39,840 trade visitors)and 2,700 journalists attended the event which was inaugurated by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. Spread over 1,25,000 sqm, the event witnessed signing of $140 billion worth of business deals. 304 official delegations, including 171 from the defence filed, attended the event.


Though the Paris Airshow like any other arms fairs, is an international event, it is nonetheless a pride for the French defence industry, which is at the heart of the France’s strategic autonomy. The event is an occasion for the French defence and aerospace industry to showcase its products and innovations. The 2019 saw Dassault Aviation, the maker of Rafale fighter aircraft, unveiling the curtain on its plan of sixth generation fighter aircraft, the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which it is developing along with Airbus and other European partners.


Farnborough International Airshow


Farnborough Airshow is second biggest aerospace trade fairafter the Paris Airshow.It is conducted by Farnborough International Ltd, a wholly ownedsubsidiary of ADS Group, the UK trade organisation representing the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors. The 2020 edition, which was scheduled to take place in July was cancelled due to Covid-19. The previous edition held in 2018 witnessed over 1500 exhibitors, of which nearly 70 per cent were non-UK based. Around 80,000 visitors and 156 official delegations attended the show.


The Farnborough Airshow is known for massivebusiness dealings.  In the 2018 event, $192 billion worth of deals were announced. The airshow is a major a calendar event for the potential clients and investors. Since its debut in 1948, the show has seen unveiling many iconic planes such as Vickers VC10Concorde, the Eurofighter, the Airbus A380, and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.


Dubai Airshow


Dubai Airshow, organized by Tarsus F&E LLC Middle East, the biggest aerospace event West Asia. The 17th edition of the event will take place on 14-18 November 2021. The highlights of the previous edition which took place in 2019 include 84,043 Visitors from 148 countries, 161 Aircraft on display, 313 Delegations, over 1,420 media from 49 countriesand $54.5 billion order book.


Singapore Airshow


Singapore Airshow, conducted every two years, is Asia’s largest aerospace and defence event. The 7th edition of the show was held from 11-16 February 2020 at the Changi Exhibition Centre, Singapore, where the 8th edition will take place from 15-20 2022.


The 2020 event, which was held amidst the Covid-19 concerns, drew 930 participating companies from 45 countries; attracted 30,000 trade attendees, saw 117 delegations from 36 countries/regions, and witnessed 871 business meetings.


Since its debut in 2008, the Singapore Airshow has been known for offering a platform to the industry, government agencies and other stakeholders to engage in conference and other co-located events.




DefExpo is India’s flagship biennial defence exhibition. It isorganized by the Department of Defence Production, MoD. While the Aero India is more of an aerospace and aviation industry fair, DefExpo is dedicated to land and naval systems. The 11th edition took place in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh from 5-9 February 2020.  The major theme of the DefExpo 2020, which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wasIndia: The Emerging Defence Manufacturing Hub’and the key focus was on ‘Digital Transformation in Defence.’


The 2020 edition of DefExpo saw participation of 1,024exhibitors, 172 of which were from abroad. The booked space for the exhibition was over 43,021square metres.During the eventover 200 partnerships involving Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs), Transfer of Technology (ToT) and Product launches were announced.  


Aero India


Since its debut in 1996, Aero India has grown over the years, becoming one of the premier airshows and aviation fairs in the world and attracting growing interest among both Indian and foreign stakeholders.  The last edition of the exhibition which was held during February 20-24, 2019 at Yelahanka, Bengaluru. The major highlights of the 2019 exhibition include: 403 Exhibitors (238 India and 165 foreign); 61 Aircrafts Displayed; 28,386 sqm Exhibition spaces and 44 Foreign Delegations.


The 2021 edition, which is taking place amidst ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has seen a larger no of exhibitors (533) though the number of foreign exhibitors (75) has been dwindled in comparison to the previous edition, owing largely to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Of the total foreign exhibitors, France has 25, followed by the United States (22), United Kingdom (07), Russia (06), Israel (05), Ukraine (02), and one each from Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, South Africa and Taiwan. Notable absentee in the exhibition is Sweden; its most prestigious aircraft manufacture Saab has chosen to stay away, because of pandemic concerns.


Significance of Arms Trade Fair


The primary objective of any defence fair is enable the industry to showcase its products, technologies and new innovations to potential buyers. It brings together all the stakeholders - industry, investors, government/armed forces officials- to a common platform for networking and business tie-ups. The events are also used by some host governments to announce new policies for attracting investment and promoting defence diplomacy. The seminars and conferences organized during the event provide key opportunities for the industryand other stakeholders to understand each other better. From the industry point of view, defence exhibitions provides an attractive place for business networking.


India’s Experience


India’s two premier defence exhibitions -DefExpo and Aero India - have so far been conducted23 times, with the 24th event being held in the form of Aero India 2021 in Bengaluru. Both the events have since their inception been growing over the years, attracting a large number of industry players, including from other countries.The growing stature of India’s defence fairs is an indication of not only the improved strength of the Indian defence industry but also the attractiveness of India as big market for defence and aerospace.


Suffice it to say that the number of Indian companies participating in the MoD-organized defence exhibitions has grown phenomenally. More significantly, a growing number of Indian private companies including the Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are participating in the exhibitions. Of the 458 Indian exhibitors registered for Aero India 2021, majority are the private companies.


With the government’s focus on Indigenous arms production and the announcement of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, the Indian defence industry is expected a play a major role in the coming future. The DefExpo and Aero India will be the key platform for the industry, especially the private sector and MSMEs, to showcase their products and innovations.


It may be mentioned that while several international exhibitions like the Paris Airshow and Farnborough Airshow have been cancelled owing to Covid-19 pandemic, the Aero India is still going on full swing with a relatively large participation of key foreign companies, indicating the attractiveness of India as a major defence market.


In recent year, India’s trade fair has been timed to announce some of the key policy changes and topromote key industrial schemes. For instance, in the wake of the Aero India 2021, the MoD released its much-awaited acquisition procedure -Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 (DAP 2020), which was in the making for more than a year.  The DefExpo 2020 was used by the government to promote the UP-based defence corridor, with wholehearted support from the provincial government.


India is also using its exhibitions, especially DefExpo, to promote defence industry development in various regions. The exhibition which was earlier held in Delhi has now been held in other places, Goa (2016), Chennai (2018), Lucknow (2020). While this is partly driven by the political imperatives of the incumbent defence minister, it also aims to spread defence industrial developing to other regions of the country.


Of late the MoD has used its biennial exhibitions to promote defence diplomacy. The DefExpo India 2020 saw the first ever India-Africa Defence Ministers Conclave, which led to adoption of Lucknow Declaration, highlighting India’s contribution to Africa’s peace and prosperity. The Aero India 2021 will host a conclave of defence ministers of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which is expected to promote India’s maritime diplomacy in the region.


In addition, the India is also using these exhibitions to promote defence exports, a major focus of the Modi government under the Make in India an Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. Suffice it to say that the serious focus of the government in promoting defence exports has led a sizeable increase in India arms export (see Table 2). To further increase export, the government has also recently cleared a list of domestically manufactured items for export.  The Aero India 2021 will see the India pavilion showcasing some of these products for exports.


Table. Defence Exports and Export Authorisations



Total Export Rs Crore)

No. of Authorizations Issued



















2020-21 (as of January)



Note:The value mentioned includes actual export by Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and value as per authorizations issuedby the Department of Defence Production

(DDP) to private firms and SCOMET (other than Category 6).

 Source: Ministry of Defence, Government of India.



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