India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves at the crowd during the inauguration of 'India Energy Week 2023' in the city of Bengaluru, Karnataka state, southwestern India on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. AFP PHOTO

India opens biggest helicopter factory in new defense push

BENGALURU, India: India unveiled on Monday its largest helicopter factory, which can produce at least 1,000 aircraft a year, as part of a defense self-reliance push to counter China’s growing assertiveness.

This came after New Delhi announced a double-digit increase in its annual defense 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 toward local defense production, still relies heavily on hardware from Russia, its largest and oldest military supplier.

The new helicopter facility fulfills “our government’s pledge to gradually reduce India’s dependence on foreign countries for its defense needs,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the inauguration.

“I am happy that hundreds of different weapons and defense 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 neighbors, archrival Pakistan and China.

Twenty Indian troops were killed in a border clash with China in 2020.

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