| Fernandes at a defence exhibition in Calcutta. Picture by Pabitra Das
Calcutta, Sept. 5: India will export light combat aircraft (LCA) to friendly countries in four to five years, George Fernandes said here today.
“The LCA will serve the need of the country for the coming three to four decades. I am looking forward to sending LCAs to all countries that are friendly to us. I am looking forward to a global market. It is expected to take four or five years,” the defence minister said.
Fernandes was attending a defence ministry-sponsored programme on how to do business with defence and help achieve self-reliance in defence-preparedness. The programme was organised by the Indian Council of Small Industries. The minister said 120 small-scale units were helping to build the LCA and 70 units were involved in developing an advanced light helicopter.
Fernandes said the first lot of advanced jet trainers were expected to reach India in the next three years. “Training of pilots, however, will begin as soon as contracts are signed…” he added.
The minister said the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier had just been designed by navy engineers and scientists and its production would begin soon. But he did not give a time-frame for its commissioning. “The aircraft carrier will be able to house dozens of aircraft. It takes a long time to build an aircraft carrier, but I can tell you it will not take very long,” Fernandes said.
He said the government had decided to upgrade the Ghatak platoon. “It is essentially a special force. It will be given the most modern weaponry and exclusive training,” the minister added.
Replying to a question, he denied that an Indo-US joint military exercise was being held for political reasons. “In the past, we have held such exercise with some Asian countries. We have also done it with European countries. Now we are doing it with the US. Such exercises are carried out so that countries get to know the areas of strength and weaknesses of its military. There is no political reason behind such exercises,” he said.
But Fernandes would not comment on China’s reported claim that Sikkim was not an integral part of India. “I am not privy to what the Chinese government has said. As far as I am concerned, whatever was discussed during the Prime Minister’s visit to that country (in June) is on record and I will go by it,” he added.
The minister also refused to say if an Indo-Bhutan joint military offensive would be undertaken against Ulfa militants hiding in that country. “It is up to the (Union) home minister to take a decision,” he said.
Fernandes added that only L.K. Advani could decide if the army would be deployed in Tripura’s disturbed areas, as demanded by the state government.