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Canadian arms-makers looking to expand in India: Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan

Canadian defence companies are looking at expanding their footprint in India, said Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan in an interview with BusinessLine. Sajjan’s here on a week-long visit to strengthen defence ties between Canada and India.

Edited excerpts:


What did you discuss with Defence Minister Arun Jailtey and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj?

We discussed Canada-India defence relationship with greater focus on all our joint exercises with our tri-services. We also talked about how our defence industries can benefit. We do recommend experience from our defence industry and some of the equipment we need in our military that has been battle tested involving some great research and development. So, we looked at avenues where we can further these discussions.


During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada in 2015, there was a decision to have a joint working group on counter-terrorism and enhancing naval linkages. Was that discussed?

Yes, we discussed that. In fact, we have one of our naval ships — HMCS Winnipeg — coming in May. So, those were discussed. On counter-terrorism, our officials have been discussing a lot. In fact, my Deputy Minister met the Deputy National Security Advisor of India. So, these discussions are always ongoing to make sure that we battle terrorism together because both our nations were attacked.

Can you elaborate more on the HMCS Winnipeg frigate coming to India?

Our commander of the navy is looking at how we can operate together. I have personally witnessed this when I was in Hawaii during the RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific Exercise) and we had our largest deployment. I saw some Indian ships as well. So, we do always see how we can operate together and allow joint exercises by naval personnel.


Are you looking to seal some big-ticket defence deals with India?

We have a very good defence industry that is operating here in India, we would like to increase that as well. I met our companies here during the trip and will be meeting some Indian defence companies as well. So, good progress has been made. We need to look at expanding that. Everything from aerospace to some of our capabilities in forensics to helicopters, I think there is greater opportunity for Canadian companies to build and support India’s defence industry.


What potential do you see for Canadian defence firms in India’s proposed $12-billion fighter jet programme?

Canada is not in the fighter jet business. But, we do provide some of the technologies and avionics that the fighters need. We do have companies that provide systems to some of these jet companies, like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, and many other companies. So, those companies that have a proven track record do have an opportunity to form joint ventures with these companies that will benefit the Indian Air Force as well.


The Indian Navy has said it will be building aircraft carriers. How are Canadian defence firms viewing this?

We are also building our own ships. We do not have aircraft carriers. But for building a haul you need to have the right systems coinciding, and that is where the real work comes in. So, other companies from around the world will be assisting us with our national ship-building strategy and that will be an opportunity for Canada to be part of those projects as well. When you have a greater country-to-country dialogue in defence relationships it allows our defence companies to be predictable in their approaches.


India is now focussed on achieving self-reliance in defence. How do you view the market in such a scenario?

Every nation makes its own decisions and how they want to support their own military. For us, we have other challenges. We did a full defence policy review looking at modernising our systems. Canada can advise India and we also have several challenges on regional security, and have a lot of expertise to provide.


Since you talked about a defence policy review in your country, what are your views on India’s Defence Procurement Procedure?

Procurement is a challenge for every nation. India has to work out what suits best for them. I have always said procurement system should work because our men and women in uniform should have the right tools in their hands.


You said Canada would like to see stability in South Asia. How do view the tension between India and Pakistan?

We are hopeful that India and Pakistan will continue with the dialogue and continue to de-escalate the situation. Regional tension does not help anybody. India can play a greater role as they already do with the UN. We are already dealing with conflicts in the world. Tensions between these two countries take away their ability to have an impact on other parts of the world. Maintaining a dialogue allows you to always have fruitful discussions. The last thing you want is not having a dialogue and increasing tensions.


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