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. African military 'shopping mart' opens in South Africa
WATERKLOOF AIR FORCE BASE, South Africa (AFP) Sep 21, 2004
Military hardware from some 25 countries went on display here Tuesday on the opening day of Africa's biggest aerospace and defence show, a virtual "shopping mart" for armies.

Four hangers filled with aircraft, missiles, navigation and electronic equipment, from Britain to Brazil were on offer at this base outside Pretoria that was expected to drawn tens of thousands of visitors over the next five days.

Organisers say the event provides great marketing opportunities for exhibitors wishing to promote their products not only in southern Africa but to the entire continent.

"We are expecting some multi-million dollar deals to be announced," organiser Lynn Browne told AFP. "A number of them have already been in the pipeline for a while."

Britain, Germany, Brazil and, for the first time, Finland, were present at the event, but India's exhibition was among the largest, signifying the closer ties cemented with South Africa during a visit by Indian President Abdul Kalam last week.

"This is the biggest exhibition of its kind in Africa," said Indian defence ministry spokesman Tapan Ray.

"We are here to offer low-cost options to African clients," said Ray.

India was making a pitch for its low-cost LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) fighter planes, BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, warships and submarines.

Finland was showcasing its Patria armoured vehicle, with its South African-made cannon, that it hopes to sell to the South African army,

Aircraft manufacturer Airbus was expected to promote its new planned A400M military transport plane while British company BAE was due to announce a new alliance with South African company Aerosud which specialises in aircraft design and repair.

British Procurement Minister Lord Willy Bach told reporters here that Britain's defence industry wanted to use the exhibition to invite South African companies to make bids.

"Because the British defence industry is prepared to compete, we are inviting South African companies, big, medium and small to bid for British procurement projects alongside British companies," Bach said.

Apart from a strong military component, there was also huge civilian interest.

"We already have three possible deals for our helicopters," said Eurocopter spokeswoman Christina Gotzhein, adding that the machine on offer sells for around one million euros (1.2 million dollars) to wealthy corporate clients.

Like the great air exhibitions at Le Bourget in France and Farnborough in Britain, the exhibition will also give the public the chance to view the magnificent men -- and women -- flying cutting edge machines including the Swedish Gripen fighter of which South Africa has ordered 28 for its weapons upgrade programme.

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