Intro: For India to emerge as a leading aerospace power the thrust should be on ingesting the foreign knowhow and technologies by the domestic industries to help build on it to attain self reliance in the development of military hardware.
At the highly popular 51st International air show held in Paris from June 15–21, 2015, the global aircraft majors, Boeing and Airbus Industries, had expressed the view that India would be in a position to design, develop and build large passengers planes over the years. In the context of the rapidly building up Indian expertise and technological capability in the area of aeronautics, both the aircraft producers are more than keen to associate with India with a view to not only market their products but also source many of their requirements including human resources talent, aircraft hardware and systems from India. The view of US$105-billion Boeing is that it is well within the capacity of India to build a large aircraft. As things stand now, like the Indian automobile industry which graduated into building a variety of high end vehicles after gaining experience in manufacturing various automotive components for foreign vendors, Indian aerospace industries, which are now a source of components, subsystems and systems for foreign aircraft manufacturers, could create an eco system for the domestic manufacturing of large ‘Made in India’ aircraft.
Dr Srinivasan Dwarakanath, Managing Director of Airbus India, was more forthcoming with his statement “I don’t see a reason why manufacturing of large aircraft cannot happen in India”. Incidentally, under a plan to boost ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Air bus had joined hands with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) to bid for replacing the aging Avro transport aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). This proposal which has been cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) is expected to lay a firm foundation for aerospace manufacturing in the Indian private sector. Under this deal, first 16 C295 transport aircraft will be supplied to India under flyway condition by Airbus while the remaining 40 will be manufactured by TASL with the technology and expertise from Airbus.
As it is, the state owned aeronautical enterprise HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) was kept out of this competition with a view to not only end the monopoly of a single entity on the Indian aeronautical segment but also to create a pool of technologically vibrant private sector industries to give an upward thrust to the Indian aerospace sector. It is now an open secret that HAL, which in 1960s and 1970s exhibited the promise and potential to emerge as an Indian aircraft builder, was not allowed to grow as a globally competitive aircraft producer mainly due to the indifference and indecision of the successive Indian governments, behind the scene manoeuvres by the powerful import lobby, unhealthy bureaucratic interference and unchecked control by the men in uniform who had very little interest in building up a domestic aircraft manufacturing capability.
On another front, Reliance Defence promoted by Reliance Industries, which has unveiled a big plan to venture into the aerospace sector, is looking at the possibility of floating a joint venture with Russian Helicopters for the production of Ka-226T twin engine light helicopters in India. The Russian origin Ka-226T would re-place the obsolete Cheetah and Chetak helicopters being operated by the Indian defence forces. DAC has already given a green signal to the plan. Significantly, Russian President Putin during his discussion with the Indian Premier in New Delhi in December last had made the offer of jointly manufacturing the chopper in India.
Over the years many Indian companies—both in the public and private sectors—have built up a substantial range of capabilities for technology up-gradation, products development and infrastructure modernisation to expand the scope of the Indian aerospace sector. A slew of policy reforms initiated in recent months by the Indian Government including raising the FDI cap in defence sector to 49 per cent clears the decks for the unhindered growth of the Indian aerospace industry. Of course, for India to emerge as a leading aerospace power the thrust should be on ingesting the foreign knowhow and technologies by the domestic industries to help build on it to attain self reliance in the development of military hardware. Similarly, a road map should be put in place to build up the capability in civilian and business aircraft development, an area which India had neglected for long.
(The writer is a columnist who writes on defence related issues)
(July 12, 2015, Page : 31)