By improving the domestic industrial base, Bharat can certainly emerge as a major player in the worldwide defence and aerospace arena as an exporter of competitively priced aerospace and defence products.
Overcoming the sixty years of lethargy, wilful neglect and lost opportunities, Bharat’s defence and aerospace sector is now brimming with hope, enthusiasm and vitality to scale new heights of achievements in the backdrop of a slew of positive and pro-active measures implemented by the Bharateeya Government led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the last thirty months. In particular, the ‘Make in India’ initiative has proved to be a major driving force behind the resurgence and dynamism exhibited by the nationally important, strategic areas of defence and aerospace.
The recent relaxation of the norms governing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is well poised to drive the Bharateeya defence and aerospace industries towards creating a high precision, globally competitive domestic production base to manufacture fighting systems and aerospace products featuring cutting edge technologies. There is now an all-round appreciation of the bold step taken by Modi Government to curb blind and indiscriminate import of defence and aerospace hardware that has pepped up the spirit of the Bharateeya private sector to take up the challenge of creating a domestic ecosystem to cater to the needs of defence and aerospace sectors. “From India’s private sector point of view, what is perhaps of greater importance, is the Modi Government’s focus on curbing direct import and putting the local industry at the centre of India’s big defence procurement,” notes Dr Laxman Kumar Behara, Research fellow at the New Delhi based think tank, Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).
Thanks to the production expertise, domain knowledge and technical knowhow being slowly acquired by the Bharateeya industries, leading overseas defence and aerospace players are displaying keenness to forge joint ventures with the Bharateeya enterprises to develop and produce advanced, high technology combat systems and aerospace products. There is no denying the point that the business friendly environment that the Modi Government did help create, has nudged the global aerospace and defence giants, Airbus Industries and Boeing, to cement their long standing, strategic partnership with Bharat. This mutually beneficial partnership, while helping Airbus and Boeing leverage the expertise and talent pool available in Bharat, will enrich Bharat’s domestic aerospace and defence sectors with innovative technologies, advanced production systems and sophisticated testing facilities. It is not a surprise that the Bharateeya Government’s policy thrust is now on realising 70 per cent indigenisation in defence production by 2027.
As noted by Sudhakar Gande, Chairman Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) task force on aerospace and defence as well as Vice Chairman of AXIS Cades Aerospace and Technologies Ltd, ‘Make in India’ could help reverse the current unacceptable situation of 70 per cent import of military hardware and drive Bharateeya industry into a competitive player in the global aerospace and defence industry. He is of firm view that by improving the domestic industrial base, Bharat can certainly emerge as a major player in the worldwide defence and aerospace arena as an exporter of competitively priced aerospace and defence products. By delicensing most of the defence products meant for industrial licensing, the Bharateeya Government has made it easier for the private sector industries to enter the defence production area.
The government has decided to replace the aging transport fleet with the Indian Air Force (IAF) made up of 56 vintage Avro aircraft by reserving the project for the Bharateeya private sector. According to Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Director General Chandrajit Banerjee, ‘creating a strong defence manufacturing base domestically is vital for not only nation’s strategic autonomy but also for its economic growth.’
Indeed, there is a growing recognition of the ground reality that Bharateeya aerospace and defence market is among the most attractive globally. It is in the fitness of things that the Modi Government has identified defence reforms and is building a self-sustaining defence and aerospace ecosystem as a priority area.
Signalling Bharat’s growing prowess in the area of missile technology, nation’s largest greenfield testing and assembly facility for futuristic missiles and precision weapons got off the ground at Palasamudram in Andhra Pradesh in the presence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in September. This state of the art, Rs 5000-million Defence Systems Integration complex is being set up by the public sector Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) for advanced battlefield systems.
On another front, dedicated aerospace parks and Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are slowly mushrooming across the country. These exclusive aerospace parks and SEZs provide the necessary level of synergy required to take the aerospace sector to the next level of growth and position Bharat as a major aerospace outsourcing destination. For instance, the aerospace SEZ at Adibatla village near to Hyderabad houses the joint ventures that Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) has floated with the global aerospace and defence majors, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky. In addition, Swiss-German aerospace enterprise, Ruag Aviation, the producer of Dornier-228 new generation, aircraft is investing Rs 40,000-million to manufacture Dornier 228 fuselage and wings in tie up with TASL. Further, the Switzerland based Pilatus Aircraft which is now implementing a contract to supply 75 PC-7MKII basic trainer aircraft to the IAF has joined hands with TASL for the production of aero-structures of its business aircraft .
Boeing on its part has entered into a pact with TASL for defence and aerospace manufacturing as part of the ‘Make in India’ flagship programme. This agreement covers co-production of aero structures initially for AH-64 Apache helicopters and collaboration on developing integrated system including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). To provide momentum to the Bharateeya aerospace and defence sectors, the Telangana Government is planning to set up three more aerospace cum defence parks on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Not willing to be left behind in the race for the lucrative business opportunities offered by the aerospace sector, the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu has cleared the decks for the setting up of an integrated defence and aerospace park in the thriving auto hub of Sriperumbudur, about 50 kms from Chennai. On the other hand, Anil Ambani led Reliance Group is working towards setting up an aerospace park at Mihan (Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur) SEZ in
Nagpur. This is claimed to be the largest green-field project not only in Bharat but also in the entire South
East Asia region.
Bengaluru based Dynamatic Technologies and Belagavi based Aequs Aerospace SEZ, have notched up the distinction of being the private sector, Tier one suppliers to Airbus Industries. For long the state owned, aeronautical major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had held this distinction. Airbus Defence and Space has joined hands with the Tata Group for production of the transportaircraft that would replace the obsolete Avro aircraft of IAF. On another front, Airbus Helicopters has teamed up with Mahindra group to set up a manufacturing base in Bharat for the production of helicopters.
Bharat’s fourth generation home grown supersonic fighter aircraft Tejas LCA—designed and developed by Bengaluru based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA)—which will be inducted in large numbers into the squadrons of the IAF showcases. The technological prowess that Bharat has built up in the area of combat aircraft. Similarly, the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv designed, developed and produced by HAL has proved its excellence in meeting the operational requirements of the Indian defence forces. Both Tejas and
ALH Dhruv have tremendous export potential.
By exploiting the synergy unleashed by the forward looking Bharateeya industries, both in the private and public sector as well as the joint ventures that foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are floating with the Bharateeya industrial partners, the country is well poised to emerge as a globally recognised power house for defence and aerospace production.
Radhakrishna Rao (The writer is freelance columnist
who writes on Science tech and
Defence related issues)