World News

The agenda for self-reliance in Defence production is being driven with purpose and the eco-system is rapidly falling in place for the big leap ahead, observes Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd)

The defence Ministry recently notified the third positive indigenisation list to further push the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (Make-in-India) initiative, and yet the defence minister said that self-reliance did not mean working in isolation from the rest of the world, but working in the country itself with their active participation and support. The three lists till date cover 309 items which include towed artillery guns, short-range surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles, offshore patrol vessels, next-generation corvettes, airborne early warning systems, tank engines, radars, rockets, naval utility helicopters, sensors, weapons and ammunition, anti-ship missile, anti-radiation missiles, among many more.

Similarly, to further bolster indigenisation, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on April 6 to convert a civil airliner to Multi Mission Tanker Transport (MMTT) aircraft in India. Earlier, in September 2021, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was cleared to convert Air India’s six A-319s and A-321 variants into “eyes in the sky” Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Fighter Aircraft Production Ecosystem

Two squadrons of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS are already flying. The more operationally capable 83 TEJAS MK-1A are on order and the first flight is expected later this year and deliveries will take place from 2024. The Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) TEJAS MK-2 design is frozen, the metal cutting is taking place and first flight is scheduled for end 2023, and the aircraft should induct in 2028 by when the MK-1A supplies would complete. The fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) critical design review is planned to be completed in 2022, along with its planned rollout planned in 2024 and first flight in 2025. The approval from Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is expected this year. With these fighter aircraft the manufacturing ecosystem in the country is fully in place.

Helicopter Production

Similarly, the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) variants are flying in large numbers across the three services and elsewhere. Nearly 340 have been built. The armed ALH ‘Rudra’ has been inducted. The Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) are under induction. The Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH) is already in design. India should not have to buy helicopters from abroad.

Transport Production

A nearly USD 3-billion deal for procuring 56 C-295MW transport aircraft for the IAF, to replace the Avro 748 transport aircraft with Airbus, is underway. Another six aircraft will be required by the Coast Guard. Sixteen aircraft will come in flyaway condition, and the remaining will be built in India by a Tata-led consortium within 10 years. India had earlier built the HS-748 and Dornier 228 at home under licensed production. Indigenous Hindustan 228 variant of the Dornier are being built for civil use. Meanwhile, the CSIR and the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) have built the 14-seat ‘SARAS’ aircraft. The same is under testing. SARAS MK-2, the 19-seater version is under development.

Force Multipliers

‘Netra’ is DRDO’s Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS). It is built around the Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft as the platform. Three are flying with the Indian Air Force (IAF). Six AEW&C based on Airbus A320 platforms acquired from Air India are to be refurbished and modified in France to Indian Air Force/DRDO specifications. Since these aircraft will come through book transfer, the cost will be just around Rs 1,100 crore for all six. These six Airbus aircraft will have the indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. This project could take around 6-8 years. Meanwhile, the DRDO had proposed an upgraded Netra AEW&CS based on Airbus C-295 to the IAF as it already supports a static radar dome configuration. The DRDO’s old plan of Airbus A330-based AWACS system may be postponed. Interestingly, Pakistan has four Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C in service, and four Shaanxi Y-8 ZDK-03 variants called Karakoram Eagle. The Indian Air Force (IAF) operates three EL/W-2090 Phalcon AEW&C incorporated in a Beriev A-50 platform. Larger AEW&C built in India will greatly improve ‘Make-in-India’ capability. Considering India’s size and global ambitions, the IAF should have at least 10 AEW&C aircraft.

The IAF currently has six Ilyushin-78 Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA), and it has been in search for six additional FRA since 2006. The first two attempts got aborted due to issues related to life cycle costs and processes. The contest was between Airbus A-330 MRTT, IL-78 and Boeing KC-46A. The DRDO had earlier proposed to locally modify Airbus A-330 into FRA. Now, the decision to convert pre-owned civil (Passenger) aircraft into FRA with cargo and transport capabilities by HAL will further strengthen the defence production ecosystem with new capabilities and cost-effective solutions. The MoU between HAL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) covers support to convert from passenger to freighter aircraft along with multi-mission tanker transport (MMTT) conversions. IAI has been in the business of converting old airframes for the role. The probe and drogue system is used by the Indian Air Force’s Il-78. The Flying Boom is predominantly used by US-designed aircraft and allows for transfer of larger volumes of fuel in shorter periods of time. Indian Navy’s P-8I maritime patrol jets and IAF’s C-17 heavy transport aircraft can only be refuelled via flying boom.

Private Sector: Tail-Up

A few big private industrial houses are now well established in aircraft defence manufacturing. Tata Aerospace and Defence (Tata A&D) have been making the AH-64 Apache combat helicopter fuselage. They are also making aero-structures for Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook helicopters. All C-130Js delivered to customers around the world have major aero-structure components from India with the country producing 24 C-130 empennages annually. Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, also relies on Hyderabad-based TATA Advanced System (TASL) as the manufacturing base for its global supply of cabin for the S-92 helicopter. The TATA group is working with GE to manufacture CFM International LEAP engine components in India. Lockheed Martin selected TASL to produce F-16 wings in India. There are many private companies making defence electronics, large aero-components, advanced technology components and sub-systems. Dynamatic Technologies makes assemblies of vertical fins for Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters. They are also supplying aero-structures to Airbus for its A320 family of aircraft and the wide-body 330 aircraft. Hyderabad’s VEM Technologies manufactures centre fuselage for TEJAS. Many Indian MSMEs and start-ups are entering defence production. Many private players including start-ups have also entered into drone and counter-drone manufacturing for the armed forces.

The Way Ahead

The sense of purpose with which Atmanirbharta is being driven, defence production in India would get a major boost. According to the defence ministry, the indigenous component in LCA Tejas was 75.5 per cent by number and 59.7 per cent by value of the aircraft in 2016. It is planned to reach 70 per cent by value in TEJAS MK-2, and is targeted to be 80 per cent by 2030. Building the AMCA, the mid-sized regional jet, large unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and medium helicopter are important stages ahead.

Breaking News in Hindi China global news headlines in hindi India India Russia news in Hindi international news PM Modi Russia दुनिया खबरें विश्व समाचार

Related Posts