|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Media has quoted official sources intimating them on January 5, 2021 that government is likely to finalise the deal to procure 56 transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) at a cost of $2.5 billion. The project will be implemented by aerospace giant Airbus along with an Indian entity under the broad framework of ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector. According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the case of procurement of 56 x C295 transport aircraft from Airbus with participation of an Indian production agency for manufacture of 40 aircraft in India is at approval stage and a contract is likely to be signed in the near future. The official also said, "The case is first of its kind which envisages participation of private companies and would prove to be a boost for our defence industry." The government is procuring these aircraft to replace the IAF's ageing Avro 748 transport aircraft. The IAF has a total fleet of over 50 Avro 748 aircraft, first ones having been inducted in 1961.
Notably, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister had cleared the IAF’s plan to procure the 56 x C295 transport aircraft way back in 2015, with the Coast Guard order to follow later. The 2020 Chinese aggression in Ladakh appears to have galvanised the MoD into action. During the DefExpo 2020 held in February last year, the Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Siddharath Nath Singh told media that an Airbus delegation unveiled its plans of setting up a big project of manufacturing C295 transport planes in India soon. He also said, “Since both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh represent Uttar Pradesh, the state has the edge in bagging the project, entailing an investment of 25,000 crore and guaranteeing 16,000 jobs.” The minister added that the promoter company would require 5000 acres of land for the project. The minister further said that apart from the proposed plant for the C295 transport planes, the state government also discussed with the Airbus delegation setting up of 3-5 simulators and centres for entrepreneurship development programme (EDP) and other skill development programmes and setting up a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility in the state, certifying skill courses for private universities for aviation and design centre in NOIDA.
As per the current status of the procurement of military transport aircraft, 16 x C295 transport aircraft will be supplied by Airbus in flyaway condition while 40 aircraft will be manufactured in India. The procurement process for the aircraft has almost been completed and a final decision on the deal is likely to be made soon. The Indian entity for the military transport aircraft is reportedly Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL). While Airbus will supply the first 16 aircraft within two years of the deal having been signed, the rest 40 will be built by Tata-Airbus in India within eight years. A news report of November 20, 2019 had said that the Indian Coast Guard is also buying six maritime patrol variants of the C295.
The C295 is a multi-role transport aircraft that can carry a maximum payload of 9.25 tonnes. It has a range of 2,000 nautical miles when carrying 6 tonnes; it can carry up to 71 troops. The C295 can take off and land at a wide variety of airfields. According to Airbus, the C295 is capable of multiple roles including anti-submarine warfare, air-to-air refueling and a platform for airborne early warning radar. Airbus also has a 'gunship' variant of the C295 armed with guns and air-to-ground missiles for providing air support to ground troops. During the Aero India held in February 2019, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had unveiled plans for a maritime patrol variant of the C295 and an airborne early warning variant for the IAF using the same radar as used by the indigenous 'Netra' system.
Concurrent to the C295 deal is another project to acquire 83 x Tejas Mk-IA fighter jets from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at a cost of over 37,000 crore. Tejas Mk-IA will reportedly have 43 improvements over the 40 x Tejas Mk-I which the IAF had ordered from HAL earlier. Both the cases for procurement of 56 x C295 and 83 x Tejas Mk-IA have been forwarded for approval to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). Delivery of the 83 x Tejas Mk-IA will begin three years after the contract is inked. The IAF is presently down to 30 squadrons against the requirement of 42 squadrons and is looking for early provision of the already ordered 40 x Tejas Mk-I followed by the 83 x Tejas Mk-IA. Subsequently, IAF is also looking to induct 170 x Tejas Mk-II, which are to be medium weight fighter jets with more powerful engine and advanced avionics.