Pitchforking 'Make in India'

The refrain at Aero India 2015 was co-development and that is going to be the road ahead for aerospace and defence industry in India

Issue: 3 / 2015By R. ChandrakanthPhoto(s): By PIB, SP Guide Pubns

Aero India is touted as Asia’s premier airshow though it may not be the event where billion dollar deals are announced. That is for Le Bourget, Farnborough, Dubai and even Singapore to outperform each other. Basically, these mega deals are centred around commercial airlines. But Aero India, which just completed its tenth edition from February 18 to 22 at Air Force Station, Yelahanka near Bengaluru, is primarily an exposition related to military aviation with a bit of civilian flavour and hence announcements of major deals for civilian airplanes are rare. However, the tenth edition caught the attention of the world for more than one reason. India’s image as a major defence importer had to be shed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the platform to announce to the world that India will shed the image of being the leading defence importer and become a co-partner, co-developer and co-producer of military hardware—launch pad for ‘Make in India’ campaign.

Thus Aero India 2015 was a perfect launch vehicle for the Prime Minister for his pet theme ‘Make in India’ that reverberated during the five-day extravaganza. Prime Minister Modi had set the tenor for the show and afterwards. The fact that he inaugurated the show, a breakaway from tradition as normally, this has been the privilege of the Indian Minister of Defence, was testimony to the fact that the government was serious about providing impetus to the ‘Make in India’ campaign.

Aero India had 328 foreign firms vying with each other to align with the government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign as they eye the burgeoning multibillion-dollar Indian defence market. In addition, there were 295 Indian companies showcasing their products and solutions they had to offer.

Seven of the 11 foreign military aircraft on display were American — two F-15C Eagles, two F-16C Fighting Falcons, one Boeing KC-135 tanker, one C-17 Globemaster III and a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft. The US with 64 companies had the biggest presence at the event, in which 33 other countries took part. France was the second biggest participant with 58 companies, followed by the UK with 48, Russia with 41, Israel with 25 and Germany with 17, the organisers said. Finmeccanica came back though in a pretty modest size, as one of the exhibitors.

India’s light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas roared in the skies along with other combat aircraft such as the Rafale from Dassault Aviation of France and the F-15 from Boeing of the US. It was indeed a proud moment, the delay in the LCA project notwithstanding.

Boundless Enthusiasm

But the enthusiasm of the many Indian companies was boundless and they were already singing Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ tune apart from making appropriate sales pitch with foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Fruits of such partnerships ought to be visible in the near future.

The strong and expansive presence of not just the Tatas and the Mahindras, but also of innovative companies such as Alpha Design Technologies, Zen Technologies, Dynamatic Technologies and a host of others, bode well for the growing aerospace and defence industry in the private sector in India. While the defence public sector undertakings — the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) — were in demand with several OEMs wanting to have a tie-up as the route now is going to be clearly co-production.

Prime Minister Modi promised a conducive environment for manufacturers, including a discrimination-free tax system, and asked foreign firms not to be just “sellers” but “strategic partners”. Inaugurating the show he said, while the country needs to increase its defence preparedness and modernise its forces due to security challenges that were well known, it should aim to manufacture 70 per cent of military hardware domestically in the next five years and remove the tag of being number one importer of defence equipment.

Stressing that developing domestic defence industry “is at the heart of the ‘Make in India’ programme”, he said, “we will build an industry that will have room for everyone – public sector, private sector and foreign firms”. “From sellers, foreign firms must turn into strategic partners. We need their technology, skills, systems integration and manufacturing strength.”

Global Supply Chain Hub

The Prime Minister said that the foreign players can use India as part of their global supply chain and India’s frugal but sophisticated manufacturing and engineering services sectors can help reduce costs. Also India can be a base for export to third countries, especially because of its growing defence partnerships in Asia and beyond. He said the government was reforming defence procurement policies and procedures. “There would be a clear preference for equipment manufactured in India. Our procurement procedures will ensure simplicity, accountability and speedy decision making.”

Prime Minister Modi pointed out that in India, the defence industry in the government sector alone employs nearly 2,00,000 workers and thousands of engineers and scientists. Their output is nearly $7 billion annually and also supports a very large pool of small and medium enterprises. Noting that India imports up to 60 per cent of the requirement of military hardware, he said there are studies that show that even a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in imports could directly create an additional 1,00,000 to 1,20,000 highly skilled jobs in India. “If we could raise the percentage of domestic procurement from 40 to 70 per cent in the next five years, we would double the output in our defence industry,” he said.

A strong defence industry can boost investment, expand manufacturing, support enterprise, raise the technology level and increase economic growth in the country.

The customary press conference by the Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar revolved around the fate of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale aircraft which was selected as the medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force. He dismissed all speculation saying that the contracts negotiating committee was going through its work and he would not answer one way or the other on the fate of the MMRCA tender. Similarly, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha also parried questions related to MMRCA. The Rafale, however, had its share of flying display.

Tata Group Dominates

The Tata group displayed its end-to-end design to manufacturing capabilities including a range of solutions in the defence and aerospace sector in areas such as design, engineering, programme management, manufacturing and product life-cycle management, among others.

The combined order book of Tata companies operating in the sector is over Rs. 10,000 crore and in 2013-14 alone these companies have invested over Rs. 320 crore in their respective businesses. Their expected revenue from the sector for FY15 is over Rs. 2,500 crore.

This year, nine Tata companies, namely Tata Advanced Systems Limited, Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division (Tata Power SED), Tata Motors, Tata Advanced Materials, Tata Steel (Specialty Steel business in Europe), Tata Technologies, TAL Manufacturing Solutions, Titan Company (Precision Engineering Division) and Tata Consultancy Services, exhibited.

Tata Advanced Systems Ltd has a tie-up with US helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation which is committed to making the aircraft locally in India, as part of the large deals it is bidding for. Sikorsky will manufacture helicopters in India together with its existing partner, the Tata Group, or through new tie-ups. It now manufactures helicopters in Connecticut. It has a tie-up with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to make S-92 helicopter cabins at a facility in Hyderabad for the global market.

Airbus ‘Recruitment’ Drive Catches Attention

The Airbus Group presented a wide range of products with cutting-edge technologies including commercial platforms, military aircraft/helicopters and radars. But the company was more excited about the ‘recruitment’ drive it organised at the show. In a unique initiative that could provide immense opportunities for talented engineers in India, the Airbus Group conducted a recruitment fair during the last two days. Airbus was looking for engineers with post-graduation or more for open positions in areas of avionics, structural analysis and repair.

Yves Guillaume, President, India, Airbus Group, said that strong footprint it had developed in India over the years will come to play while supporting the government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign.

“We have been used to partnerships in India as is shown by our long-standing collaborations with several Indian public and private companies as well as R&D organisations and academic institutions. We are enthusiastic about the ‘Make in India’ campaign and are ready to leverage our existing local partnerships and invest in new ones to make the most of it.”

Boeing Aligned with ‘Make in India’ Concept

US aerospace and defence major Boeing showcased a broad range of its aerospace products, demonstrating its ‘alignment’ with Modi Government’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. Models highlighting Boeing’s defence capabilities included the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter, P-81 maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, AH-64D Apache attack helicopter, CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and ScanEagle unmanned airborne systems and weapons. It also featured models of commercial airplanes such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, 777X-9 and 737 MAX.

Pratyush Kumar, President of Boeing India, told reporters that the company is committed to strengthen strategic partnerships with customers, the government, and industry aimed to support India’s economic expansion.

BAE Systems Bags Contract

BAE Systems secured a five-year contract worth GBP 18.5 million to provide the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited a comprehensive package comprising Ground Support Equipment, Spares, Support and Training for the Hawk Mk132 advanced jet trainer.

Embraer had a Phenom 300 on static display. India is home to aircraft from all three of Embraer’s business units namely Embraer Commercial Aviation, Embraer Executive Jets and Embraer Defense & Security. “India is the country in the Asia-Pacific that has the widest portfolio of Embraer Executive Jets – from the Phenom 100E to the Lineage 1000 – with 20 jets in operation,” said Claudio Camelier, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Asia-Pacific and Middle East for Embraer Executive Jets. “These business jets are used by a number of corporations, private charter services, individuals, and government entities to increase travel efficiency. Its widespread appeal reflects the strength of our aircraft’s reliability, exceptional performance and comprehensive customer support.”

Showcasing their products and solutions were several major weapons, technology/engine companies such as Honeywell Aerospace; Rolls-Royce; Elbit; Rafael; IAI; GE Aviation; Lockheed Martin; MBDA; Nexter; Russian Helicopters; Safran and many more. And the refrain of all of them at the show was co-development and co-production that is going to be the road ahead for India.

Narrow Escape

On the second day of Aero India, two Flying Bulls aircraft scraped each other in the skies, creating a scare for a short while. The two aircraft which were part of the Flying Bulls aerobatic team were damaged and luckily there was no casualty.

The two Zlin 50LX aircraft collided with each other at about 1500 hours. The single-seater, single-engine aircraft of the Czech Republic’s Flying Bull team were breaking-away from their formation, when the lead plane registered OK-XRA/0071 flown by 66-year-old Radka Machova tipped over the aircraft of the left-wing man of the team Jiri Saller OK-XRC/0073, triggering a minor turbulence. The two pilots quickly recovered from the unwanted developments, altered their flight path and later safely landed on the runway and parked their aircraft. However, the right-side wing of the Jiri Saller had suffered extensive damage.

Breitling Wing walkers Show Stoppers

They ruled the skies and the crowds below watched in awe. They danced in the skies and the crowds below went ecstatic. Stealing the limelight at Aero India 2015 were the Breitling Wing-walkers. The beautiful Wingwalkers were atop the biplanes with a safety harness, performing all kinds of acrobatics, mesmerising the nearly two lakh spectators which descended on Air Force Station, Yelahanka for the Aero India Airshow.

The Breitling Wingwalkers are UK-based AeroSuperBatics who have been specialists in display flying for over 30 years and operate one of the best known and loved civilian air display acts in Europe. The wing-walking team has performed at over 2,500 different events successfully representing several large brand names in the form of very high profile sponsorship deals. The team of wing-walkers comprised Danielle Hughes (eighth season), Stella Guilding (sixth season), Freya Paterson (third season), Nikita Salmon (second season) and Lydia Beadle and Emily Guilding (both first season).