There is compelling need to finalise the contract for the C295 with Tata-Airbus joint venture to provide the much needed impetus for the success of the ‘Make in India’ programme
The HS 748 Avro is a medium-lift, twin-turboprop transport aircraft designed by a British firm in the 1950s. The first aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) arrived in India in 1960 and thereafter it was produced under license by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL at their facility in Kanpur. HAL built a total of 89 aircraft, 72 for the IAF and 17 for Indian Airlines. The last aircraft was manufactured in 1988 and today around 32 aircraft remain in service with the IAF employed primarily for communication duties. The fleet is no longer fit for operational deployment.
Having completed four decades of service with the IAF, the Avro fleet was heading for obsolescence and quite understandably, it began to face serious maintenance problems owing primarily to lack of product support from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). In September 2010, HAL signed a joint venture agreement with United Aircraft Corporation of Russia to co-develop a twin-jet Multi-role Transport Aircraft as replacement for the An-32. Unfortunately, this project has been abandoned as it failed to meet with the requirements laid down by the IAF. This made the requirement of the Avro replacement even more urgent.
Meanwhile, the IAF was working on options for the procurement of a suitable platform to replace the Avro fleet. However, it was only in September 2011, that for the first time, the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, in his address at a seminar on “Energising the Indian Aerospace Industry”, stated that the task of manufacturing an aircraft to replace the Avro would be assigned to a private company in the Indian aerospace industry. The objective was two-fold, firstly, HAL was already over burdened with a number of other projects and would not be in a position to handle another major one and secondly, there was the need to provide opportunity to entrepreneurs in the private sector of the Indian aerospace industry. It took the Ministry of Defence (MoD) two years to obtain clearance from the Defence Acquisition Council and issue the Request for Proposal (RFP) for 56 aircraft, to a number of global aerospace majors which included Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the United States, European multinational Airbus Defence and Space, Alenia Aeronautica of Italy and Antonov of Ukraine, among others. The requirement was to manufacture the aircraft in India in collaboration with a selected Indian company in the private sector. From among the three contenders that responded to the global tender, in the process of evaluation, the Airbus C295 was selected against the C-27J Spartan manufactured by Alenia Aeronautica of Italy and the An-32 offered by Antonov of Ukraine.
In 2014, Airbus Defence and Space made public the selection of Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), the Indian partner, for manufacturing the aircraft at a facility to be set up by them in Hyderabad. Further activity to set up the manufacturing facility would commence only after the award of contract. As per the terms of the RFP, the first 16 aircraft would be supplied by the OEM in “fly away” condition from the parent company’s own final assembly line located in Spain and the remaining 40 aircraft would be manufactured in collaboration with TASL in Hyderabad. The arrangement will include undertaking structural assembly, final aircraft assembly, systems integration and testing, as well as management of the indigenous supply chain.
The saga of the effort so far to procure a replacement aircraft for the HS-748 Avro has been long and arduous. For the IAF, the experience has been somewhat frustrating to say the least. The pace at which a relatively simple case of procurement of urgently required military aircraft has progressed, has been painfully slow. Seven years have gone by since Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne for the first time, divulged plans of the IAF to involve a company in the private sector of the Indian aerospace industry in the project. Five years have passed since the RFP was issued. Rather sadly, the contract is yet to be awarded and one cannot predict with any certainty as to when this crucial step will be taken. Meanwhile the Avro fleet will be completing six decades of service life in two years from now. By then, the aircraft will without question, be totally obsolete. Yet the IAF will continue to fly this aircraft endangering lives of not only the operating aircrew; but also of the passenger s carried which includes not only junior personnel of the three services, but occasionally, VIPs as well.
The case for procurement of a replacement for the Avro has been afflicted by the malaise of a complex and lethargic process that regulates procurement of defence equipment. The process is saddled with inflexible bureaucratic controls leaving the service headquarters helpless and the field units to operate with platforms approaching the end of their total technical life or with their life extended.
There is compelling need to push the case and finalise the contract for the C295 with Tata-Airbus joint venture company to provide the much needed impetus for the success of the ‘Make in India’ programme.