VIEWPOINT | AIRBUS C295
Finalisation of the long-pending deal for the C295 will bring much-needed relief not only for the IAF and the Indian aerospace industry, but also for the OEM
|The Author is Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command, IAF|
The saga of the effort by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to replace its ageing fleet of 50 HS-748 Avro twin-turboprop aircraft began nearly eight years ago when on July 24, 2012, a Request for Information (RFI) for 56 transport aircraft was issued. The HS-748 Avro fleet has been in service with the IAF since the early 1960s and is definitely overdue for replacement. As per the RFI, the selected original equipment manufacturer (OEM) was required to supply the first 16 aircraft in fly away condition and manufacture the remaining 40 in India in collaboration with an Indian aerospace company in the private sector selected by them. What is noteworthy is that in this deal valued at $2.4 billion, the public sector company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has been excluded. Thereafter, in May 2013, a global Request for Proposal (RFP) also referred to as Tender, was issued to which the only response received was from the European aerospace major Airbus Defence and Space with the offer of the EADS CASA C295, a twin-turboprop tactical military transport aircraft manufactured by the company at its facility in Spain. The Indian company to be a partner of the OEM in this project is Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL). The case has now been sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for final approval which hopefully will be received before the end of the current financial year.
TASL is a fully owned subsidiary of Tata Sons, that has been involved in the Indian aerospace and defence industry. TASL already has a joint-venture with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation to manufacture airframes of S-92 helicopters for civil and military markets. Another joint-venture that TASL has entered into is with the American aerospace and defence major Lockheed Martin to manufacture aero structures for the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and its upgraded variants as also manufacture wings for the F-16 fighter aircraft. TASL has also entered into an agreement to produce structures for the Pilatus PC- 12NG aircraft up to 2026. TASL has also joined hands with Boeing to set up Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited (TBAL), a joint venture company that will be the sole manufacturer of the airframes for the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that Boeing will market globally. Given the impressive and credible record of TASL, the decision by Airbus Defence and Space to select this Indian company to be its partner in the C295 project, appears to be the right one.
The C295 is a multi-role transport aircraft with payload capacity of 9.25 tonnes or 71 troops, With payload limited to six tonnes, the operating range of the aircraft can be extended to 2,000 nautical miles. As per the OEM, a total of 209 C295s have been ordered by 28 countries across the globe. This platform is much smaller in size as compared with the C-17 Globemaster III and the C-130J Super Hercules, both powered by four engines, that are in the inventory of the IAF.
In a critical review of the plan to manufacture just 40 aircraft within the country, it appears that the number is much too small in view of the heavy investment that would be required to create the necessary infrastructure. There could be some relief as the Indian Coast Guard plans to buy six maritime patrol variants of the C295. In addition, the Border Security Force plans to buy four, taking the total number for manufacturing in India to 50. However, there a huge market potential in the possibility of the IAF opting for the C295 to replace the fleet of 104 An-32 aircraft that were inducted beginning in 1985 and should be due for retirement from service in not too distant a future. As the payload capacity of the An-32 is only 7.5 tonnes, the C295 would be the right platform to replace this fleet more so because the C295 would be manufactured within the country.
Finalisation of the long-pending deal for the C295 will definitely bring much-needed relief not only for the IAF and the Indian aerospace industry, but also for the OEM.