|Published: February 2017|
The Aero India 2017 this time is a huge Invitation to global majors for Combat Aircraft and Systems.
It’s not that India has an appetite for defence equipment, but just that for the last 30 years, India’s modernisation programme has suffered due to political squabbling and occasionally vicious allegations, made mostly without any truth. The Army, Navy and Air Force, each of them has suffered, and there is a backlog that is difficult for any government to clear easily.
If one simply was to sit down and calculate the number of aircraft the Indian Air Force has at present, and their vintage or year of induction, the calculation for new aircraft requirements comes to the staggering figure of 400. Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd) and Air Marshal VK Jimmy Bhatia (Retd), the two distinguished top officers on the India Strategic team, say this is what the Indian Government should aim to provide, in as short a period as possible, ideally within five to seven years.
We had published this figure of 400 for the Indian Air Force and about 60 for the Indian Navy in our December edition.
In fact, when we asked the outgoing Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, about our assessment, he observed, “This is the correct figure.”
But this would not be easy for the Government, and at his farewell press conference end-December, he said the IAF would be happy with 200 to 250 combat jets, but of Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) capability. And naturally, they should be higher in onboard capabilities than those specified in the 2007 tender or RFP. Understandably so!
The Indian Navy also put out an RFI a couple of weeks back for 57 shipboard fighters.
There would certainly be substantial commonalities between the aircraft for the two Services, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea to translate these requirements into a defence industrial infrastructure is simply relevant to the economic and social development of the country. Appropriate is the correct word. Besides the manned combat jets, India also needs a number of unmanned systems for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (UAVs) as well as remotely controlled attack missions (UCAVs). Some of these systems would involve very high technologies, and maybe, the Government would have to intervene at the highest levels to acquire them. But they would be needed to reach where piloted missions are not desirable, plus to ensure that the attacks are precision with minimal collateral damage.
Notably, IAF already has a laid down procedure to avoid or minimise collateral damage as a matter of policy.
All these requirements lead to one conclusion: There is a huge opportunity in India for collaborations in the aerospace sector. The Aero India 2017 is an Invitation for those willing and able to deliver.
Gulshan Rai Luthra