Aero India 2003: Show Report Indian Showcase As global defence giants vie for Indian contracts, India’s burgeoning aerospace sector eyes global partnerships and announces a slew of new projects. Abhaey Singh reports on the largest and busiest Aero India to date.
Barely a week after showcasing the country’s military prowess at the annual 26th January Republic Day Parade, India threw open the doors to Asia’s largest and India’s fourth biennial international air show, on 5 February this year. The five-day Aero India 2003, held at Yelahanka AFS on the outskirts of Bangalore, coincided with the announcement of various new and the advancement of numerous existing civil and defence aerospace projects in India. It was also held against the backdrop of the Government of India’s recent decision to allow foreign direct investment of up to 26 per cent in the Indian defence industry. Joint Ventures
As such, corporate chalets were bristling with activity, as negotiations between a number of Indian and foreign defence companies focused on strategic partnerships and joint ventures. At the centre of many of these negotiations was Indian aerospace giant Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which, in addition to securing orders from Snecma, Rolls Royce and Irkut, floated a joint venture with Snecma to produce engines for civil aircraft. HAL and Snecma subsidiary Turbomeca had already joined hands to co-develop and initially produce several hundred ‘Shakti’ turboshaft engines for HAL’s ALH (Advanced Light Helicopter). An export version of the multi-role ALH, marketed by IAI and equipped with an advanced integrated avionics package from the Israeli company was unveiled at Aero India and used as a customer demonstrator during the show.
HAL also held negotiations with Russia’s Irkut Corporation and Il’yushin AKB to develop and produce the MTA (Medium Transport Aircraft), a multi-role aircraft designed to carry either 100 passengers or 20 tonnes of cargo. As with the MTA project, an intergovernmental agreement between India and Russia providing for the development of a fifth-generation fighter plane, with a number of technologies to be derived from the experimental Sukhoi Su-47 (formerly S-37 Berkut) and India’s forthcoming LCA (Light Combat Aircraft), was formalised prior to Aero India. State owned Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) also announced that it expected to set up an export-oriented joint venture company with Europe’s MBDA to develop and manufacture new precision guided munitions and missile systems, including anti-tank, air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. Indigenous Projects
A number of sanctioned and proposed new homegrown projects had also been announced during the run up to Aero India, some by the President of India, Professor Abdul Kalam himself. Kalam, the pioneer of a number of India’s most sophisticated defence and aerospace projects, had spearheaded India’s pursuit of self-reliance in defence, as well as her long-term aim of becoming a major exporter of defence hardware. He announced prior to the show that the design and development of India’s second fifth-generation fighter plane, the twin-engined, 16-tonne MCA (Medium Combat Aircraft), was well under way, and that progress was also being made in the development of technologies for AVATAR, a missile and satellite-launching hyperplane, as well as on an advanced attack version of the ALH.
Barely two weeks after the President’s announcement, a full-scale mock-up of the LCH (Light Combat Helicopter) was unveiled by Defence Minister George Fernandes at the HAL pavilion at Aero India. The IAF chief Air Chief Marshall S. Krishnaswamy has already committed funds for the development of the LCH, with the aim of having it operational within two years. Incorporating a number of stealth features and a pilot and co-pilot/gunner in tandem configuration, the 5.5 tonne LCH is to be a dedicated attack helicopter equipped with air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. HAL officials say that the time that it would take for the LCH to enter service will be dictated primarily by the development of the crashworthy structure and landing gear for the helicopter, as most other sub-systems have already been developed, or are nearing development.
According to HAL officials, the IAF has been assured that the LCH will be delivered to them by the next Aero India show in 2005. They also stated that the first locally built Sukhoi Su-30MKIs would be delivered to the IAF in 2004, a year ahead of the original production schedule, and that the maiden test flight of HAL’s HJT-36 intermediate jet trainer- later to be developed into an AJT- was imminent. To round off a remarkably swift initial phase of development, the twenty-minute first test flight took place on March 7th followed by the first official test flight two weeks later, barely three years after the project was approved on paper. The IAF has a requirement of over 200 HJT-36s, the first of which are to be inducted in 2005.
The rapid progress of the IJT project can be partially attributed to the sharing of processes and technologies developed for ADA’s (Aeronautical Development Agency) Light Combat Aircraft. As the prized LCA continues to make rapid strides towards production (see Aerospace International, December 2002), its naval variant, along with technologies that will be common to both the LCA and upcoming MCA such as supercruise, conformal tanks, an advanced phased array radar and thrust vectoring control are also under development.
Not to be left too far behind, India’s civil aviation sector also passed a significant milestone as Bangalore-based NAL (National Aerospace Laboratories) rolled out a prototype of India’s first indigenous civil passenger aircraft, SARAS, on the eve of Aero India. Expected to make its maiden flight within the first half of 2003, SARAS, a 14-seater, multi-role turboprop aircraft will be used primarily as an executive and regional passenger plane, and is to be followed by stretched, jet-engined versions of the same. Hard Sell
Parallel to her dogged pursuit of indigenisation, India is also set to become the largest importer of defence hardware in the world this year, and plans to spend $100 billion on new defence purchases in the next decade. But if India’s shopping list for modern equipment is extensive, it was easily matched by the number of national delegations bidding for their share of the spoils at Aero India. A French delegation led by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin arrived in Bangalore en route to New Delhi, pushing for the $8 billion sale of around 130 Mirage 2000-5 Mk 2 fighter jets to the Indian Air Force, as well as Scorpène (SKK) submarines for the Indian Navy. An aggressive rival bid for the sale of fighter jets was also launched by US giant Lockheed Martin, which, in addition to offering F16s, C130J transport aircraft and P3C Orion anti-submarine and maritime reconnaissance aircraft to India, has also invited her to join the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter programme.
Lockheed has also joined the now entertainingly protracted contest to sell India an Advanced Jet Trainer by offering the T-50 Golden Eagle, the only supersonic trainer and lead-in fighter in the AJT bid. Officials from the established bidders for the contract; BAE Systems, RAC MiG and Boeing/ AERO Vodochody also frequented the Indian defence ministry chalets, whilst their respective offerings, the Hawk ZJ 100, MiG-AT and L-159 B battled it out in static and aerial displays for a deal valued at $2 billion.
As in the defence sector, India’s civil aviation market is also undergoing a period of rapid growth. Boeing predicts that, as India’s international and domestic carriers continue to expand their operations to cater to this upward demand, it will require 290 new passenger jets costing over $20 billion in the next twenty years. But whilst Boeing hopes to capture at least half of this demand for new passenger jets, French Prime Minister Raffarin, on the second day of Aero India, announced that European giant Airbus had already clinched a deal for 43 new regional passenger jets from domestic carrier Indian Airlines. Airbus also announced that it expected Air India, India’s state-owned international carrier, to buy up to 30 A380 double-decker jumbo jets- being developed using the same Autolay software developed by ADA for India’s Light Combat Aircraft. Brazilian aerospace concern Embraer is also expected to be nearing the completion of sale of a number of regional and executive jets to India’s domestic market, as well as mid-sized AEW jets to the IAF. Aerobatics
If Aero India was about sales and marketing on the exhibition floor, it was equally about showmanship in the air. For up to four hours a day, visitors were treated to a variety of aerobatic displays that included crowd-pleasing flypasts by the LCA, formation flying by IAF Jaguars, Mirages and Dhruvs, as well as stupefying ‘Vertical Charlies’ performed by the IAF’s newly inducted Su-30MKI. To the casual observer, though, the Surya Kirans, India’s nine-plane aerobatic team, were the highlight of the show.
During a somewhat poignant opening ceremony, the Surya Kirans flew past thousands of spectators in a formation that resembled a bowed Shuttle Columbia in memory of the seven astronauts, including Indian-born Kalpna Chawla, who perished days prior to the air show.
A series of colourful flypasts and manoeuvres including Cupid’s Heart, crossovers and the ‘Sukhoi’ formation completed their five-day repertoire and with it, an air show that marked new milestones in the Indian civil and defence aerospace sectors. As HAL Chairman and incoming President of the Aeronautical Society of India N R Mohanty said, Aero India confirmed ‘that India could be at the threshold of becoming a major player in the international aviation scene’.
© Abhaey Singh, May 2003 'Indian Showcase'- Front Cover 'Indian Showcase'- Cover close-up Page 1 Page 2 Page 3