To advance the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (Make-in-India) initiative, the defence ministry recently announced the third positive indigenization list. However, the defence minister insisted that being self-sufficient did not entail working in isolation from the rest of the world but rather in the nation itself with their active participation and support. The three lists, which include 309 items altogether, have been released so far. These include towed artillery guns, short-range surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles, offshore patrol boats, next-generation corvettes, airborne early warning systems, tank engines, radars, rockets, naval utility helicopters, sensors, weapons and ammunition, anti-ship missiles, and anti-radiation missiles, among other things.
In a similar vein, to support indigenization even more, on April 6 a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to convert a civil airliner into a MMTT (Multi Mission Tanker Transport) aircraft in India. In September 2021, permission was granted for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to modify six Air India A-319 and A-321 variants into Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft that would serve as “eyes in the sky.”
Ecosystem of Fighter Aircraft Production
The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS is already in operation with two squadrons. The first flight of the more operationally capable 83 TEJAS MK-1A is scheduled for later this year, and deliveries will begin in 2024. The Medium Weight Fighter (MWF) TEJAS MK-2 design has been finalised, metal is being cut, the first flight is expected to take place at the end of 2023, and the aircraft should enter service in 2028, when MK-1A supplies will be finished. The fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is expected to roll out in 2024, make its first flight in 2025, and finish the critical design review in 2022. This year, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is anticipated to approve. The nation’s manufacturing environment is now completely in place thanks to these combat planes.
The Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) variants are also widely used by the three services and other organisations. There have been built about 340. A armed ALH named “Rudra” has been added. Both the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) are currently being introduced. Already in design is the Indian Multirole Helicopter (IMRH). India shouldn’t be forced to import helicopters.
The IAF is currently in the process of replacing its Avro 748 transport aircraft with 56 C-295MW aircraft under an approximately USD 3-billion purchase. The Coast Guard will need an additional six planes. 16 aircraft will be delivered in flyaway condition, and the remaining 12 will be constructed in India over the course of ten years by a Tata-led consortium. The HS-748 and Dornier 228 were previously produced domestically by India under licenced production. The indigenous Hindustan 228 Dornier version is being constructed for civil usage. The 14-seat “SARAS” aircraft has been constructed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) and the CSIR. The identical is being tested. The 19-seater SARAS MK-2 is currently under development.
The DRDO’s Airborne Early Warning and Control System is known as “Netra” (AEW&CS). The Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft serves as the platform for construction. Three are Indian Air Force pilots (IAF). Six Airbus A320-based AEW&C are to be reconditioned and modified in France in accordance with Indian Air Force/DRDO requirements after being purchased from Air India. The cost of all six aeroplanes will be just under Rs 1,100 crore because they will be delivered via book transfer. The indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar will be installed on these six Airbus aircraft. It might take this endeavour six to eight years. The enhanced Netra AEW&CS based on the Airbus C-295 has since been suggested by the DRDO to the IAF because it already supports a static radar dome configuration.
The DRDO’s previous intention to build an AWACS system aboard an Airbus A330 might be delayed. It’s interesting to note that Pakistan operates four Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C and four Shaanxi Y-8 ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle versions. The three EL/W-2090 Phalcon AEW&C integrated into a Beriev A-50 platform are flown by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The capacity to “Make in India” will be substantially enhanced by larger AEW&C produced in India. The IAF should have at least 10 AEW&C aircraft given the size and goals of India.
Six Ilyushin-78 Flight Refueling Aircraft (FRA) are now in the IAF’s inventory, and six more have been sought after since 2006. The first two attempts failed as a result of problems with life cycle costs and procedures. The competitors were the Boeing KC-46A, IL-78, and Airbus A-330 MRTT. The DRDO had already suggested turning an Airbus A-330 into a FRA domestically. The move by HAL to convert used civil (passenger) aircraft into FRAs with cargo and transport capabilities will now boost the environment for the manufacturing of defence goods by adding additional capabilities and affordable fixes. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between HAL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) covers support for multi-mission tanker transport (MMTT) conversions as well as passenger to freighter aircraft conversions. IAI has been adapting outdated airframes for the purpose. The Il-78 of the Indian Air Force is equipped with the probe and drogue system. Most US-designed aircraft use the Flying Boom, which enables the transfer of higher volumes of fuel in less time. Only flying booms are capable of refuelling the P-8I maritime patrol planes and C-17 large transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force.
Private sector: Up the tail
A few significant private industrial companies are now well-established in the production of aircraft for defence. The AH-64 Apache combat helicopter fuselage is produced by Tata Aerospace and Defence (Tata A&D). Additionally, they produce aerostructures for the CH-47 Chinook helicopters made by Boeing. Major aero-structure parts of every C-130J delivered to customers worldwide are made in India, which also produces 24 C-130 empennages annually. The S-92 helicopter’s cabin is manufactured by TATA Advanced System (TASL), a Lockheed Martin subsidiary with facilities in Hyderabad, for Sikorsky. In order to produce CFM International LEAP engine components in India, the TATA group is collaborating with GE. TASL was chosen by Lockheed Martin to manufacture F-16 wings in India. Defense electronics, substantial aeronautical components, cutting-edge technology components, and subsystems are all produced by numerous private enterprises. For Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters, Dynamatic Technologies manufactures vertical fin assemblies. Additionally, they are providing aerostructures to Airbus for the wide-body 330 and the A320 family of aircraft. VEM Technologies in Hyderabad produces the centre fuselage for the TEJAS. Defense manufacture is being undertaken by numerous MSMEs and startups in India. Numerous private companies, including start-ups, are now developing drones and counter-drones for the armed forces.
The Next Steps
Defense output in India would significantly increase as a result of the sense of purpose that Atmanirbharta is being pushed by. The indigenous component in LCA Tejas accounted for 75.5% of the aircraft’s total number and 59.7% of its total value in 2016, according to the defence ministry. By value, it is intended to achieve 70% in TEJAS MK-2 and to increase to 80% by 2030. There are significant steps to be taken in the construction of the AMCA, the mid-sized regional jet, large unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and medium helicopter.