Paris Air Show

India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By Gul­shan Luthra and Sh­weta Se­h­gal

PARIS. There was that great 1965 com­edy film about Those Mag­nif­i­cent Men in Their Fly­ing Ma­chines, set in 1910 with the win­ner reach­ing Paris from Lon­don in 25 hours and 11 min­utes. Vic­tory wasn't easy and com­peti­tors also at­tempted to sab­o­tage one another's beau­ti­ful ma­chines made of wood and can­vas.

The beauty, colours and fash­ions of Paris were as vi­brant those days as now, and the en­thu­si­asm of the French for tech­nol­ogy has stayed un­matched ever since. The dif­fer­ence is the tran­si­tion from the early days of avi­a­tion and pis­ton air­craft to jet set­ting, su­per­sonic travel, fighter air­craft, heli­copters and space probes and con­nec­tiv­ity. The charm of the city's famed fash­ion street Champs El­y­sees, Eif­fel Tower built in 1989 and the Paris Air Show, which be­gan in 1909, still at­tracts thou­sands from world­wide.

The show, of­fi­cially des­ig­nated Sa­lon In­ter­na­tional de l’aero­nau­tique et de l’espace in French, was a fes­ti­val of air­craft, their roar, the fan­tas­tic ma­noeu­vres of heli­copters, busy busi­ness­men and charm­ing women all around. It was in style, as any­thing Parisi­enne should be, and there was the new Pres­i­dent of France who flew in an Air­bus Mil­i­tary A400M air­craft.

There was global par­tic­i­pa­tion. There were air­craft and com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ers, sell­ers and mid­dle­men, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of gov­ern­ments, air­lines. Armed forces, com­pa­nies in­volved in sup­port ser­vices and any­thing re­motely con­nected with avi­a­tion and space.

Two air­craft com­pa­nies, Boe­ing, and then Air­bus, have dom­i­nated the Paris Air Show in the re­cent years. They did so again re­port­ing com­mit­ments for some 900 air­craft for around $150 bil­lion.

In fact ev­ery time, it is about which of th­ese two has pos­si­bly sold how many air­craft, and both the groups come up with “bet­ter” pro­jec­tions than the other's. By and large, they are evenly matched al­though fig­ures avail­able here in­di­cated a slight edge for Boe­ing in the over­all po­si­tion­ing of civil and mil­i­tary air­craft.

While Boe­ing and Air­bus ( spread across Europe) dom­i­nate the big jets mar­ket, an as­sort­ment of air­craft and heli­copters are made in many coun­tries from Rus­sia, Ja­pan, Brazil, Swe­den, Poland, In­dia and China to In­done­sia and so on. Some of th­ese were dis­played here.

A new en­trant this time was Saudi Ara­bia, which an­nounced its de­ci­sion to build Rus­sian-de­signed but US-pow­ered An-132 trans­port air­craft for civil and mil­i­tary use. The air­craft, un­der tests, was dis­played here and it was stated that its pro­duc­tion in the Gulf King­dom should start in 2020.

Saudi Ara­bia has for­mi­da­ble ex­pe­ri­ence in ser­vic­ing and main­tain­ing civil and mil­i­tary jets with tech­nol­ogy ac­quired un­der off­sets deals, and now, Taq­nia (a lo­cal com­pany) will build this new gen­er­a­tion Antonov se­ries of air­craft. It will be pow­ered by two Pratt & Whit­ney pro­pel­ler en­gines, Honey­well avion­ics, and Ukrainian fuel and hy­draulics sys­tems.

In­ci­den­tally, Antonov was a big air­craft man­u­fac­turer in the days of the Soviet Union, spread across some of its con­stituents par­tic­u­larly Ukraine. The In­dian Air Force (IAF) used the An-12, more than 100 of which were ac­quired in the 1960s. In fact this trans­port air­craft was used for bomb­ing heavy con­cen­tra­tions of Pak­istani troops who were at­tempt­ing to cut Kash­mir from the rest of In­dia dur­ing the 1971 Bangladesh Lib­er­a­tion War.

There was a lot of his­tory at the show venue, the old Le Bour­get air­port, where an avi­a­tion and space mu­seum is also lo­cated.

For In­dia, the Paris Air Show al­ways has had sig­nif­i­cance.

France was the first coun­try from the 1960s to give as­sis­tance to ini­ti­ate In­dia in its space pro­gramme and train In­dian engi­neers in as­tro­nau­tics. The first pas­sen­ger jet air­craft to fly in In­dia was Car­avelle for the erst­while In­dian Air­lines. Then, the IAF ac­quired from France fighter jets in­clud­ing Ouragon, Mys­tere, An­glo-French Deep Strike Pen­e­tra­tion Air­craft (DPSA) Jaguar, Mi­rage 2000 and fi­nally, the most mod­ern Rafale whose de­liv­ery is sched­uled from 2019.

The French also sold the car­rier­borne Al­ize tur­bo­prop for the In­dian Navy, and now are in dis­cus­sions to sell the Rafale for In­dia's first indige­nous air­craft car­rier Vikrant which is likely to be com­mis­sioned in 2020. The In­dian Navy is con­sid­er­ing ei­ther the Rafale or Boe­ing F/A-18 Ad­vanced Su­per Hor­net, both twin en­gine and both de­signed ab ini­tio for naval use. Swe­den though has also of­fered its sin­gle en­gine SeaGripen, which is un­der devel­op­ment.

IAF and In­dian Navy of­fi­cers were at the show but the Chief of Air Staff, who is gen­er­ally there, did not come as he had a bi­lat­eral visit due in July any­way to follow up the deal for 36 Rafales, agreed to at the high­est level dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi's visit in April 2015.

None­the­less, IAF was rep­re­sented by Air Mar­shal Harpal Singh, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral In­spec­tion and Flight Safety.

Then there was HAL as usual, whose en­thu­si­as­tic Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor (CMD) T Su­varna Raju is work­ing to turn the state-run com­pany into an in­te­gra­tor by in­volv­ing the pri­vate sec­tor and then ex­port­ing its air­craft. HAL plays a ma­jor role in In­dia's space pro­gramme also, and Mr Raju is keen to in­duct 3-D man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nolo­gies to de­sign and pro­duce com­po­nents for aero­space ap­pli­ca­tions.

There were ma­jor an­nounce­ments con­cern­ing In­dia dur­ing the show: French Rafale and Thales ty­ing up with Mr Anil Am­bani's Re­liance Aero­space to pro­duce the Rafale for In­dia if se­lected by ei­ther the In­dian Navy or IAF (for more air­craft), Lockheed Martin ty­ing up with the Tata group to make F-16 Block 70 in In­dia if se­lected by IAF for its sin­gle en­gine re­quire­ment, and Boe­ing stat­ing it was hope­ful of sell­ing more civil­ian jet­lin­ers like the 737 and 787 vari­ants to In­dia.

Boe­ing is in com­pe­ti­tion with Rafale to of­fer the Su­per Hor­net to the In­dian Navy, but as yet, the com­pany has not an­nounced any tie-up with any In­dian com­pany in this re­gard. The Tata group is how­ever col­lab­o­rat­ing with Boe­ing in pro­duc­ing floor beams for the 787 air­lines, and re­cently, it be­gan de­liv­ery of Tail Cones and Crowns of CH-47 Chi­nook Heli­copters un­der off­sets ar­range­ments for In­dia buy­ing th­ese fly­ing ma­chines.

Boe­ing was also con­fi­dent of sell­ing the lat­est 787-10 to Jet Air­ways, in­di­cat­ing there were talks in this re­gard. At present, Air In­dia has been a ma­jor cus­tomer of this beau­ti­ful new gen­er­a­tion ma­chine which is much qui­eter than other air­craft and is also more fuel ef­fi­cient than some oth­ers. The US Air Force dis­played its new­est ac­qui­si­tion, Lockheed Martin's F-35 Light­en­ing, and al­though In­dia has not ex­pressed any in­ter­est yet in this 5th gen­er­a­tion ma­chine, it was a star at­trac­tion at the show.

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