Avro re­place­ment pro­gramme to be a two-horse race?

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Wait­ing in the wings for an ur­gent re­place­ment are the IAF’s vin­tage HS-748 Avro trans­ports, built un­der li­cence by HAL’s trans­port di­vi­sion. The re­place­ment of 56 air­craft is an am­bi­tious pro­cure­ment pro­gramme that hopes to see the cre­ation of man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity in the In­dian pri­vate sec­tor. At a cost of ` 12,000 crore, it so far ap­pears to be a Euro­pean two-horse race. In terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tions, pay­load ca­pac­ity and con­fig­u­ra­tion, the only two air­craft avail­able in the mar­ket now that fit the bill and meet the IAF’s re­quire­ments in terms of a new-build new gen­er­a­tion air­craft with mod­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture, are the Air­bus C-295 and the Ale­nia Aer­ma­c­chi C-27J Spar­tan, both high per­for­mance air­craft with proven track records and ex­port sales.

The Antonov and Ilyushin com­pa­nies, that func­tion un­der Rosoboronex­port, are un­der­stood to be in­ter­ested in pitch­ing their prod­ucts as well, though it is un­der­stood that the IAF is keen to keep this pro­gramme non-Rus­sian, since HAL al­ready has a part­ner­ship for the 20-tonne pay­load mult-irole trans­port air­craft (MTA) with the United Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion of Rus­sia. Swe­den’s Saab could also field the Saab 2000, though it re­mains to be seen if the re­quire­ment for 16 fly­away air­craft—as re­quired by the air force—can be ad­dressed with struc­turally re­fur­bished, rewired air­craft.

In a re­cent state­ment, Air­bus said, “Air­bus Mil­i­tary has been se­lected as pre­ferred bid­der with the A330 MRTT air­craft and is pro­mot­ing its very suc­cess­ful C295 trans­port air­craft in In­dia for fu­ture com­pe­ti­tions. Air­bus Mil­i­tary also is the man­u­fac­turer of the A400M mil­i­tary trans­port air­craft, a heavy air­lifter which on the long term could pro­vide ideal ca­pa­bil­i­ties for a coun­try like In­dia.”

Ale­nia Aer­ma­c­chi, in a state­ment, said, “The C-27J Spar­tan is the best seller in the new-gen­er­a­tion medium bat­tle­field air­lifter’s cat­e­gory. The C-27J is a twin-en­gine tur­bo­prop tac­ti­cal trans­port air­craft with state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy in avion­ics, propul­sion and sys­tems. It pro­vides high per­for­mances, high cost ef­fec­tive­ness, ex­treme op­er­at­ing flex­i­bil­ity and it is the only air­craft of its class of­fer­ing in­ter­op­er­abil­ity with heav­ier air­lifters. The C-27J has been de­signed, devel­oped and tested as a true mil­i­tary air­craft us­ing mil­i­tary stan­dards to pro­duce a ro­bust, safe and per­form­ing air­craft, and has ob­tained Mil­i­tary Qual­i­fi­ca­tion Cer­tifi­cate.”

Un­like the C-130J and C-17 ac­qui­si­tions, the Avro-re­place­ment pro­gramme en­vis­ages the lo­cal li­cence build of 40 air­craft by the pri­vate sec­tor in an ef­fort to build ca­pac­ity, since HAL has a mas­sive or­der book and fur­ther pro­grammes could crit­i­cally bur­den its on-sched­ule de­liv­ery ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The pro­gramme, in that sense, could be a tip­ping point for the In­dian pri­vate sec­tor.

Air­bus Mil­i­tary’s C-285

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