MBDA keen on in-depth part­ner­ship with In­dia

SP's MAI - - NATIONAL AGENDA - By Loïc Piede­vache, Coun­try Head, In­dia, MBDA

In­dia’s sta­tus as the sub­con­ti­nent’s largest land mass, com­bined with its strate­gic lo­ca­tion be­tween the ma­jor eco­nomic and mil­i­tary fo­cal points in the geopo­lit­i­cal di­vide be­tween present and rapidly emerg­ing great pow­ers, has given rise to the coun­try’s key role in de­vel­op­ing global af­fairs. Al­though its econ­omy faced a slow­down in the last cou­ple of years, In­dia’s growth since the turn of the century has been un­prece­dented and has con­trib­uted to­wards In­dia be­com­ing one of the world’s ma­jor mil­i­tary spenders, a fact con­comi­tant with its leading sta­tus on the global stage. As for any na­tion, and per­haps more so for In­dia given cur­rent is­sues in the re­gion, ef­fi­cient de­fence spend­ing is crit­i­cal to en­sure that its armed forces are suit­ably equipped. In­dia, as ma­jor player in the world of na­tions, needs to en­sure that it more than keeps pace with mil­i­tary de­fence tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ments in its zones of in­ter­est, es­pe­cially in the South Asia re­gion. It is no se­cret that el­e­ments of In­dia’s de­fence re­sources are in need of a ma­jor over­haul, though pro­grammes such as the Mi­rage and Jaguar bomber air­craft up­grades and the much dis­cussed medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA) re­place­ment for the age­ing In­dian Air Force (IAF) fleet of MiG-21s are signs that sig­nif­i­cant progress is be­ing made. In­deed the de­ci­sion to or­der 126 Rafale com­bat air­craft will pro­vide the IAF with a ca­pa­bil­ity, hope­fully sooner rather than later, which will po­si­tion the IAF among the leading air forces of the world.

The Rafale is a world leading air­craft but of course it is only as ef­fec­tive as the weapons it is ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing. For­tu­nately, the air­craft is linked with MBDA’s suite of short, medium, be­yond vis­ual range and pre­ci­sion air-to-ground guided weapons that will al­low it to ful­fill the full range of roles cov­er­ing in­ter­dic­tion, air su­pe­ri­or­ity and strike. A mod­ern mantra re­gard­ing weapon sys­tems is that they must be se­lec­tive, pro­por­tion­ate and of course, highly ac­cu­rate. These are all fea­tures of MBDA weapon sys­tems such as those as­so­ci­ated with the Rafale in­clud­ing MICA (al­ready or­dered for the IAF’s Mi­rage up­grade) which is the only mis­sile in the world fea­tur­ing two in­ter­op­er­a­ble seek­ers (ac­tive radar and imag­ing in­frared) to cover the spec­trum from close-in dog­fight to long be­yond vis­ual range, Me­teor which with its un­matched No Es­cape Zone is the most ad­vanced of all BVRAAM weapons cur­rent or planned and of course Storm Shadow /SCALP which has proven its long-range high pre­ci­sion un­der ex­treme com­bat con­di­tions in two the­atres of war. With MBDA’s ASRAAM short to ap­proach­ing BVR mis­sile down selected for the IAF’s Jaguar up­grade, In­dia has the po­ten­tial of be­ing equipped with the most ca­pa­ble air-launched mis­siles avail­able.

Of course, this po­ten­tial ca­pa­bil­ity only re­mains hy­po­thet­i­cal (while the threat re­mains a real one) un­til fi­nal de­ci­sions have been made and con­tracts have been signed. In ad­di­tion, and in terms of fully pro­tect­ing In­dia’s airspace, air su­pe­ri­or­ity will never pro­vide a to­tal guar­an­tee against the di­verse range of mod­ern air­borne threats that In­dia and other coun­tries need to pre­pare for. In this re­spect, the duty of care to­wards de­ployed forces, mil­i­tary and civil­ian cen­tres and the ef­fec­tive­ness of mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions are al­ways go­ing to be at risk with­out com­pre­hen­sive Ground Based Air De­fence (GBAD). What is needed is an ef­fec­tive method of track­ing, eval­u­at­ing, iden­ti­fy­ing and ul­ti­mately re­spond­ing to the threat with the ap­pro­pri­ate air de­fence weapon or weapons. It also needs to be re­alised that ef­fec­tive GBAD is not pos­si­ble with a sin­gle sys­tem. It will only be achieved through the cor­rect con­fig­u­ra­tion of a range of mis­sile sys­tems, that are se­lec­tive, pro­por­tion­ate and pro­vide a lay­ered mix of ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The medium range Akash is in ser­vice and the In­dian AAD (Ad­vanced Air De­fence) pro­gramme should lead in due course to a long-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile in­ter­cep­tor. How­ever, to pro­vide the afore­men­tioned lay­ered de­fence it is im­por­tant that In­dia ad­vances the short range and very short range el­e­ments of the over­all net­work. That is why it is im­por­tant that the much talked about SRSAM (MAITRI) pro­gramme gets a go ahead as well as the VSHORAD re­quire­ment which has been the sub­ject of in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion.

SRSAM has seen MBDA sup­port­ing the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) with its far-reach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in GBAD tech­nol­ogy of­fer­ing ex­tremely ad­vanced lev­els of tech­nol­ogy trans­fer. The im­por­tance of this sys­tem, that would be fully pro­duced in In­dia, lies not only in its abil­ity to pro­vide an im­por­tant indige­nous ca­pa­bil­ity re­gard­ing In­dia’s lay­ered de­fence re­quire­ments, it will also ad­vance the tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity of In­dian in­dus­try in a prod­uct that also has sig­nif­i­cant ex­port po­ten­tial. Re­gard­ing VSHORAD, this is also im­por­tant re­gard­ing both ca­pa­bil­ity and in­dus­trial is­sues. MBDA’s all-weather fire-and-for­get Mis­tral MANPADS that is be­ing of­fered, not only best meets the cri­te­ria laid out in the RFP but from the in­dus­trial side it also of­fers In­dia trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy in a pos­si­ble in-coun­try man­u­fac­ture un­der li­cence agree­ment.

MBDA of course ac­cepts that if it is to de­velop its in-depth part­ner­ship with In­dia’s de­fence sec­tor, at govern­ment, end-user and in­dus­trial lev­els, it has to ac­cept lo­cal de­ci­sion mak­ing pro­ce­dures which can at times be drawn out. Re­cent changes to the di­rect off­set pol­icy have cer­tainly helped non-In­dian OEMs like MBDA to ad­vance projects. A change in for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI), start­ing from 49 per cent or above, would also be a great boon to fu­ture in­vest­ment plans. These will in turn serve to en­sure that In­dia gets ac­cess to the very best avail­able air de­fence tech­nol­ogy to se­cure its airspace, sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory and the level of indige­nous tech­nol­ogy ca­pa­bil­ity that a coun­try of In­dia’s stature mer­its.

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