ADVANTAGE AERO INDIA
WHAT NEW CAN ONE EXPECT FROM AERO INDIA THIS YEAR? READ ON TO FIND OUT
n air show is a window to a nation's aeronautical prowess. It is a declaration of and a time to show, its capabilities, its R&D activities, the direction in which its procurements are shaping up and nuanced messaging of the strength of its air power. It is also a place where acquisition announcements are made, deals concluded and seeds of collaborative ventures sown for technological and financial gains. In short, an air show is a five-day event of national pride being unabashedly demonstrated.
Aero India, started in 1996, has grown in size and participation. From modest beginnings, the 2007 and 2009 versions became very important in aeronautical circles worldwide due to the mother of all evaluations for the Indian Air Force's MMRCA requirement; these two saw participation by all major aircraft manufacturers. Sadly, once the winner was announced, the journey has been slightly downhill from the point of view of interest shown. However, post the initiation of the Make in India drive in 2014, interest has rejuvenated as Indian private players have started putting their money in setting up joint ventures and taking industrial licences. The announcement by the government to acquire 150-odd single engine fighter aircraft has also perked up the environment. What new can one expect from Aero India 2017?
HAL would be flying nothing new; there would be the mock-ups of the Light Utility Helicopter, Multi Role Helicopter and the HAL-BAe Advanced Hawk (this would be interesting). It would be the private players, especially the MSMEs, who would be looking to swinging contracts to execute offset obligations of foreign OEMs; just the Rafale Rs 58,000 crores deal has a 50% offset obligation built-in. Then, there is the C-295 for the Tata-Airbus combine, the KA 226 for the Rostov-HAL tieup and the 38 Pilatus PC-7s being bought under the option clause among the many IAF ongoing projects. MSMEs have entered the UAV field in a big way and would try and impress some buyers. Recent aviation seminars have showcased the latent but large numbers of qualified and motivated MSMEs wanting to break into the aviation market - they need hand holding from the Government, through liberal policies and expeditious clearing of proposals. More importantly, they need financial support, else many of them would wither or their skilled engineers poached by foreign OEMS, to the detriment of India's indigenisation dreams.
The foreign OEMs would be seeking an answer to whether the automatic FDI limit would be raised from the present 49%; they would also be wondering if there would be indications that decision-making speed of the Government would go up a notch in future — there needs to be a stop to the repeated requests to foreign companies to hold their price quotes for years on end.
However, there would be the overhang over Aero India of an insipid 2017 defence budget which has no effective increase in the capi- tal acquisition head. It is in seminars and deliberations held on the sides of the air show that manufacturers would be looking to be assuaged of the seriousness of the Government to modernise and indigenise defence procurements. These two requirements are oxymoronic; modernisation is the need of the hour because on it rests the capability of the Forces while indigenisation takes time for skills to be developed and manufacturing infrastructure to be set up.
And finally, just as indivisibility of a nation's airpower is a sine qua non for its effective usage, the R&D and manufacturing in military and civil aviation is a seamless entity. All airshows in the world have the defence and civil component together — the two are inextricably linked in every way whatsoever. However, India has a standalone civil aviation airshow in Hyderabad. Aero India 2017 is the perfect setting to make the intent clear by announcing the amalgamation.
(The author is a retired Air Vice Marshal and distinguished fellow at Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi)
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