The Economic Times - - Disruption: Startups & Tech -

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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