The way we were (are) !
The way we were (are)!
In retrospect of the recently concluded Aero India 2017 Show, the Vayu Editorial Team takes readers through this biennial event, preceded by the International Seminar (on Aerospace Technology) organised by the DRDO at Bangalore. Clearly, there was a redux of the M-MRCA contest, with three of the original six contenders present. However, ‘ HAL was King’ at the Show, with new aircraft programmes announced (the IMRH) and displayed (the HTT-40).
The 11th edition of India’s biennial Air Show, traditionally preceded by the International Technology Seminar, with the theme this time of ‘Aerospace Technology Collaboration and Self Reliance’ took place at Bangalore, India’s aerospace capital, in mid-February 2017. Organised by the DRDO, the former attracted scores of excellent papers ( see separately), some of which were presented live by the authors at parallel sessions at the Royal Orchid Convention Centre, not very far from the Air Force Station Yelahanka, which was hosting the industrial exhibition, static and flying displays.
As for the latter, clearly, some form of exhaustion has crept in, both in terms of organisation and participation. There were fewer exhibitors around and not all international companies which returned to this edition of Aero India, were actually exhibiting, with many of their senior executives choosing instead to ‘walk the halls’, meet with important ( Indian) personalities, political, bureaucratic and military, so as to achieve their objectives without spending an arm and a leg ! Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had the Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar in tow throughout which led to much talk about as to where he was headed : in fact Parrikar continuously alluded to the forthcoming elections in his native state and the speculations about his return there as Chief Minister abounded. ( Ed : Manohar Parrikar resigned as Defence Minister on 12 March and headed back to Panaji to be sworn in as Chief Minister of Goa, with Arun Jaitley announced as Interim Defence Minister the next day). Back to Aero India 2017 : there were many leaders of industry who were at Yelahanka with drums beating and flags flying. Amongst these certainly were the Israelis and Swedes, while there was a welcome return by the British industry. In fact the BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainer was much in evidence both in the air and on the ground. Whilst HAL-built Hawk Mk.132s of the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) performed over Yelahanka every day, HAL’s recently rolled out Hawk-i, the 100th such aircraft produced at Bangalore, was also shown off in its new blue-white liverey. Cynosure of all eyes, however, was the ‘Advanced Hawk’, transported from the UK and strategically displayed at the entrance to Hall E, which housed the huge HAL exhibition ( see separate item). This ‘ prototype’ Advanced Hawk with its new ‘combat wing’ was smartly painted in British and Indian colours and is the subject of discussions between the two companies to meet the Indian Air Forces’ projected need for potent light attack aircraft.
The Inaugural itself
The inaugural took place at sharp 0900 hours on 14 February, off the main taxi track of Air Force Station Yelahanka when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar arrived to be greeted by Organisers of this Edition of Aero India. Accompanying him was Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, whose presence could well signal a return to Indian aviation “synergy”, this being repeatedly stressed by both the Cabinet ministers. There will be much cheer amongst the industry,
if indeed there is ONE airshow in India with the purportedly ‘civil-oriented’ India Aviation Show in Hyderabad attracting fewer and fewer participants ; another sign of ‘exhaustion’ mentioned earlier! However, alert Vayu readers will recollect that during Aero India 2013, then Defence Minister AK Anthony had shared his vision for the future of aviation in India with the then Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, who “appeared to agree to move ahead jointly for such expositions.” This has still not happened !
Now, in his inaugural address, Mr Parrikar stated that the government was committed to creating an enabling environment for a domestic ecosystem in defence production. “The defence public sector undertakings are being revitalised and encouraged. Government has also taken several initiatives for ease of doing business for private firms and additional initiatives are underway to support the role of private sector in defence manufacturing.” This was echoed by the Civil Aviation Minister in his speech, who added that “India’s airspace is well defended by the armed forces, which has enabled civil aviation to grow and connect an increasing number of destinations in India”. With reference to and in support of the Regional Air Connectivity (RCS) scheme, Parrikar later said that HAL has been cleared to build ten civilian Dornier 228s, which “sturdy aircraft” will be suitable for such applications. Parrikar also predicted a “boom” in the aviation sector, taking into account both civilian and military needs.
However, almost all the aircraft at Aero India 2017, on static or flying display were unabashedly military types and many felt that the Civil Aviation Minister’s presence could well have been complemented by at least some civil airliners at the Show. In fact, considering Air India’s growing fleet of A320neos, one such aircraft could have been ‘spared’ to adorn the apron at AFS Yelahanka and perhaps even an Air India B-787 Dreamliner doing a flyby after the inaugural would have stressed the point !
The speeches over, the invitees were then treated to the customary flying displays, traditionally starting with a trio of Mi-17 helicopters trailing national flags, followed by a most unusual mixed formation of five HAL-built aircraft, which comprised the Tejas LCA, Dornier 228, HTT-40, Hawk-i, and Su- 30MKI (‘ Might Formation’). Individual flying displays were then carried out by single examples of the Tejas, Gripen, Rafale, Falcon and Su-30MKI, followed by Hawks of the IAF’s Surya Kiran Formation Aerobatic Team (SKAT) and the traditional finale by four HAL Dhruv helicopters of the Sarang team.
M-MRCA Contest Redux
There was a whiff of déjà vu at Aero India 2017 with three of the original six M-MRCA contenders back on the flight line and in the air above Yelahanka. During the run- up to a decision for selecting the Indian Air Force’s future fighter, euphemistically referred to as the MediumMulti Role Combat Aircraft, which had kicked off in 2004 and ended in 2012 when the Dassault Rafale was selected, six of the contending aircraft types had participated in every successive Aero India show, encompassing a decade or so of time. With the Rafale declared the IAF’s M-MRCA of choice, the other five types were now seen as ‘also ran’ and so, just the Rafale came to Yelahanka in 2013. Still, perhaps in a spirit of ‘never-say-die’, Lockheed Martin still brought in a pair of F-16s ‘borrowed’ from the USAF in Japan. The other four aircraft types (F-18, Typhoon, Gripen and MiG-35) were understandably absent. And this remained the pattern again two years later at Aero India 2015; even though three years had elapsed since the Rafale selection had been announced, in February 2015 the contract had yet to be signed. Flying their flag with sangfroid, Rafale International, the consortium of Dassault, Thales and Snecma showcased three Rafales at Aero India 2015, a single-seat Rafale C and two twin-seat Rafale Bs.
Then at his Press Conference during Aero India 2015, a visibly anxious Air Chief voiced his concerns about the state of the IAF’s combat fleet, worries on obsolescence and phase-out of legacy fighter types, in context of delays in the acquisition of newer platforms. He was candid in his assessment of the M-MRCA, LCA and FGFA programmes, and clearly stated that the M-MRCA, as a requirement “is essential to the IAF”, but was not necessarily any specific aircraft type, alluding to the delayed finalisation of the Rafale contract. He later admitted that the Air Force had no alternate plan to meet the M-MRCA requirement, should negotiations continue to remain deadlocked. On the suggestion that more Su-30MKIs could be inducted to ‘fill the gap,’ then Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha stressed that the two types “complement rather than replace” each other.
Obviously, the Air Force’s anxiety was acutely felt by the Prime Minister when, two months later, at the very start of his state visit to France in April 2015, Narendra Modi announced that he had requested the French government to make available 36 Dassault Rafales to meet the urgent requirements of the Indian Air Force, thus sweeping aside the bureaucratic impasses which continued to dog finalisation of the M- MRCA programme. However, it still took another eighteen months for the formal agreement to be signed, this finally taking place on 23
September 2016. The agreement, valued at approximately €7.8 billion (Rs 60,000 crore) comprises 36 aircraft (28 single-seat and 8 twin-seat), weapons, spares, maintenance and support, as well as a number of IAF-specific customisations. Deliveries would commence 36 months after the contract coming into force, with all 36 aircraft to be delivered within a period of another 36 months.
These drastically reduced numbers (from 126 to 36) obviously gave heart to the other losing contenders. The US government quickly expressed their full support to marketing efforts by Lockheed Martin and Boeing to, respectively, sell their F-16 Block 70 and F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets to the Indian Air Force, the former offering to shift its entire F-16 fighter production line from Fort Worth in Texas to India. The resilient Swedes too renewed their offer to make the Saab Gripen E in India. Further, the Swedes also suggested partnership in the design and development of India’s next-gen fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) as a follow-on to the LCA developed by ADA, something that would be logical and ensure that ADA’s three decade efforts on design & development of the LCA were not lost in the sands of time much like the HF-24 programme was.
Thus, the decks were cleared for a redux (albeit more focused) of the M-MRCA contest at Aero India 2017. Mr Parrikar had for some time been re-iterating the Government’s desire to select a new ‘ single- engine fighter’ for which there would be “a new production line for single-engine fighters” in India and that this would be parallel to existing HAL Tejas LCA production facilities. However, such a move awaited identification of a “strategic partner” referred to in the Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP) 2016. As the Minister has said, “…during the current year the decision should be tentatively over…maybe a few of them will come in ready-made status (as ‘flyaways’) but the rest will be made in India.”
While the Indian strategic partner for the single engine fighter would need be identified through the Aatre Committee model, selection of the western partner would depend on the Transfer of Technology (ToT) offered and the financial proposal of the OEM. “Competitive process will be followed,” stated the Defence Minister, although the deal would be finalised under a Government- to- Government ( G2G) process.
Two Lockheed Martin F-16s were also on the flight line and were vigorously flight demonstrated at Aero India 2017 while in Hall E, the Company had an impressive display of various aircraft and systems in model form. The USAF also deployed a C-130 Super Hercules to Yelahanka and this was augmented by Boeing’s C- 17 Globemaster III and a P-8A Poseidon from the US Navy.
Now to Defence Minister Parrikar’s press conference at Aero India 2017, on 14 February when he answered specific queries. He again referred to the need for a new single-engine fighter for the Indian Air Force, the process being at an “advanced stage” with the decision to be announced “in the third quarter of the current calendar year.” Reacting to questions on dichotomy between the ‘America First’ rhetoric of newlyinaugurated US President Donald Trump, and Indian PM Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, the Defence Minister stated that any foreign OEM seeking to provide their platforms to Indian operators would have to secure all approvals from their respective governments. “I want it to be made in India,” stressed Parrikar, while any export opportunities “would be a bonus.”
On the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter programme, the Defence Minister was somewhat evasive, stating that there are “several questions yet to be answered” before the next steps are taken. These include the Indian workshare and possible export markets.
HAL is King
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited clearly dominated this Show, with perhaps the largest indoor exhibition in Hall E, a dedicated open air area where key announcements were made, including launch of the book ‘Harlow to Hawk’, authored by Pushpindar Singh of Vayu encapsulating the history of HAL’s Aircraft Division at Bangalore from the very first aircraft type built there (Harlow PC-5A) in the early 1940s till the present, when HAL have completed manufacture of several tranches of the BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainer.
HAL- designed and built aircraft dominated the Show, with several fixed wing and rotary types parked in the static display area. In the air, Tejas LCAs carried out regular aerobatic displays as also ‘customer flights’, the most notable being that by Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff, who flew a LCA trainer on the afternoon of 14 February along with Air Vice Marshal AP Singh, Principal Director of the National Flight Test Centre ( NFTC), and experienced the LCA’s manoeuvrability and advanced avionics. The sortie included general handling, air- to- air and ground attack profiles. Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa was reportedly “impressed by its capability” and expressed his faith in the programme. The Tejas has achieved Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and has been inducted into the Indian Air Force with No. 45 Squadron, which is still based at HAL’s Bangalore airport.
There were many others who were flown in the Tejas trainer including the well known TV personality Vishnu Som, who took this picture of the other Tejas trainer in formation.
During his Press Conference on 15 February, HAL CMD T Suvarna Raju confirmed that design work has commenced on the Tejas LCA Mk.1A, and following selection of the radar and sensors, trials are planned to commence in 2018, with production to begin the following year. 83 LCA Mk.1As have been cleared for procurement by the Defence Acquisition council (DAC).
In clearing the procurement of 83 LCA Mk.1As at the Defrence Acquisition Council meeting chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in November 2016, this
programme was formally announced, and is confirmed by the formal global tender issued by HAL’s Aircraft Research & design Centre, (ARDC) in December for the supply of key sensors and systems. This comprises an AESA radar and EW Suite that can be integrated with other onboard avionics of LCA which includes a Digital RWR and podded jammer, Combined Interrogator and Transponder (CIT), short range air to air missiles and BVR missiles. Companies listed for the AESA radar include Elta, Saab, Raytheon, Thales and Rosboronexport.
HAL’s World of Helicopters
At his Press Conference on 14 February, Manohar Parrikar talked about the requirement for “a thousand” helicopters for the Indian military, and in this context stated that the indigenous HAL Light Combat Helicopter programme “is proceeding well,” with an initial order for 15 aircraft having been recently cleared. The LCH, which has been christened ‘Dhanush’, has proven itself well in extreme conditions such as the high operating altitudes at the Siachen Glacier.
However, it was the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter ( IMRH) which dominated HAL’s Show, albeit in a full scale mockup form. The Defence Minister officially unveiled this on 14 February, in the presence of HAL CMD T Suvarna Raju and many of his senior board members.
HAL aims to indigenously develop such a 12-tonne-class multirole helicopter to serve with all three branches of the military. With a service ceiling of around 6,500 m, sea level payload capacity of 3,500 kg, and a seating capacity of 24 troops or 8 VVIPs, “the helicopter is being uniquely tailored to the needs of Indian military operators.” Primary roles will be tactical troop transport, casualty evacuation, underslung load carrying, combat search and rescue, anti- surface operations, offshore operations, and VIP/VVIP transport. The Army/IAF variant will have a significant hovering and payload capability, especially at high altitude, while the Naval variant will trade approximately one tonne of maximum take-off-weight for additional sensors and maritime modifications, as well as having torpedo and anti-ship missile capability.
The IMRH is proposed to be powered by two 3,000 shp class turboshaft engines (yet to be selected), and will be equipped with an automatic flight control system, state-ofthe-art mission systems, advanced cockpit display and avionic systems and so on.
Besides domestic orders, HAL is targeting export markets for the IMRH. Despite not working toward any set QRs, the DPSU is open to working with any of the three Services, or all of them ! HAL has also signaled a willingness to collaborate with technology partners on key areas.
HAL’s Su-30MKI and other programmes
“HAL will be the lead agency for the Sukhoi Su-30MKI upgrade programme, involving back- to- back contracts with Russian partners,” stated HAL CMD T Suvarna Raju at his press conference on 15 February 2017. The programme will be carried out in two phases, the first to be finalised “within 90 days”. The Chairman also gave detailed statistics on aircraft production, with 183 Su-30MKIs produced as of January 2017, and the balance to be manufactured by 2020 at the rate of 12 aircraft per year, with all 222 such fighters delivered to the IAF by 2019-2020.
The CMD should be particularly pleased with the steady progress of the HAL HTT-40 basic turboprop trainer, the first prototype flying over Yelahanka during the inaugural and the second prototype on static display through the Show. Looking beyond the first tranche of HTT-40s to be ordered by the IAF, the CMD was confident that the orders would reach 106 aircraft.
Being candid on the vexed intermediate jet trainer (IJT) programme, Mr Suvarna Raju felt that this would “get out of the grave” this year but the Indo- Russian multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) programme “is not progressing.”
Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation had their delegation at Aero India 2017 headed by Yury Slyusar, President Chairman of the Executive Board who also talked about the twin-engine MC-21 will be delivered in three basic versions, with passenger capacity ranging from 150 to 180 seats. The aircraft is being produced with extensive use of composite materials and alloys of aluminum and titanium, making it considerably lighter than its predecessors. “We will use Pratt & Whitney’s engines which are fuel efficient”.
Significantly, there were no Russian aircraft on display this time around although there are a score or more Antonov An-32s based at Yelahanka for multi-engine conversion training, alongside a handful of HAL/ Avro 748s ( see separate article).
Saab, Saab, Saab
At Saab’s massive exhibition area in Hall C, the Company announced that it had offered a fighter sensor package for India’s Tejas LCA Mk.1A fighter aircraft. The package consists of a state-of-the-art Saab Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fighter radar closely integrated with a compact Electronic Warfare ( EW) suite using Gallium Nitride based-AESA technology. Saab, in partnership with Indian industry, will offer a solution that will bring the required radar and EW capability to India and the Indian Air Force. Following extensive technology development Saab is offering “this latest technology for the LCA Mk.1A on time, and with low risk”.
Saab was clearly at full throttle with its extensive range of its products and systems on display at Aero India 2017. Pride of place was obviously the Gripen E and its weapon systems, a full scale mockup parked just outside the entrance to Hall C. Within the Hall, also on display was a model of the Gripen M the naval variant of the Gripen E. Other products were Electronic Warfare & Early Warning Systems, Next-Generation Radar Systems, Saab’s Integrated Avionics Demonstrator, Ground Combat Indoor Trainer, Signature Management Systems, the mobile camouflage system, Air Defence Systems including the RBS 70 NG VSHORAD and BAMSE SRSAM, as also the well known but new generation Carl Gustaf M4, man-portable multi-role weapon system and the RBS 15 Mk.3 naval surface to surface missile.
Saab brought three Gripens to Aero India 2017, a single- seat C and two twin- seat Ds which not only carried out scintillating aerobatic displays over Yelahanka but flew several Air Force, Navy and ADA pilots to give a feel of the type’s superb handling qualities. A number of select media were also given the privilege of sorties in the Gripen, including Vayu’s Angad Singh ( see separate article).
Rafales at Yelahanka
Taking nothing for granted, three Dassault Rafales were at Aero India 2017, and were flown with customary excellence, their pilots obviously now ‘familiar’ with the Yelahanka environs. There were several ‘customer’ flights as well, with a relatively large number of these devoted to naval aviators which is understandable considering the Indian Navy’s recent RFI for 57 carrier borne fighters. The Rafale M is a strong contender to meet this requirement even as the design of IAC-2 approaches finalisation.
The Dassault delegation included the legendary M.Serge Dassault himself and many of his senior colleagues. In fact, Vayu was privileged to sit next to them during the inaugural ceremony on 14 February. According to a spokesman, Mr Serge Dassault has attended every Aero India Show since its inception. As stated by Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, Eric Trappier, “Dassault Aviation has contributed to India’s defence preparedness for more than 60 years”.
“Demonstrating Rafale’s capabilities in Aero India reaffirms our total commitment to India’s sovereignty. We have had a long standing relationship with the Indian Air Force and industry and, thanks to the unmatched capabilities of the Rafale and to our full involvement in the innovative approach of the ‘Make in India’ Initiative,
we are entirely dedicated to partner India in meeting its strategic defence and economic needs.”
According to a clearance application filed before Competition Commission of India (CCI), the Dassault Aviation-Reliance Group joint venture that was announced in October 2016 to execute significant offsets for the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal, plans to manufacture and supply military combat aircraft on a “worldwide basis”. The application also revealed that Reliance Aero, which was incorporated in April 2015 by the Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Group, will hold 51 per cent of the JV, with Dassault holding the remainder.
Shalom, Shalom !
Israel’s industry has always participated in a big way at Aero India Shows and 2017 was no exception. Clustered in Hall A were Israeli companies under the broad umbrella of SIBAT, which is the International Defence Cooperation Directorate within Israel’s Ministry of Defence, and organisers of the Israel National Pavilion at Aero India 2017, where a wide variety of advanced, locally- developed defence technologies are being presented. Eleven companies exhibited their cutting-edge solutions in the fields of cyber, avionics, EW, unmanned systems, missiles – and much more.
According to SIBAT’s Director, Brig Gen ( Ret) Mishel Ben Baruch, “In recent years, we have witnessed the strengthening of the cooperation between India and Israel in many fields, the most prominent being defence technology. Israeli companies are increasingly utilising the unique manufacturing and development capabilities that exit in India, establishing local entities, and collaborating with local companies, in order to comply with ‘Make in India’ requirements. “Interest in Cyber defence, in particular, is on the rise in India and the region as a whole. Israeli companies have developed innovative solutions in this field and are already exporting them to countries in the region. SIBAT are working to connect the needs of the countries in the region, cyber or otherwise, with Israeli technologies, for mutual benefit”.
Amongst the biggest displays at the Israeli pavilion was that of IAI, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. “We look at India as one of the most dominant markets for IAI,” Eli Elfassi, VP Marketing of IAI told Vayu. “A significant per cent of our export is attributed to our Indian operations and,
our goal is to continue and establish this dominant position in the future, despite the growing competition. The excellent reputation won by IAI and the gains by its Indian customers are instrumental for continued success”.
At Aero India 2017, IAI and Kalyani Strategic Systems Ltd signed a MoU to incorporate a JVC in India while another MoU was signed between IAI and Taneja Aerospace & Aviation. Continuing their charge, IAI and Dynamatic Technologies announced corporation to jointly address needs of the Indian UAV market.
There were other Israeli ‘majors’ at Aero India 2017, including Rafael, Controp, Elbit System, and IAI Elta. Their showing, as also that of US including, Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics will be covered in Vayu’s next Issue, preceding the Paris Air Show 2017, which Vayu will cover in its usual comprehensive manner. The Show(s) go on!
Pair of Saab Gripen Ds landing at Yelahanka (photo : Angad Singh)
Rafale B at Aero India 2017 (photo : Angad Singh)
IMRH mock up
HAL light combat helicopters (LCH) at Aero India 2017 (photo: Angad Singh)
HAL’s IMRH full-scale mock up
(photo: Vishnu Som)
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa and Air Vice Marshal
aircraft are the pair of Lockheed Martin F-16s of the USAF
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar escorted to the dias by Air Chief Marshal BS
Dornier Do-228 and Hawk-i (photo : Angad Singh)
HAL’s Hawk-i comes into land at Yelahanka (photo : Angad Singh) Hawk Mk.132s of the Surya Kiran team performing at Aero India 2017 (photo : Angad Singh)