Con­clude Tata-Air­bus JV, Now

There is com­pelling need to fi­nalise the con­tract for the C295 with Tata-Air­bus joint ven­ture to pro­vide the much needed im­pe­tus for the suc­cess of the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme


The HS 748 Avro is a medium-lift, twin-tur­bo­prop trans­port air­craft de­signed by a Bri­tish firm in the 1950s. The first air­craft for the In­dian Air Force (IAF) ar­rived in In­dia in 1960 and there­after it was pro­duced un­der li­cense by the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL at their fa­cil­ity in Kan­pur. HAL built a to­tal of 89 air­craft, 72 for the IAF and 17 for In­dian Air­lines. The last air­craft was man­u­fac­tured in 1988 and to­day around 32 air­craft re­main in ser­vice with the IAF em­ployed pri­mar­ily for com­mu­ni­ca­tion du­ties. The fleet is no longer fit for op­er­a­tional de­ploy­ment.

Hav­ing com­pleted four decades of ser­vice with the IAF, the Avro fleet was head­ing for ob­so­les­cence and quite un­der­stand­ably, it be­gan to face se­ri­ous main­te­nance prob­lems ow­ing pri­mar­ily to lack of prod­uct sup­port from the orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer (OEM). In Septem­ber 2010, HAL signed a joint ven­ture agree­ment with United Air­craft Cor­po­ra­tion of Rus­sia to co-de­velop a twin-jet Multi-role Trans­port Air­craft as re­place­ment for the An-32. Un­for­tu­nately, this project has been aban­doned as it failed to meet with the re­quire­ments laid down by the IAF. This made the re­quire­ment of the Avro re­place­ment even more ur­gent.

Mean­while, the IAF was work­ing on op­tions for the pro­cure­ment of a suit­able plat­form to re­place the Avro fleet. How­ever, it was only in Septem­ber 2011, that for the first time, the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Mar­shal N.A.K. Browne, in his ad­dress at a sem­i­nar on “En­er­gis­ing the In­dian Aero­space In­dus­try”, stated that the task of man­u­fac­tur­ing an air­craft to re­place the Avro would be as­signed to a pri­vate com­pany in the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try. The ob­jec­tive was two-fold, firstly, HAL was al­ready over bur­dened with a num­ber of other projects and would not be in a po­si­tion to han­dle an­other ma­jor one and sec­ondly, there was the need to pro­vide op­por­tu­nity to en­trepreneurs in the pri­vate sec­tor of the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try. It took the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) two years to ob­tain clear­ance from the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil and is­sue the Re­quest for Pro­posal (RFP) for 56 air­craft, to a num­ber of global aero­space ma­jors which in­cluded Boe­ing and Lock­heed Martin of the United States, Eu­ro­pean multi­na­tional Air­bus De­fence and Space, Ale­nia Aero­nau­tica of Italy and Antonov of Ukraine, among oth­ers. The re­quire­ment was to man­u­fac­ture the air­craft in In­dia in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a se­lected In­dian com­pany in the pri­vate sec­tor. From among the three con­tenders that re­sponded to the global ten­der, in the process of eval­u­a­tion, the Air­bus C295 was se­lected against the C-27J Spar­tan man­u­fac­tured by Ale­nia Aero­nau­tica of Italy and the An-32 of­fered by Antonov of Ukraine.

In 2014, Air­bus De­fence and Space made pub­lic the se­lec­tion of Tata Ad­vanced Sys­tems Ltd (TASL), the In­dian part­ner, for man­u­fac­tur­ing the air­craft at a fa­cil­ity to be set up by them in Hy­der­abad. Fur­ther ac­tiv­ity to set up the man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity would com­mence only af­ter the award of con­tract. As per the terms of the RFP, the first 16 air­craft would be sup­plied by the OEM in “fly away” con­di­tion from the par­ent com­pany’s own fi­nal as­sem­bly line lo­cated in Spain and the re­main­ing 40 air­craft would be man­u­fac­tured in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TASL in Hy­der­abad. The ar­range­ment will in­clude un­der­tak­ing struc­tural as­sem­bly, fi­nal air­craft as­sem­bly, sys­tems in­te­gra­tion and test­ing, as well as man­age­ment of the indige­nous sup­ply chain.

The saga of the ef­fort so far to pro­cure a re­place­ment air­craft for the HS-748 Avro has been long and ar­du­ous. For the IAF, the ex­pe­ri­ence has been some­what frus­trat­ing to say the least. The pace at which a rel­a­tively sim­ple case of pro­cure­ment of ur­gently re­quired mil­i­tary air­craft has pro­gressed, has been painfully slow. Seven years have gone by since Air Chief Mar­shal N.A.K. Browne for the first time, di­vulged plans of the IAF to in­volve a com­pany in the pri­vate sec­tor of the In­dian aero­space in­dus­try in the project. Five years have passed since the RFP was is­sued. Rather sadly, the con­tract is yet to be awarded and one can­not pre­dict with any cer­tainty as to when this cru­cial step will be taken. Mean­while the Avro fleet will be com­plet­ing six decades of ser­vice life in two years from now. By then, the air­craft will with­out ques­tion, be to­tally ob­so­lete. Yet the IAF will con­tinue to fly this air­craft en­dan­ger­ing lives of not only the op­er­at­ing air­crew; but also of the pas­sen­ger s car­ried which in­cludes not only ju­nior per­son­nel of the three ser­vices, but oc­ca­sion­ally, VIPs as well.

The case for pro­cure­ment of a re­place­ment for the Avro has been af­flicted by the malaise of a com­plex and lethar­gic process that reg­u­lates pro­cure­ment of de­fence equip­ment. The process is sad­dled with in­flex­i­ble bu­reau­cratic con­trols leav­ing the ser­vice head­quar­ters help­less and the field units to op­er­ate with plat­forms ap­proach­ing the end of their to­tal tech­ni­cal life or with their life ex­tended.

There is com­pelling need to push the case and fi­nalise the con­tract for the C295 with Tata-Air­bus joint ven­ture com­pany to pro­vide the much needed im­pe­tus for the suc­cess of the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme.

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