September 7, 2021. The day saw a major ‘Make in India’ step being taken. The Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared one long-pending proposal, namely, the Tata-Airbus Project. That is, the acquisition of 56 C-295MW medium transport aircraft from Airbus Defence and Space, Spain for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The deal is valued at nearly USD 3 billion.
The acquisition will be through the ‘Buy & Make’ category of the Defence Procurement Procedure.
Brief historical background. In May 2015, the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) led by then India’s defence minister Manohar Parrikar, approved the Tata-Airbus project. This was assumed in political circles as an extremely bold step. The previous UPA government could not move ahead apparently because of strong resistance from the PSU lobby. There were seven contenders who had bid for the deal but all, except the TATAs, withdrew later on one pretext or the other. Thus the Tata-Airbus project saw a “single vendor” in the race. Subsequently, after six eventful years, the CCS gave the go-ahead.
Salient Features of the Tata-Airbus Project.
- The Project: Acquisition of 56 C-295MW medium transport aircraft from Airbus Defence and Space, Spain for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
- The deal value is estimated to be $3 billion approx.
- It is the first project in India in which a military aircraft will be manufactured in private sector.
- Despite its presence in India’s civil aviation for nearly 50 years, this would be the first defence contract for Airbus
- 16 aircraft would be delivered in flyaway condition from Spain within 4 years of signing of the contract.
- 48 aircraft would be produced in India by the TATA Consortium within 10 years of signing the contract
- All 56 aircraft will be installed with the indigenous Electronic Warfare Suite
- Airbus, on its part, will fulfil its offset obligations. It will buy eligible products and services from Indian offset partners
- Prior to deliveries, ‘D’ Level servicing facility MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) for C-295MW aircraft will be established in India
- The MRO facility will act as a regional hub for various variants of C-295 aircraft
- Various aircraft parts, sub-assemblies and major component assemblies would be made in India
- Likely to bring 600 highly skilled jobs directly, and at least 3,000 indirect jobs
- In addition 3,000 medium-skill jobs along with more than 4.25 million man hours of work in the aerospace and defence sector of India
The European firm Airbus, the planemaker, needs no introduction. In today’s increasingly complex aerospace market environment, Airbus attempts to include interoperable and collaborative solutions to ensure an endurable existence.
Tata Aerospace and Defence (Tata A&D) will build 40 C-295s in India. The break-up :
- 8 from semi-knocked down (SKD) kits,
- 8 from completely knocked down (CKD) kits, and
- 24 are to be built by incrementally indigenising the assemblies and sub-assemblies.
Thus the main challenge for the TATAs will be to meet the 50 per cent indigenisation need and to develop cutting-edge technologies indigenously to strengthen India’s defence against the background of the complex geopolitics. However, Airbus anticipates that India will need more C295s for its military and central armed security forces.
Throughout the manufacturing process, the suppliers of TATA Consortium will be actively involved in the special processes. This will gain and maintain the globally recognized National Aerospace and Defence Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP) accreditation.
Needless to mention, the whole project will give a much-needed boost to employment generation in the aerospace and defence sectors of India. It will naturally involve non-aeronautical jobs like civil, mechanical, electrical, electronics and telecommunication as well. Development of proper infrastructure in the shape of hangars, buildings, aprons and taxiways will be required. As such, several MSMEs from all over the country will be associated with the project.
Salient Features of the Aircraft C-295MW
The physical dimensions are small as compared with those of IAF’s fleet of C-130Js, C-17s and IL-76s, C-295s, and by virtue of its turboprop engines it can take off and land at many airstrips and airports where the larger aircraft can not.
The C-295 is a carrier that performs practically like a fighter. Versatile in terms of capabilities, it can be the best option to replace An-32. It requires just a 700-meter long runway to take off. It climbs quickly to its mission height. It requires just 350 metres to land. It has multiple mission capabilities: transporting 71 persons, lifting 7.25 tonnes of cargo or monitoring the sea for 11 hours non-stop, using sophisticated radar and infra-red scanners. Be that as it may, the IAF trusts it requires extra utility and transport aeroplanes, for strategic use and for catastrophe help and crises.
The C-295 has a back slope entryway for speedy stacking and dumping and for the para dropping of troops and load.
The C-295 is fitted with Pratt and Whitney PW-127 powerplants, a unit of the PW-100 family. This is probably going to shape a generous piece of the expense.
- Max Weight – 11,000 kg
- Max Altitude – 7620 m
- Max Speed – 480 kmph
- Range – 5630 km
- Endurance – 11 hrs
The Indian Air Force Perspective
The aeroplane will supplant the maturing IAF armada of 56 Avro 748 transport aeroplanes that first flew almost fifty years ago.
Time to bid adieu to those old British Avro & Russian Antonov freighters.
The IAF already operates a large fleet of transport aircraft. These include over 100 AN-32s (being upgraded), ageing Russian IL-76s, and two new US aircraft – C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III. However, the IAF believes it requires additional utility and transport aircraft, for tactical use and for disaster relief and emergencies. The IAF has been pressing for years for the acquisition of medium transport aircraft (5-10-tonne lift capacity).
The USAF is studying the use of cargo planes as a standoff delivery system for “pallets” of long-range sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. Maybe some of these C295s could be tried out in that role in the Indo-Pacific as a deterrent to CCP/PLAN aggression.
The government took a commendable decision indeed. However, the IAF may like to refurbish or repair the old transport planes as well. The old planes can be used for training purposes after due modifications. In this way, IAF will have a good fleet that could be needed in emergency situations considering the situations that are developing at the borders and to avoid Pulwama type attacks in future. The IAF may use more of such equipment for troop movement instead of trucks. Every country including India needs to boost military/defence strength speedily.
With the current situation, it is very important for India to build up its military strength at any cost. With the axis of Taliban-Pakistan-China at India’s doorsteps ready to attack anytime, India needs to be prepared on all fronts.
The reactivation of advanced landing grounds (ALGs) along the India-China border would create a need of rugged aircraft like the C-295 to operate off them, including for the UDAN programme.
The perfect acquisition will improve the strategic mobility of forces which is the need of the hour.
Good Bye Socialism, Welcome Capitalism
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) which is a Government of India enterprise and has been building all the great arms and planes and rockets and missiles etc for India has been sidelined and overridden to give the contract to a private company. While it is true that HAL has developed great products but it is also true that HAL has taken several decades to do that.
The HAL, headquartered in Bengaluru, finally now has competition!
HAL has attributes of a global leader and I envisage the Company to play a greater role in realizing India’s dream of self-reliance in aerospace and defence in the future. I am proud of the role the Company has played for the past 80 years ever since its inception. I am happy that India’s homegrown fighter LCA Tejas will be produced in large numbers and the Government has taken initiatives to galvanize the Indian Defence IndustryIndia’s Vice President, Mr Venkaiah Naidu. August 20, 2021
The Tata-Airbus Project is very good news for the defence sector where the private sector has taken a key role to manufacture Military transport carriers. It is on way like in the US that private firms are involved with defence equipment manufacturing units. This development augurs well for the country in self-reliance.
In the US, defence contractors, such as Boeing, Sikorsky, Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Analytic Services, L3Harris Technologies, BAE Systems, and giants like that – all are world leaders in their fields. And they are in the private sector. The results are there for everyone to see. The saddest part of all is that they are full of brilliant engineers with Indian backgrounds. Given the socio-political system in India, it seems highly unlikely that these people would ever return to India. But, given the progress of the Tata-Airbus project, such trends may even reverse.
India should move defence out of government hands and pass it on to private players. Just like what America has done.
The Tata-Airbus Project is a very good step to let a private company do the collaborative work with a foreign exporter of military goods. This is the beginning of a new era in India.
Monopoly in any form is not good.
Earlier, entities like the HAL used to take such contracts for granted. It’s time now that the HAL will see some real competition. HAL is run like a typical government organization, with lots of red tapes, zero innovation, little sense of urgency, outdated technology, and poor quality.
India needed such a step very badly. Such a move had become at least 50 years overdue. Hereinafter, the government should encourage more private participation in defence for India’s defence capability to have any teeth.
Boost to Aerospace Industry in India
The aviation sector appears to be satisfied when the government of India took a beautiful striking action, as far as the inclination given to TATAs over HAL. The goal of the government, with which the sector is clearly adjusted, is to get the IAF furnished with the best as fast as could be expected. Ideally, that implies inside the following, not many weeks. It is acceptable not just for the sector, financial backers, investors and labourers which are additionally critical for India.
The Tata-Airbus Project will be a real milestone in the indigenisation of defence-related production. The best that has happened is that Tatas finally got a part of the defence pie instead of HAL. Unfortunately, they have long been under-leveraged for the wrong reasons. A major military-aerospace manufacturing eco-system outside direct government control will hopefully sharpen the outlook of legacy mindsets also. India desperately needs to design and manufacture its own military aircraft and not simply buy from others or build the designs of others.
While the manufacturers are made to compete with each other, the government should focus on administration and decision making and should not indulge in the day-to-day affairs of a company. The monopoly of HAL like units will break eventually. The private sector, being accountable, will have to provide better services and delivered products on time.
When enemies are all around India the only way to survive is to make the country militarily and economically strong. It is a great moment, that the contract has been awarded to TATA instead of HAL.
Hope after this TATA will be able to make their own medium-weight civil aircraft.
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