*Syed Mahmoud Nawaz
AERO INDIA is a biennial aerospace exhibition organized by the Department of Defence Production of the Ministry of Defence, Government of India in the Garden City of Bengaluru.
The first edition of Aero India was held in 1996 and since then it has come a long way by proving itself to be a show of international repute and caliber which attracts exhibitors and aviation experts from around the globe. The defining feature of this Year’s show was that the Defence Ministry jointly organized it with the Ministry of Civil Aviation so that there is synergy between defence aerospace and civil aerospace sector.
For 5 days from 14th February to the 18th, there was a dazzling aerial display at the Air Force Station, Yelahanka in Bengaluru. Exhibitors from 549 countries-270 Indian and 279 from abroad displayed their products and technologies in an area spread over almost 30,000 sq. mtrs.
The emerging dynamism of defence manufacturing in India especially the rising role of Indian defence industry was very much evident at the Aero India 2017. The Prime Minister of India, Shri. Narendra Modi had recently said, “Development of India’s defence industry is a key element of the Make in India initiative”. The IDDM (Indian-Designed Developed and Manufactured) model is the focus and the nation is all set to drive self reliance for strength, security and peace.
The Government, as the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar put it, is committed to creating an enabling environment for a domestic eco-system of defence manufacturing and the results are already visible. The defence public sector undertakings are being revitalized and encouraged. The 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. “Even as we encourage Indian investment companies to play a dominant role in the defence sector we also wish to see investments from the foreign OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) as well as more and more partnership between foreign and Indian companies”, the Defence Minister observes. To encourage foreign companies to make in India, the government has already liberalized FDI norms in this sector. It is expected that many more such initiatives will be taken in coming few months.
A great number of fighter aircrafts apart from helicopters and drones participated in the Aero Show this year including Gripen 39C, Dassault’s Rafale, Su 30, F-16, Light Combat Aircraft Tejas etc. Tejas has been indigenously developed by Aeronautical Development Agency and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
HAL strongly made its presence felt with other key indigenous products too like HTT-40 (Basic Trainer Aircraft), first indigenously upgraded Hawk Mk132, named as Hawk-i, Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Customer demonstration flights were also held for ALH Mk III Dhruv and Mk IV (Rudra). One could also admire the Advanced Hawk at the exhibition. The Defence Minister Parrikar also unveiled the full scale mock-up of 12-ton class Indian Multi Role Helicopter (IMRH) which HAL aims to indigenously develop.
There is no dearth of engineering talent and manpower in India and now there is conducive and positive policy environment too. What is required is that we develop skill and infrastructure on one hand and also look for greater collaboration between global OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and our own private sector with increased transfer of cutting-edge technologies. Secretary, Defence Production, Shri. Ashok Kumar Gupta admitted, “Since this sector is highly technology-intensive with strict certification requirements, the industry will have to invest a lot in R&D and quality certification. In fact, this is one sector where at least 15% growth can be achieved for the next 15-20 years on year to year basis”. A vibrant defence manufacturing sector will surely enhance India’s potential to become a defence exporter apart from enabling it to meet domestic requirements.
The Union Minister of Civil Aviation Shri. Ashok Gajapathi Raju was also present on the occasion. Applauding the civil aviation sector he said that this sector is the fastest growing one in the world and it has grown more than 20 percent in the last two years. In the wake of growing civil aviation sector, our Airports need to grow to cater to the growing demands. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has decided to invest Rs. 17500 crores in the next five years for improving the existing airports and that includes navigation but this is not enough. If we have to sustain and take forward the current growth we need more investments from all sides. The Civil Aviation Minister also said that if we are able to sustain this growth we will be the third largest civil aviation market in the world by 2022.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has recently introduced Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS). The objective of Regional Connectivity Scheme is to make flying affordable for the masses, to promote tourism, increase employment and promote balanced regional growth. It also intends to put life into un-served and under -served airports. It is worth mentioning here that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has built a 19-seater civilian aircraft which could very well be put to good use under the Regional Connectivity Scheme.
The Civil Aviation Minister also spoke about how with the help of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the nation has been able to adopt GAGAN which is the acronym for GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation and this proudly puts India among the 5 nations of the world who use this satellite based navigation technology. GAGAN can also provide benefits beyond aviation to all modes of transportation, including maritime, highways and railways.
The coming together of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Civil Aviation for Aero India2017 has indeed added new colours to the show. The smooth collaboration between the two helps the nation in putting its airspace and aviation infrastructure to optimum and utmost use.
The new policies and initiatives announced by the Government are opening up great opportunities for all those insiders and outsiders who want to partner with India in its stride towards development. An advertisement of an international partner published in one of the journals brought out during Aero India carried the most appropriate words-‘There has never been a better time to Make in India’.
*Author is a senior journalist and film-maker. He writes on a variety of subjects. The opinions expressed above are his personal.