By Gulshan Luthra
Paris, June 30 (IANS) European aerspace major Airbus has offered to help develop the Mark II version of India’s light combat aircraft (LCA MkII) and also set up a manufacturing hub in India.
Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh told India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in) on the sidelines of the just-concluded Paris Air Show that some preliminary discussions had been held with him by Airbus officials here and that a top level delegation of the conglomerate would be in New Delhi for discussions from July 1.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already invited the global majors to invest in industrial projects in India, and if Airbus can create something like Airbus Asia in India as a manufacturing base, the government will do its best to facilitate the project,” he added.
The minister observed that India had a huge requirement of modern defence systems and a manufacturing base could service both India’s requirements and be a hub for a company’s global supply chain.
LCA II, being made by the Bangalore-based HAL, is scheduled to be out by 2021. It will have the more powerful GE 414 engine, a larger fuselage than the LCA-1 due out in 2017, better avionics, including an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) electronic warfare radar and other features that the Indian Air Force (IAF) wants in an aircraft to be called combat-worthy.
Asked if the LCA Mk II timeline could be advanced, Rao Inderjit Singh is quoted by India Strategic in its coming July edition as saying that the idea is to meet this very timeline as aircraft development is a long process.
He pointed out that there was an emphasis now on promoting the private sector in defence, and that the coming Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) would remove many hurdles to facilitate both the foreign and Indian investors. The involvement of the private sector would also create competition between the public and private sectors and lead to better quality products.
The Indian armed forces, he agreed, had indicated dissatisfaction with the quality of many systems made by the defence public sector units (DPSUs). Competition was essential, and he was sure that as soon as some of the steps being initiated now are implemented, the quality of products from both the public and private sectors would be competitive in quality and price. Competition is required to hone the capabilities of various industries.
Rao Inderjit Singh was here at the invitation of the French government. Leaders of several global arms companies met him at the prestigious air show, known for networking opportunities between governments and industries from the world over.
He was, in fact, the first Indian minister to visit France after Modi’s government-to-government deal here with the French president for 36 Rafale aircraft from the Dassualt-led consortium, which involves Safran and Thales. A question naturally asked of him was if India will go in for more of these aircraft.
Rao Inderjit Singh replied that there was “no proposal to increase this number,” and added that the armament is to be the same as that of the French air force (Armée de l’Air). Right now, it is important that the logjam between Dassault and the Indian government over the proposed MMRCA deal (to buy 126 Rafales) has been broken by the prime minister and “we have moved forward”.
It may be recalled that although Dassualt had won the tender as the lowest bidder, it was not willing to assume responsibility for the quality of HAL-made components. The cost of the aircraft, after Transfer of Technology (ToT) and offsets commitments was also working out to be too high to be acceptable to the Indian ministry of defence (MoD), although discussions over this were yet to be finalized.
Notably, IAF wants the Rafales ASAP as a majority of its aircraft are of Soviet-vintage and outdated technologies.
The French government has promised speedy delivery and authoritative French sources toldIndia Strategic that the three partners in the Rafale programme – Dassault, Safran (which makes engines) and Thales (which makes critical electronic systems and weapons) – had already begun working on the Indian requirement and the first lot of two or three aircraft should be available within 36 months of signing the required agreement.
Dassault, the lead player, is committed to supply 24 Rafales each to Egypt and Qatar also under recent agreements. The grouping can produce some 36 aircraft every year. Then there are pending orders from the French air force, but their delivery will be postponed, giving precedence to exports, sources said.
Rao Inderjit Singh also said that the working of HAL is being streamlined, particularly now that it has a chief executive from within the organization and who has grown with the state-run company’s various programmes.
HAL was also likely to be assigned the manufacture of about 200 Russian Kamov Light Utility Helicopters under licence, he indicated and added that a decision is due to be taken in this regard by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in early July.