SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years

— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

I am confident that SP Guide Publications would continue to inform, inspire and influence.

— Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Indian Navy Chief

My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief

Restructure the Industry

The Defence Research and Development Organisation, the National Aerospace Laboratories and the production agency the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited function practically in silos with no synergy amongst them

Issue: 05-2015By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Illustration(s): By Anoop Kamath

Even after nearly seven decades in the history of independent India, the Indian aerospace industry has not been able to develop an indigenous capability robust enough to meet with the requirements of the Indian armed forces that are faced with the burgeoning national security challenges in the constantly evolving geopolitical and geostrategic scenarios both regional and global. As there can be no compromise on national security, successive governments have had no option but to accept proposals from the Indian armed forces to procure urgently required combat aircraft, strategic and tactical airlifters as well as a variety of rotary-wing platforms ranging from light utility helicopters to medium-lift and heavy-lift machines for a wide range of tasks including logistic support, aerial reconnaissance, casualty evacuation and disaster relief. There has also been a sprinkling of attack helicopters to provide the Indian Air Force (IAF) the capability to provide fire support to the ground forces in the tactical battle area.

But to be fair to the Indian aerospace industry, in the period between 1950 and 1990, it has been successful in the indigenous design, development and production of two types of piston engine basic trainer aircraft, the HT-2 and the HPT-32 as well as an intermediate jet trainer (IJT), the HJT-16. These platforms served the IAF for decades. However thereafter, the Indian aerospace industry has failed to deliver replacements for the basic trainer as well as the IJT. To begin with, as there was no basic trainer forthcoming from the Indian aerospace industry, the IAF was compelled to resort to the procurement of the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II from Pilatus of Switzerland. In all likelihood, the IAF will have to purchase outright an IJT from foreign sources as even after 15 years of developmental effort and an investment of over Rs. 4,500 crore, the indigenous HJT-36 Sitara is nowhere on the horizon. It is learnt that there are serious design deficiencies the correction of which will require the airframe to be redesigned. The IJT project is literally back to square one! Can the IAF wait indefinitely for the indigenous IJT? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’.

The story of the indigenous deign and development of the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-I is also similar. Despite humongous investments, it took the Indian aerospace industry 32 years just to get the initial operational clearance (IOC) for the Tejas Mk-I. The IAF is not totally satisfied with the platform, something that is obvious from the order that is limited to just 40 aircraft or two squadrons especially when the IAF desperately needs to build up the strength of its combat fleet. The inadequacies of the Tejas Mk-I are expected to be made up for in the Mk-II version. However, as the Mk-II version will have a more powerful and a heavier engine, it will require redesign of the airframe. This has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the project and as of date, the IAF cannot predict the time lines for the availability of the Tejas Mk-II.

One area where the Indian aerospace industry has done well is in the regime of licensed production. Beginning with the Percival Prentice in the 1950s to the Su-30MKI in the beginning of the last decade, the Indian aerospace industry has successfully produced under licence over a dozen types of platforms including combat aircraft, helicopters and transport aircraft. However, there has been no real transfer of technology as a result of which the capability of the Indian aerospace industry for indigenous design and development has not blossomed but has stagnated, being limited to mere assembly of platforms. However, the major impediment to the development of real indigenous capability in the aerospace industry has been the way the Indian aerospace industry is structured. The various units and laboratories of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the National Aerospace Laboratories and the production agency the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) function practically in silos with very little or no synergy amongst them. The debilitating lack of coordination impinges on the timely execution of projects leaving the Indian armed forces in the lurch. As a result of this malady, the Indian aerospace industry is known more for slippage in production and delivery schedules or missed deadlines. The ensuing mutual blame-game amongst the various agencies only serves to muddy the water further. The LCA and the failed Kaveri engine projects, both afflicted with time and cost overruns, are eloquent examples of this malaise.

There is an imperative need to review the structure of the aerospace industry. Unless all the agencies that constitute the aerospace industry are brought under the production agency and made accountable, development of indigenous capability to design and build contemporary military aircraft will continue to remain a distant dream.