Global Aerospace Industry Landing in India
By WENDELL MINNICK And VIVEK RAGHUVANSHI, BANGALORE, India
The 6th biannual Aero India Aerospace & Defence exhibition Feb. 7-11 at Yelahanka Air Force Station will see the largest industry participation yet, with more than 400 defense companies from around the world aiming to show their wares and foster business alliances.
This also will be the first time that the show is being organized in collaboration among the Ministry of Defence’s Department of Defence Production, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Farnborough International Ltd.
“The application of aerospace technologies in civil and military fields naturally requires increased civil-military cooperation,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony said in a speech at the Defence Research and Development Organisation conference Feb. 5 at Bangalore University.
An unprecedented 400 exhibitors are scheduled to participate, about 250 of which will be Indian companies. That is a dramatic increase from the 380 companies exhibiting in 2005.
‘The aim of the show is two-fold. It will give Indian manufacturers an opportunity to showcase their products to a global audience and give foreign manufacturers a platform aimed at the domestic civilian and military market,” said K.P. Singh, India’s permanent defense production secretary.
The Indian Air Force’s planned purchase of 126 medium-range multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) program will be the most important defense deal to be discussed at Aero India. Though the tender for the $9 billion MMRCA program has not been issued by the government, manufacturers and jockeying for position. Lockheed Martin is promoting the F-16 as a low-cost, high-performance alternative to the Dassault Rafale, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F/A-18E/F and the MiG Corp. MiG-35.
The Indian government is also considering increasing the order from 126 aircraft to 200, which would ease the government’s burden because more than one type of MMRCA could be selected.
The MiG-35, with its unique thrust-vectoring technology, will make its first foreign public debut here and is considered a serious contender for the MMRCA. Since India already owns MiG-29s, many industry executives say that Russia will have a slight advantage over the competitors. Russian companies also will display the Beriev Be 200 multipurpose amphibious aircraft and MiG-29M fighter.
Defence Ministry sources said it will be a difficult decision for the government as there are factors beyond technology at play, such as political and strategic considerations. However, Russia cannot be ignored as the largest supplier of arms and equipment to the Indian Defense Forces.
India’s inventory of Russian aircraft is abundant, including the Antonov An-32, MiG-21, MiG-27, Ilyushin Il-76MD aircraft and Mil Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mi-26 helicopters. The only American aircraft in the Air Force’s service are two Boeing 737-2A81s for the Pegasus VIP Squadron at Palam.
The Pentagon is showing off the P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, C-130J and C-17 transport aircraft, F-16 and F/A-18 fighters, and CH-47s heavy-lift helicopter.
Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Bell Helicopter and Raytheon are pushing a variety of aircraft, but their efforts may be in vain.
Several issues are hurting U.S. chances. Washington’s decision to slap sanctions on India after the latter’s 1998 nuclear tests has not been forgotten. In addition, the United States continues to sell arms to Pakistan, such as the recent deal for 5,000 AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles. The United States also has released the P-3 Orion to Pakistan.
France has had some success selling fighters to India. It is now offering the Rafale, which is considered a favorite in the Indian Air Force. India already fields the Dassault Mirage 2000H with the First and Seventh Squadrons in Allahadad.
The competition has helped create a dynamic show that many observers here say will change India’s defense and security environment.