India’s fighter requirements were, as expected, high on the agenda. Saab made an aggressive pitch for the Gripen E, that included the proposed maritime version that could meet the Indian Navy’s requirement for 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters. Kent-Ake Molin, commercial manager, said that Saab has “mobilized a robust global supply chain for India. We are not doing a copy and paste…the facility we will set up here will be new. Besides, we will bring in capabilities India has been wanting, such as superplastic forming and integration and use of software.” During the show, Saab Aeronautics head Ulf Nilsson told an Indian business daily that the Swedish company is talking about an Indian partnership to the Adani Group, which wants to build a 200-acre aerospace factory at Mundra.
A Gripen took part in the flying display, and so did an F-16, another candidate for the Indian Air Force’s yet-to-be-fully-defined requirement for a new, possibly single-engine fighter to be produced in-country. But concerns about possible changes in U.S. technology transfer policy clouded Lockheed Martin’s pitch for Indian-based production of the F-16V version of the Fighting Falcon. The American company issued a statement noting that its current proposal “was supported by the Obama administration as part of a broader cooperative dialogue with the government of India…we understand that the Trump administration will want to take a fresh look at some of these programs and we stand prepared to support that effort to ensure that any deal of this importance is properly aligned with U.S. policy priorities.”
Boeing has recently supplied C-17 airlifters and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to India, and has now established Boeing Defense India (BDI) to support sales and marketing, sourcing, manufacturing and engineering. At a pre-show briefing, AIN asked BDI president Pratyush Kumar about potential changes in U.S. high-tech export policy. “I can only say that we have offset obligations in India that we are committed to exceeding,” he replied. India has ordered 22 AH-64E attack helicopters from Boeing, and fuselages for the Apache will be produced by a joint venture with Tata Advanced Systems in Hyderabad, starting in 2019, Kumar noted. Additionally, Boeing last month established the Boeing India Engineering and Technology Center in Bangalore.
Israel is already a major defense supplier to India, and 11 companies exhibited at the show in an Israeli pavilion. IAI chose the show to unveil a full-scale mockup of an exportable version of the Heron TP medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV. Meanwhile, India’s own MALE UAV was also on display, but only in mockup form. The country’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) reported that the long-delayed first flight of the Rustom II prototype took place last November. The mockup at Aero India displayed a new name—Tapas—for this project that is intended to meet tri-service requirements. The Heron TP is clearly an alternative. Meanwhile, the Adani Group has established a joint venture with Elbit Systems that will propose the Israeli company’s smaller Hermes 900 UAV to meet Indian MALE requirements.
One of Israel’s key previous contracts in India was to supply three IAI/Elta Phalcon AEW radar systems, integrated on Ilyushin Il-76 four-jet airlifters. Meanwhile, the DRDO slowly developed India’s own AEW radar system in parallel, and that has been integrated on Embraer EMB-145 twin-turboprop regional airliners. The first of three such aircraft was finally handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) on the first day of the show. But the IAF meanwhile decided that it requires a larger aircraft to house the indigenous radar. Government approval for the acquisition of two Airbus A330s by the DRDO to meet this requirement is still awaited, according to Indian defense officials at the show.
The A330 has already been twice selected as the IAF’s new air-refueling tanker, only for the acquisition to founder on cost grounds. At the show, Boeing displayed a simulator of the KC-46 refueling operator’s station, and IAI made a pitch for its modification of the Boeing 767 into an air tanker.
Another longstanding Indian requirement that has yet to be fulfilled is for twin-engine naval helicopters. Officials from Airbus Helicopters said that they had established a joint venture with Mahindra Defence, which was offering the As365Mbe Panther. Chasing the same requirement, which could now be for 100 machines, Bell brought a navalized version of its Model 429 helicopter to the show.
Finally, two more potential “Make In India” deals were signed by European defense companies and local partners. Thales UK agreed with Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to assess opportunities for transfer of technology of the STARStreak man-portable surface-to-air missile system. MBDA set up a joint venture with engineering conglomerate Larsen & Toubro “to focus on business opportunities in the missile domain.”
(Chris Pocock - AINOnline News)