Will the C-295 aircraft manufacturing deal prove key to India’s defense production?

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 30 laid the foundation stone for a one-of-a-kind manufacturing plant in Vadodara, Gujarat, for the production of C-295 medium transport aircraft (MTA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) by a defense consortium the big Airbus and the Indian conglomerate Tata.

The MTAs will replace the Avro 748 military transport turboprop, which entered IAF service in the 1960s.

The contract was signed by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) with Airbus Defense in September 2021.

The total cost of the project for a total of 56 MTA is Rs 21,935 crore.

This industrial unit in Gujarat is expected to build 40 C-295s, 24 of which will be made from a mix of imported kits and 30% locally sourced content, which is expected to double for the remaining 16 platforms.

The remaining 16 C-295s of the overall project will be acquired in airworthy condition from Airbus Defense in Spain and delivered over two years from September 2023.

All 56 C-295s will be equipped with native electronic warfare (EW) suites and feature a rear ramp door for rapid loading and dropping of troops and supplies.

A further six variants of the C-295 multi-mission maritime aircraft are likely to be acquired by the Indian Coast Guard, in addition to possible follow-on orders from paramilitary organizations such as the Border Security Force.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a miniature model of the C-295 transport plane on the foundation stone of the Airbus-Tata consortium manufacturing plant in Vadodara, Gujarat on October 30, 2022. Photo: pmindia.gov.in

Additionally, Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retired), who heads the Center for Air Power Studies in New Delhi, said Hindustan time that the C-295s have the potential to eventually replace the IAF’s fleet of around 100 Antonov AN-32 “Cline” turboprop twin-engine transport aircraft. These AN-32s, which joined IAF service in the 1980s, are currently facing problems with their $400 million upgrade by Ukraine.

Experts estimate that with some modifications, the fuel-efficient C-295s, which have an operational radius of 5,650 kilometers, a load capacity of 10 to 12 tons and a top speed of 576 km/h, could also be used to transport civilian goods. , and be inducted as a turboprop platform by private airlines to meet growing demand in the aviation industry.

This, in turn, could boost tourism in exotic locations like Andaman and Nicobar and the Lakshadweep Islands, among other popular vacation spots.

In his speech at the foundation-laying ceremony, Prime Minister Modi said India’s aviation sector will need more than 2,000 passenger and transport aircraft over the next 15 years.

The Vadodara C-295 facility could also become an export hub for the MTA, in addition to being used as a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider for at least 15 countries in the Asia- Peaceful. These countries include Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mali, Oman, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam, along with several other countries.

Decisive milestone

Of course, the C-295 project is a crucial step, but its journey that began around 2010-2011 and only came to fruition last year has been turbulent, hitting air pockets from time to time. It deserves to be told, in particular because the way in which the obstacles were overcome bears lessons for the future.

Originally conceived by the IAF as a (global) procurement project for the import of 56 transport aircraft, on the presumption that such limited numbers did not justify seeking technology transfer to build them locally, the IAF then unhesitatingly agreed to categorize it as a ‘Buy and Make’ project, paving the way for the construction of 40 MTAs locally via technology transfer. But that was just the start of the obstacle course that culminated years later with the award of the contract to Airbus Defense and now Vadodara last weekend.

Much of the credit goes to the IAF who, to make this possible, contacted private Indian suppliers and foreign MTA manufacturers to convince them that the project was commercially viable, in addition to obtaining the information necessary to define realistic and achievable qualitative requirements for a potential. carrier – something that can make or break a project.

At the same time, the MoD and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) have also been uncharacteristically bold in backing the idea of ​​developing a parallel aircraft manufacturing plant in the private sector by keeping HAL out. of the MTA project. And, for the first time, the Ministry of Defense allowed foreign manufacturers to choose the Indian Production Agency (IPA) of their own accord rather than appointing one, as was then required by the procedure for procurement programs in the Buy and Make category. It was a smart move as selecting a private sector firm for nomination as API would have been very difficult, and possibly controversial.

What is also important is that only one bidder – Airbus – had responded to the 2103 MTA tender, which resulted in a “single-source” situation in which the Ministry of Defense is normally reluctant to close the deal for fear of allegations of wrongdoing. In this case, however, the MoD was not deterred. The outcome would have been different if the Department of Defense had not overcome this irrational fear and decided to go ahead regardless.

A step towards autonomy?

Meanwhile, the installation of Vadodara C295 is naturally projected by the Ministry of Defense as a major step towards India’s self-sufficiency in the military aviation sector, while respecting the government’s commitment to create jobs, stimulate industrial growth and promote hardware exports.

The C295 project is expected to create 600 high-skilled jobs and 3,000 semi-skilled jobs, while providing indirect jobs for another 3,000 people. Around 100 micro, small and medium enterprises should be involved in the supply of around 13,400 components, 4,600 sub-assemblies and related parts.

Essentially, it is estimated that around 96% of Airbus components and related manufacturing in Spain will, over the next few years, be transferred to India once the program is launched. In another important addition, some 240 Indian aeronautical engineers will also be trained in Spain, before returning to Vadodara.

In conclusion, a positive subclinical element to take away from the C295 agreement is the way the IAF and the MoD have worked together as a team towards the dual goals of meeting the former’s requirements and promoting indigenous production. We must also salute the willingness of the latter to take bold decisions to remove roadblocks with tact and imagination, but for which the project would not have succeeded.

The enduring reality of India’s military acquisition programs is that each presents a unique set of challenges and obstacles. Unless those in leadership positions work together to break down barriers by thinking outside the box and making bold decisions, most projects are doomed to revolve around the endless cycle of rules, regulations and procedures.

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