Airbus will Continue to Foster Innovation, Encourage Promising Startups and Contribute towards Shaping the Future of A&D in India

Interviews, Top Stories

Venkat-Katkuri 54CopyAirbus Group has a special connect with India. The group has been actively supporting India’s military modernisation as well as furthering India’s efforts to build a robust indigenous military-industrial complex through the transfer of technology and joint development and production with local partners.

Venkat Katkuri, Head of Defence & Space, Airbus India & South Asia spoke at length to Editor, Raksha Anirveda about Airbus Group’s wide ranging engagements in India, support to Startup India and Make in India initiatives, anchoring role play to promote indigenous tech prowess to realise Aatmanirbhar Bharat and its plan for India in near future. Edited Excerpts:

Q. What are Airbus’ defence innovation and development priorities for the coming years and how important are collaborative Indian projects in your planning?

A. Airbus is actively supporting India’s military modernisation as well as the nation’s endeavours to develop the defence manufacturing ecosystem. In this backdrop, India has recently formalised the acquisition of 56 Airbus C295 aircraft to replace the Indian Air Force (IAF) legacy AVRO fleet, opening the doors for the first ‘Make in India’ aerospace programme with the private sector. Furthermore, Airbus has also offered the proven force multiplier A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft to the IAF to meet its long-term strategic requirements.

Moving beyond a traditional buyer-seller relationship, Airbus is furthering India’s efforts to build a robust indigenous military-industrial complex through the transfer of technology and joint development and production with local partners. This is demonstrated by the collaborative projects Airbus has successfully delivered with Indian defence R&D bodies such as the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) and the private industry. Airbus and DRDO have jointly developed an Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AEW&C) solution that has been certified as ‘indigenous’ by Indian authorities.

Q. It was a long wait for Airbus to secure the C295 aircraft contract. Aligned with ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, will the Indian assembly of C295s help India move closer to meaningful self-reliance and enable it to indigenously manufacture aircraft. Your insights?

A. The C295 deal has opened the doors for the first ‘Make in India’ aerospace programme for the private sector and involves the full development of a complete industrial ecosystem, right from the manufacture to assembly, test, and qualification, to delivery and maintenance of the complete lifecycle of the aircraft. This contract will catalyse further development of India’s aerospace ecosystem, bringing investment and job creation over the coming 10 years. Airbus will bring its complete bouquet of world-class aircraft manufacturing and servicing to India in collaboration with our industrial partners, including Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and leading defence public sector units (DPSUs) such as Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Bharat Dynamics Ltd, as well as private Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

Q. Indian defence programmes have been challenging, at times problematic yet rewarding. Having experienced it closely with decade’s long presence in India, what are the major reasons / factors that makes Airbus optimistic about its future engagement with Indian defence industrial projects?

A. India has a promising defence market. We have a wide range of cutting-edge technologies and products to offer and are ready to do business in the country. With the Indian government taking rapid strides towards defence modernisation, Airbus is fully committed to serving the nation by demonstrating its capabilities and diverse range of cutting-edge products suited to all its military requirements.

Q. Airbus, starting with HAL has expanded its military industrial collaboration with the Indian industry. It has offered to set up the final assembly line for aircraft (C295) and helicopters (Panther). How has been the progress and what’s the expected timeline to get it materialised?

A. Airbus is already working with a range of private companies and PSUs, to procure aerospace manufacturing and engineering services from India on the civil side. We would be keen to engage with a broad spectrum of companies for the C295 offset discharge.

The first 16 aircraft, assembled in Seville (Spain), will be delivered between 24 and 48 months after the contract signature. The remaining 40 aircraft, to be assembled in India, will be delivered between 60 and 120 months after the contract signature.

Q. Aiming at the Indian Air Force’s requirement for Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft, how well positioned Airbus finds itself to emerge winner?

A. Airbus stands ready to support all the requirements of the Indian armed forces with the best of its products. India has already formalised the acquisition of 56 Airbus C295MW aircraft to replace the Indian Air Force (IAF) legacy AVRO fleet, last year. In addition, Airbus will also be offering the proven force multiplier A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft to the IAF to meet its long-term strategic requirements. This new-generation tanker is combat-proven and comes with unique multi-role capabilities for refuelling, transport and deployment missions, based on the successful A330-200.

It is an ideal aircraft for refuelling missions as it can carry 111 tonnes of fuel. The MRTT can carry a maximum payload of up to 45 tonnes, combining the passenger cabin and the lower deck: up to 300 passengers. With lower operating cost and the capability to carry any kind of military or humanitarian payload on strategic missions, the A330 MRTT is a perfect replacement for older aircraft under fleet replacement programmes.

Q. What contribution Airbus is making to promote indigenous innovation, research and development and strengthen the evolving start-ups ecosystem to meet India’s defence and space missions’ requirement?

A. The startup ecosystem in India is one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world. Many start-ups in the defence-tech space are leveraging new-age technologies to help the country boost its defence capabilities. The tech prowess of these startups is furthering the government’s vision for an Aatmanirbhar Bharat, along with supporting the ‘Startup India’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives. As a long-standing partner to India, Airbus has been contributing to these flagship programmes by industrialising startup solutions in the aerospace and defence sectors.

Airbus’ global innovation strategy is to bring together start-ups (entrepreneurs) and Airbus “intrapreneurs” (internal entrepreneurs) to work and speed up the transformation of their innovative ideas into valuable businesses. For over five years, this initiative has been boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in the Indian aerospace and defence sectors. As testimony to this, Airbus has signed 11 partnerships with Indian startups across aviation, defence and aerospace and is currently supporting multiple proofs of concept around electrification, sustainability, Artificial Intelligence, geo-spatial intelligence, among others from a community of over 2000 B2B startups in South-East Asia and India. In early 2020, Airbus Defence and Space India signed a commercial partnership with an Indian startup, Hyperverge, to provide real-time change detection analytics using satellite imagery.

We will continue to foster innovation and encourage entrepreneurial ambitions of promising startups to contribute towards shaping the future of aerospace and defence in India.

Q. DefExpo 2022 is happening amid pandemic challenges. What to expect from Airbus at the show and what are its expectations?

A. Airbus will display its comprehensive range of defence and space capabilities at DefExpo 2022. On display will be the scale model of the versatile A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft – the only new-generation aerial refueller in full service today, and the most capable new-generation tanker, combat-proven and with unique multi-role capabilities.

Also on display will be the multi-role AS565 MBe (Panther) and H225M helicopters. The H225M is a multi-purpose and versatile military asset that enables military forces to deploy wherever and whenever needed, and the AS565 MBe naval version of Airbus’ Panther family of helicopters, is an all-weather, multi-role medium rotorcraft, designed for operation from ship decks, offshore locations and land-based sites.

There will also be a scale model of the Airbus Eurostar E3000 and an interactive digital presentation of the S950 optical and S850 radar at the Airbus’ stand. The Eurostar E3000 boasts the highest flexibility and enhanced payload accommodation for challenging high-power missions. The S950 optical is a high-end optical satellite that is also the base for Airbus’ own Pléiades Neo four-satellite constellation (starting in 2020). The S850 radar is a highly sophisticated radar system whose technological capabilities enable advanced applications both in the observation domain and in scientific contexts. We are very excited about the 2022 edition and are looking forward to collaborating with our partners and other stakeholders from the industry.