With transport aircraft being critical to support military operations ranging from airlifting of troops, providing supplies to frontline troops, these aircraft are crucial to maintaining supply lines to forward bases that are difficult to reach by ground or waterborne access, and can be used for both strategic and tactical missions. They are also often used for civilian emergency relief missions by transporting humanitarian aid.
The launching of the C-295 transport aircraft manufacturing facility in Gujarat’s Vadodara by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 30 is expected to strengthen supply and communication lines to the borders in the West with Pakistan and in North and North East with China and also contribute to boosting government’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative.
Military transport aircraft was one of the critical missing links in the entire defence industrial complex chain. This Joint Venture (JV) between Tata and Airbus has plugged that missing piece and will significantly boost the Make in India programme of the Narendra Modi government. The Indian Armed forces will no longer have to depend on the old Avro planes of the 1960 generation for their transportation needs.
Laying the foundation stone of the C-295 transport aircraft facility, Modi said, “In the coming years, the Defence and Aerospace sectors will be two important pillars for making India ‘Atmanirbhar’. By 2025, our defence manufacturing scale would cross US$25 billion. Defence corridors being established in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu would power this scale.”
“The transport aircraft that’ll be manufactured here will not only give power to our Army but also develop a new ecosystem of manufacturing aircraft,” Prime Minister Modi added.
Transport aircraft are crucial to maintaining supply lines to forward bases that are difficult to reach by ground or waterborne access, and can be used for both strategic and tactical missions. They are also often used for civilian emergency relief missions by transporting humanitarian aid. With India playing a major role in providing humanitarian assistance to nations as was seen during the time of the Covid epidemic worldwide, these transport aircraft would indeed play a critical role at such times.
PM Modi stressed that the country is moving forward with the aim of being the frontrunner in every field. “From semi-conductor to aircraft, we are moving forward with the aim to be the frontrunner in every field. It is being possible because we have focussed on skill development in the last eight years and prepared an atmosphere for it,” he said.
Noting that India is one of the “fastest-developing aviation sectors” today, the Prime Minister said that the country will soon enter the list of top three nations in terms of air traffic. “In the coming 10-15 years, India will require over 2000 passenger and cargo aircraft. This reflects how fast we’ll be developing. India is preparing to meet the demand from now on,” he said.
The Prime Minister attributed to the progressive steps being taken across sectors to the “change of mindset”, and said that the previous governments’ mindset “didn’t let the private sector grow”.
“One key aspect of progress is the change of mindset. Governments, for a long time now, had been working with the mindset that only the government knows everything and that only they should do everything. This mindset suppressed the country’s talent, and didn’t let the private sector grow,” he asserted.
“Previous governments also had the mindset to avoid problems and keep alive manufacturing sector with a few subsidies. This thinking led to a loss in India’s manufacturing sector. Neither was there a solid policy, nor responsibility over the need for logistics, and electricity/water supply. The India of today is working with a new mindset and new work culture. We have let go of ‘Kaam-chalau’ decisions,” he said.
Apart from making 40 aircraft, this facility at Vadodara would be manufacturing additional aircraft for Air Force requirements and exports. With the launch of the C-295 aircraft manufacturing facility, India will enter an illustrious league of about only a dozen nations with the capacity to manufacture military transport aircraft. Currently, the US, Japan, UK, Russia, France, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Brazil and China has that capacity.
Tata-Airbus combine had said that C-295 manufacturing is “the first Make in India aerospace programme in the private sector involving the full development of a complete industrial ecosystem; from manufacture to assembly, test and qualification, to delivery and maintenance of the complete lifecycle of the aircraft.”
Under the terms of the deal, 16 C-295 aircraft are scheduled to be delivered between September 2023 and August 2025 in flyaway condition, while the remaining 40 aircraft will be manufactured at the Vadodara facility.
In another first, “indigenous content in the planes will be the highest ever in India, and 96 per cent of the work that Airbus does in Spain will now be done at the new facility.” The Vadodara facility will be initially geared to manufacture 8 aircraft per year, but it has been designed such that it can also cater to the additional needs of Indian armed forces or exports.
As per Defence Ministry, following the delivery of 56 aircraft to IAF, the combine will be allowed to sell India-built C-295 aircraft to civil operators and to countries cleared by the government. It is believed that the Vadodara facility will replicate the success of BRAHMOS in missile exports.
India has embarked on a massive transformation of its defence sector through the ambitious Make in India program of the Modi government. Several projects for the domestic manufacturing of various defence platforms like missiles, field guns, tanks, aircraft carriers, drones, fighter planes, tanks, and helicopters are currently underway and are fulfilling the defence modernization needs of the Indian armed forces.
This is the first time that such a huge investment is taking place in India’s defence aerospace sector, the Prime Minister said, adding that his government has carried out several economic reforms over the years. These reforms have hugely benefitted the manufacturing sector and given it a boost.
Despite disruptions in the supply chain, in spite of the circumstances created by Covid and a war, India continues to be the growth momentum in the manufacturing sector, the Prime Minister said. “India, following the mantra of ‘Make in India, Make for the Globe’ is today increasing its potential,” he added.
The Defence Ministry said manufacturing of over 13,400 detail parts, 4,600 sub-assemblies and all the seven major component assemblies of the aircraft will be undertaken in India. It said various systems such as engines, landing gear and avionics will be provided by Airbus Defence and Space and integrated into the aircraft by the TATA Consortium.
With a proven capability of operating from short or unprepared airstrips, the C-295 is used for tactical transport of up to 71 troops or 50 paratroopers, and for logistic operations to locations that are not accessible to current heavier aircraft. The aircraft can airdrop para-troops and loads, and also be used for casualty or medical evacuation. It is capable of performing special missions as well as disaster response and maritime patrol duties.
The project is expected to generate 600 highly skilled jobs directly, over 3,000 indirect jobs and an additional 3,000 medium-skill employment opportunities with more than 42.5 lakh man-hours of work within the aerospace and defence sector. Nearly 240 engineers will be trained at the Airbus facility in Spain for the project.
The C-295 which will be manufactured at the Vadodara facility, however, won’t have the range of the P-8l (operated by Indian Navy) in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) role. With 1500 km range with normal payload and crew it will still allow it to support P-8I over the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal and if deployed on Andaman and Nicobar islands. This C-295 could provide 80 degree coverage of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with a fleet of 12-18 aircraft.
C-295 is an advanced multi-mission aircraft based on the CN-235 transport aircraft — which was formed from a Spanish and Indonesian partnership. C-295 can be armed with MK 54 Lightweight Torpedoes and two MBDA’s Marte anti-ship missiles under wings to meet its anti-submarine warfare requirements as demonstrated by Airbus.
Integration of a simple design and robust airframe, the aircraft features a pressurized cabin and complies with the international airworthiness regulations. The cockpit enhances the situational awareness and flight safety, while reducing the pilot workload for improving the mission effectiveness. The modular architecture concept further allows for the integration of equipment in line with the potential growth in future.
The aircraft has the capability to be installed with a fully integrated tactical system (FITS) as a permanent or palletised configuration to conduct surveillance missions. The C-295 (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft version is provided with underwing hard points for the installation of anti-ship missiles, rockets, torpedoes and reconnaissance/jamming pods. It has the ability to have a Maritime Patrol Radar mounted on one of its hard points and also as a separate belly mounted radar.
The aircraft’s maximum speed of 480km/h is enabled by Pratt and Whitney power-plant and has a long endurance of up to 11 hours, which makes C-295 very suitable to augment the ISR efforts taken by P8-I which are being operated by the Indian Navy.
In its Airborne Early Warning version, the C-295 carries state-of-the-art AESA radar for 360-degree coverage to provide a full picture of the airspace which is required by Indian Navy to support its Air Domination operations away from shores, which cannot be supported by Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft due to various priorities. Defence Research and Development Organisation’s Centre for Air Borne System (CABS) has already started testing new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that can carry out detection and tracking of air and sea surface targets. Considered to be far better than the Rheinland Air Service (RAS) -72 Sea Eagle Maritime Patrol Aircraft being operated by Pakistan Navy, C-295 aircraft will add more power to Indian armed forces.