‘Made in India’ – in Demand ‘Worldwide’

Not too long ago the private sector had little or no role to play in the aerospace and defence sector which was the exclusive domain for government-owned PSUs and their subsidiaries. However paradoxically the last couple of years have witnessed a sea change and private sector companies are accounting for the bulk of defence exports. Many of these products are in great demand worldwide and constitute – almost 70% of India’s total exports

By Neeraj Mahajan

Opinion

Paradoxically India which once released pigeons, is now releasing cheetahs. Literally so, India’s defence exports have skyrocketed nearly 800 % in the last six years. There was a time when India exported defence equipment worth only Rs 1,900 crore. This today has crossed Rs 13,000 crore. The target now is to produce defence goods worth Rs 1.75 lakh crore and export military hardware worth Rs 35,000 crore by 2025.

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Curiously the private sector accounts for the bulk of defence exports – almost 70 % of India’s total exports.

One of the products in demand worldwide is the indigenously developed HAL ‘Tejas’ single-engine, multirole fighter designed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in collaboration with Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC) of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The Indian Air Force has placed an order for 40 Tejas and is likely to seal a contract for another 83 aircraft at a cost of around Rs 38,000 crore. Several friendly countries like the USA, Argentina, Australia, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Philippines are queuing up to buy Tejas – the supersonic fighter jet made in India. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), is also considering a proposal to set up maintenance facilities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka to ensure timely and reliable after-sales services. The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) is seriously considering the option to buy 18 Tejas Fighter Lead-in Trainer (FLIT) aircraft to supplement its MiG-29 fleet. Even the United States Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Argentine Air Force (FAA) and Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) are believed to be weighing the option to purchase the HAL Tejas, as part of their fleet modernization initiative. The Tejas Mark 2 is expected to be ready for series production by 2026.

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Recently India struck a ‘big deal’ to export the indigenously developed Pinaka Missile system to Armenia. As part of the deal armament worth $250 million including anti-tank missiles, rockets, and ammunition would be sold to Armenia over the next few months. Besides the Pinaka, Armenia will also receive missiles and ammunition from India as part of the package agreement.

This is the first time that India is exporting the Pinaka Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) manufactured in India by domestic private sector firms like Tata Power SED, Larsen & Toubro, Solar Industries, Munitions India Limited and Yantra India Limited. The Pinaka system mounted on Tatra trucks which helped successfully neutralise enemy posts on the mountain tops during the Kargil War can fire a salvo of 12 HE rockets in 44 seconds. The tried and tested Pinaka weapon system can track incoming rockets, mortars, and artillery shells to provide the exact location of enemy launchers and firing positions 75 kilometres away.

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Pinaka is a complete MBRL system, each Pinaka battery consists of six launcher vehicles, each with 12 rockets; six loader-replenishment vehicles; three replenishment vehicles; two Command Post vehicles (one stand-by) with a Fire Control computer, and the DIGICORA MET radar. A battery of six launchers can neutralise an area of 1,000 m × 800 m.

Over 80 countries today including the UK, Russia, France, Israel, Mauritius, Italy, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Egypt, UAE, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Poland, Kenya, Spain, Belgium, Vietnam and Chile are looking to import defence equipment from India. The Indian aerospace & defence (A&D) market is estimated to reach around US$ 26 billion by 2025

Each battery has a total of 72 rockets. All of the 72 rockets can be fired in 44 seconds, taking out an area of 1 km2. Each launcher can fire in a different direction too. The system has the flexibility to fire all the rockets in one go or only a few. This is made possible with a fire control computer. There is a command post linking together all six launchers in a battery. Each launcher has an individual computer which enables it to function autonomously in case it gets separated from the other five vehicles in a war

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This is not the first time that India is supplying weapons to Armenia. Even in 2020, India sold four indigenous SWATHI counter-battery radars worth around $ 40 million to Armenia.

Meanwhile, Indonesia and Nigeria too have shown interest in Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers.

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The Pinaka MBRL has been in service with the Indian Army for over a decade and newer upgrades are under different stages of development by Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) a DRDO lab in association with HEMRL, VRDE and CAIR.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as over 80 countries today including the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Israel, Mauritius, Italy, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Egypt, UAE, Bhutan, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Poland, Kenya, Spain, Belgium, Vietnam and Chile are looking to import defence equipment and components from India.

The Indian aerospace & defence (A&D) market is estimated to reach around US$ 26 billion by 2025.

Some of the most sought-after defence equipment include personal protective items, Offshore Patrol Vessels, ALH helicopters, Sukhoi SU-30 MKI Avionics, Bharati Radio, Coastal Surveillance Systems, Kavach MoD II Launcher and FCS, Spares for Radar, Electronic Systems and Light Engineering Mechanical Parts etc.

To encourage innovation in defence, the MoD is establishing two Defence Industrial Corridors (DIC) in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu; namely the Uttar Pradesh Defence Industrial Corridor (UPDIC) and Tamil Nadu Defence Industrial Corridor (TNDIC) and hopes to attract investments to the tune of INR 10,000 crore in each of these DICs.

The greater emphasis on the indigenisation of defence equipment has already resulted in the reduction of defence procurement from foreign sources from 46% in FY19 to 36% in FY22.

The MoD also approved 150 proposals for domestic manufacturing worth INR 247,515 crore as per the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 (DAP-2020) in the two years period till December 2021.

These include the fabrication of 10 warheads for long-range anti-ship missiles (LRAShM). Indian Navy successfully conducted flight-test of the indigenously-developed Anti-Ship Missile launched from a Helicopter at the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur in Odisha— the first air-launched anti-ship missile system using state-of-the-art avionics and navigation system.

In yet another development Lockheed Martin has signed a five-year FOS contract worth $ 328.8 million to support the IAF  fleet of 12 C-130J-30 ‘Super Hercules’ special mission and transport aircraft. As part of the contract, Lockheed Martin which is the OEM will provide logistics and engineering support to the IAF’s C-130J fleet.

Lockheed Martin has partnered with Ashok Leyland, Tata, Mishra Dhatu Nigam Limited (MIDHANI), SASMOS, Lakshmi Machine Works, and Rossell Techsys to ensure the success of the Government of India’s Mission ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in the defence sector.

The Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL) facility in Hyderabad is the only source of C-130J tail assemblies installed on all new Super Hercules aircraft worldwide and has so far manufactured and exported more than 180 C-130J empennages.

The IAF uses the C-130J Super Hercules airlifter for a variety of reasons from cargo delivery to transportation of relief material, equipment and personnel in disaster-affected areas.

Lockheed Martin is keen to offer the F-21 single-engine fighter aircraft to the IAF — For India, From India.

The Indian Navy is seemingly interested to purchase the MH-60R ‘Romeo’ the world’s most advanced maritime helicopter from Lockheed Martin. The MH-60R multi-mission helicopter is expected to boost the Navy’s anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region. The first lot of three aircraft was already delivered to the Indian Navy last year and is being used to train the Indian pilots and crew members in California. Another lot of three helicopters was also delivered at INS Garuda Naval Air Station in Kochi early this year.  In all, a total of 24 MH-60Rs will be delivered over the next few years.

The company’s future programmes in India range from transport, maritime and fighter aircraft to sea and land-based air and missile defence projects.

Similarly UK-based defence and aerospace major recognises India among its top global defence markets. BAE Systems – was one of the first international companies to invest in local manufacturing in partnership with the Indian industry. BAE Systems entered into a joint venture partnership with HAL, to float a venture called BAeHAL – one of the first companies in the aerospace and defence sector which is today offering IT solutions to companies like Airbus, Rolls Royce, Thales, MBDA, ISRO, BEL and DRDO. In addition, to this BAE Systems has partnered with many Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to create opportunities and integrate them into its global supply chain.

BAE Systems has joined hands with Mahindra Defence Systems to produce of the 155mm M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzer (ULH) for the Indian Army. As per the understanding between the US and Indian governments, BAE Systems and Mahindra Defence Systems have assembled, integrated, and tested more than 125 M777 ULH systems for the Indian army to date. Approximately 40 Indian suppliers across the country have been assessed to join the global supply chain of the M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzer.

One of the products in demand worldwide is ‘Tejas’ single-engine, multi-role fighter. Several friendly countries like the USA, Argentina, Australia, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Philippines are queuing up to buy the supersonic fighter jet made in India. HAL is also considering the proposal to set up maintenance facilities in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka to ensure quality after-sales services

Another feather in BAE’s cap is the Hawk advanced jet trainer being developed in collaboration with HAL for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy. The Hawk programme in India was launched in 2004. To date, more than 120 Hawk Mk132 aircraft have been delivered to the IAF and the Indian Navy.

Already over 600 combat pilots have been trained on the Hawk and clocked more than 100,000 flying hours to date.

Pune-based Kalyani Group is setting up the world’s largest artillery manufacturing facility in India. The group currently produces about six guns in 30 days but expects to produce one gun per day three years from now.

Likewise, Bharat Forge the flagship company of Kalyani Group has signed an agreement with Paramount Group a global aerospace, engineering and technology conglomerate established by South African entrepreneur and industrialist Ivor Ichikowitz in 1994 for the production of armoured vehicles in India. Paramount Group is known to produce a wide range of advanced armoured and mine-protected vehicles being used by armies around the world and has been designed to meet the ever-changing needs of the global battlefield.

Bharat Forge Limited has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with General Atomics, US, to produce a Lithium-Ion Battery System for naval platforms/submarines to meet the requirements of the Indian Navy. General Systems is a global market leader in the research, design, and manufacture of a diverse portfolio of electromagnetic and advanced power and energy technologies.

Under the terms of the MOU, Bharat Forge and General Atomics’ Electromagnetic Systems Group (GA-EMS) will collaborate to set up a strong, and reliable defence technology and manufacturing vertical in India.

Meanwhile, the Korwa Ordnance Factory has signed a joint venture with the Indo-Russian Rifles Private Limited a consortium in which Russia’s Rosoboronexport and are partners — to start manufacturing the highly advanced Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifles in India. The production of the 100% localised Russian assault rifle is expected to start by the end of this year.

-The writer is a seasoned media professional with over three decades of experience in print, electronic, and web media. He is presently Editor of Taazakhabar News