Triangular Contest for IAF’s MTA Order Intensifies, Lockheed Considering Assembly Line for C-130J in India

Defence Industry

New Delhi: US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin is considering to set up a manufacturing line in India for its C-130J aircraft as the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) quest for new medium transport aircraft (MTA) is expected to gather speed in near future. Lockheed Martin competes with two other global plane makers – Airbus and Embraer – for the multi-billion-dollar order.

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“The MTA competition provides us a significant opportunity to meet IAF’s tactical airlift requirements. We are exploring options for setting up an assembly line for the C-130J in India,” Anthony G Frese, vice president, business development (air mobility and maritime missions), Lockheed Martin, told a leading media outlet.

 

A fleet of 12 C-130J medium-sized airlifters are being operated by IAF currently and they have been extensively used for a variety of missions, including support to the military’s forward deployments in the Ladakh sector. The C-130J’s performance is proven in IAF service, and the aircraft has an availability rate (measure of airworthiness) of almost 90%, said Frese, who, along with other Lockheed officials this week, met IAF’s leadership including its chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari. “It has an impressive track record of accomplishing missions and that places us in an advantageous position in this competition,” Frese said.

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European Airbus Defence and Space with its A-400M aircraft and Brazilian Embraer Defense and Security with its C-390 Millennium, already have presence in the Indian defence market. Airbus is jointly executing a Rs 21,935-crore project with Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) to equip the air force with 56 C-295 aircraft to modernise its transport fleet, and Embraer has thus far supplied eight jets to India for VVIP travel and use as airborne early warning and control aircraft.

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To meet its growing airlift needs, IAF is looking for a new transport aircraft in the 18 to 30-tonne cargo-carrying capacity. The three-cornered contest to equip IAF with 40 to 80 aircraft is in line with the government’s Make in India initiative to boost self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector.

 

Though no decision has been taken yet, TASL is one of the Indian companies that Lockheed Martin could partner with to bid for the project for which the air force sought information from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) last year on the aircraft they can offer to meet its requirements. Located in Hyderabad, Tata Lockheed Martin Aerostructures Limited (TLMAL) is the single, global source of empennages (tail assembly) for the C-130J aircraft and the JV has delivered over 220 such assemblies since it began operations in 2010. The empennage assemblies built by TLMAL have been installed on C-130Js produced in Marietta in the US and delivered by Lockheed Martin to its global customers, including IAF.

 

Earlier this year in February, Embraer and Mahindra signed a memorandum of understanding to bid for the MTA order. Airbus has not yet announced who it will partner with to compete for the project, though TASL and state-run plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) could be among the likely options, according to a media report.

 

Last year, IAF had sought information from OEMs last year related to scope of technology transfer; possible methods to enhance indigenisation, and to setup a dedicated manufacturing line, including design, integration and manufacturing processes in India; capability to undertake indigenous manufacture of systems, subsystems, components and spares; and making India a regional or global hub for manufacturing and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of the equipment. In the request for information for MTA, IAF asked foreign vendors to provide a general estimate of the cost of aircraft and associated equipment for a batch of 40, 60 and 80 aircraft. The C-130J can carry a load of 20 tonne compared to C-390’s 26 tonne and A-400M’s 37 tonne.

 

After the defence acquisition council (DAC) grants its acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the project, India will float a tender for the MTA procurement.

 

According to Anthony Frese, IAF has seen a level of success with the existing fleet and that will continue with the new C-130Js. “Apart from the aircraft’s versatility, reliability and low operating costs, there will also be commonality in training, maintenance, spares and logistics support,” he added.