From HAL to TATAs, how the Indian domestic defence industry is the wind beneath IAF’s wings
On 8 October 1932, the Indian Air Force was launched with six officers and 19 soldiers trained by Britain’s Royal Air Force. The IAF has come a really long way since 1932, from having just four Westland Wapiti IIA aircraft initially to having a total of 1,262 aircraft as recorded in January 2020.
And that’s not where it ends. Former IAF chief Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria in early September had said that the air force was looking at procuring 350 more aircraft over the next two decades.
But it’s taken a lot for the IAF to soar — with massive imports of aircraft and related-technology to now putting emphasis on ‘Aatmanirbhar’ Bharat, or self-reliant India.
A Major Importer
India is known to be a huge defence importer and according to the data on international arms transfers released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) it is the world’s second-largest arms importer, only topped by Saudi Arabia.
From 2016-2020, India accounted for 9.5 percent of the total global arms imports, the SIPRI data revealed, adding that it had however, fallen by 33 percent between 2011-2015 and 2016-2020.
Reporting on the drop in imports, Air Marshal Anil Chopra (Retd) had said that the data clearly showed the country’s drive towards Atmanirbharta is showing results. “India is finally at an inflection point and the Indian defence industry is coming of age,” the director general, Centre for Air Power Studies, was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
India has a domestic defence industry of which 80 percent is government-owned. The public sector includes Defence Research and Development Organisation and its 50 labs, four defence shipyards, five defence Public Sector Undertakings and 41 ordnance factories.
Despite these, India’s target of 70 percent self-reliance in defence procurement is still to be achieved. At present, India’s self-reliance is hovering at around 35-40 percent.
The DRDO has contributed greatly to the Indian Air Force and is undoubtedly one of the top defence equipment manufacturing companies in India.
Recently, the IAF was handed over the first deliverable Firing Unit of Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) System. Developed jointly by DRDO and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in collaboration with the Indian industry, the MRSAM (IAF) is an advanced network-centric combat Air Defence System.
Terming the MRSAM, one of the best state-of-the-art missiles in the world, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the weapon will prove to be a game-changer in the air-defence system.
The DRDO is also developing a new airborne early warning and control aircraft using the Airbus jets. The project is estimated to be worth Rs 11,000 crore, as per sources.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL)
HAL, the state-owned company, is known for manufacturing some very competitive aircraft and helicopters, including ‘Light Combat Aircraft’, ‘Chetak’, and ‘Cheetah’.
In February, the government sealed a Rs 48,000 crore deal to procure 83 Tejas light combat aircraft from HAL, in the biggest ever indigenous defence procurement programme.
It also announced that it would be developing a 10-12 tonne attack helicopter by 2027, which would be India’s answer to America’s Apache chopper.
Bharat Electronics Ltd
Established in 1954, BEL has core competencies in the area of radars and weapons systems, sonars and Electro-Optics.
The company is responsible for developing the Surface-to-Air-Akash Missile System, which was inducted into the IAF in July 2015.
Bharat Dynamics Limited
Started in 1970, Bharat Dynamics Limited is another defence PSU spearheading the government’s ‘Aatmanirbhar’ objective. The Akash Weapons System is produced by them in collaboration with BDL and DRDO.
Moreover, there are several private-run companies that have been extending support to the Indian Air Force.
Just recently, India announced that it would be purchasing 56 C-295 medium transport aircraft, replacing the ageing fleet of Avro-748 planes.
TATA Advanced Systems Limited would jointly execute this project with Airbus Defence and Space under which 40 of the 56 planes would be assembled in India by TASL.
Kalyani Rafael Advanced Systems Ltd, a joint venture between Pune-based business giant Kalyani Group and Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defence Systems Ltd, made big news when it bagged its first order worth $100 million for manufacturing 1000 Barak-8MRSAM missile kits for the Indian Air Force.
Infrastructure giant Larsen & Toubro also contributes to the Indian Air Force. It supplies various Ground Systems such as Platforms for Radar systems, SatCom equipment for C4I and multiple weapon systems. Moreover, it has also been chosen to manage the armed forces’ communications network, ensuring bases across the country talk and exchange dates securely.