New Delhi: American aviation giant Boeing, which is eyeing mega fighter contracts from the Air Force and the Navy besides the mid-air refuelers, is optimistic about its growth in India.
The company, which currently has 62 aircraft in operation with the Indian military — Apache, Chinook, P8I, C-17 — is also buoyant about the civil aviation market, saying India has a demand of more than 2,000 aircraft over the next 20 years.
“Boeing is in India because it is a place like no other, a market like no other and capability for us like no other. From the market point of view, India is going to be the third largest civil aviation market in the world with over 2,000 aircraft coming into India over the next 20 years,” Salil Gupte, president of Boeing India, said in an interview.
He said India is an incredibly important defence market and partner for Boeing, adding that there are currently 62 aircraft in service with nine more on the way.
“We are constantly engaged with Services. There are opportunities for naval and air force fighters,” he said.
Stressing on the 3,000-strong workforce Boeing India’s long-term goal in the country, Gupte said that while five years ago the company sourced systems worth $250 million, it has now grown to $1 billion.
Fighters For The Navy And Air Force
Boeing is offering the F15EX for the Indian Air Force’s plan to procure 114 fighters and has made available the F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Navy’s proposal to acquire 57 new jets.
The Super Hornets are also being offered to the IAF, but a final call will be taken based on the formal Request for Proposal to be issued by the force, which will have specific technical requirements.
“We try to bring the best solutions to the customer. We listen and study intensively what their requirement is. Ultimately, they decide what their acquisition requirement is,” said Michael M. Koch, vice president (India), Boeing, Defence, Space and Security.
“One will have to see which aircraft the neighbours don’t want to see being operated by the IAF. I think it is the F-15EX. But that is for the customer to decide,” Koch said.
Boeing V/s Airbus
Koch said one interesting requirement that does not get much attention is the mid-air refuelling.
“India is operating with the IL78, which is older and expensive to operate and maintain. So there is a long-pending need and requirement for air-to-air refuelling,” he said, adding that Boeing’s KC46 has an edge over the Airbus’ A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT).
It was reported last month that the IAF has sought financial quotes from Boeing and the European aerospace major Airbus to lease at least two tankers to overcome India’s critical shortage of mid-air refuelling capability.
This is besides the IAF’s long-pending plan to acquire six mid-air refuelers.
“KC46 was not available earlier, but is now absolutely available and on the table. When I look at the Indian operational requirement, air-to-air refuelling is not just a gas tank in air. You have to look at the system and see how it is designed,” Koch said.
He pointed out that the KC46 is optimised for cargo, transport of people, medical evacuation, among others.
“Because of its size, it can go to far more airports than larger ones. Because it is smaller, the operating cost is less,” Koch said, adding that it can carry more cargo than the MRTT.
“Despite the size, it is designed in such a way that it can carry more cargo than the larger competition. And there is a reason for that, KC46 is purpose-built. It is designed to be a tanker. We did not take a commercial aircraft and change it into a tanker with extra tanks. Maybe that is what other companies do,” he said taking a dig at MRTT aircraft, a derivative of the twin-engine A330 passenger aircraft of Airbus.
Koch said that the aircraft comes with cargo doors and two individuals in two hours can change the fitting of the aircraft and its layout to transform it into a cargo or for medical evacuation-oriented mission.
“We are armoured. We are designed to operate in nuclear and bio environments. We are designed for war time, so that you can come closer to the war. It is a tanker by design and on purpose. It is right-sized,” he said, adding that the KC46 can take off and land from over 100 additional airstrips compared to an MRTT.
“On day one of combat, you think Agra airport will still be operational? So where do you do refuelling or medical evacuation from? Do you operate from the Andamans? KC46 is the right size,” Koch added.
‘Apache Complements The LCH’
Koch said that there is no competition between Apache and the LCH (light combat helicopter) as they complement each other.
According to Boeing’s calculation, he said, each strike brigade under the proposed theatre commands will need about 13 attack helicopters.
“The reason for procurement is operational requirements. India has analysed and assessed whatever threat there is in the environment. They are the experts. Some of it is published (in the media) and some are not. What we have seen is the proposed advent of the theatre commands and CDS focusing on restructuring and joint requirements,” he said.
Koch added that for future Army and Army Aviation and IAF, the key piece of this is the brigade structure and strike brigades.
“So from that basis, our analysis is that there is a requirement of 39 attack helicopters to support that specific requirement. If you have three strike brigades, and if you typically have a squadron of 13 helicopters for strike brigade, then you are looking at operational requirements.”
“Our analysis of 39 is based on what is published. I don’t know if internally, your Army and IAF may have another analysis,” he said.
While the IAF has inducted 22 Apache attack choppers, the Army has gone in for additional six, the fuselage of which will be built in India by Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited.
“Obviously, we do think there is a requirement for additional attack helicopters to address the broader requirement. Six was not enough in my view. Very clearly, notwithstanding, the most recent events with the Chinese, the level of border aggression seen,” he said.
Terming the LCH as an impressive aircraft, Koch denied there was any competition between the two.
“These are totally different classes. They don’t compete for the same mission. Importantly, Apache can further enable and be a multiplier effect for the LCH. Apaches is a highly networked aircraft. The longbow radar is incredible. It is without peer,” he said.
“It is a deadly force in itself, but also has a multiplier effect for other assets, including LCH. They are not in competition. I see them as complementary. Who knows in future, both could be networked together,” Koch added.
He said that LCH can certainly work in glaciers and very high altitude because it is much lighter aircraft.
“It is not going to be an armoured one like the Apache or have the capabilities. But it can fly very important missions. I see a much more complementary scenario than competition,” Koch said.