We have something like 330 members as part of the Society for Indian Aerospace and Technologies Industries (SIATI) family and that’s a very good number and I am sure that it is going to grow in the years to come. This society has a wide spectrum of role to play which covers production of aerospace equipment & systems, components, materials and associated services and so on.
It is also interesting that SIATI has established several international linkages with similar agencies across the world, thereby strengthening indigenous industries, which must play a significant role in the 21st century, both in the country as well as globally, in cooperation with aerospace organisations of the world.
In the last 50 years it has developed into a multi-dimensional, multi-institutional activity, which today covers several areas”…
It is now more than 60 years since aeronautical industrial activities started in this country in some form or the other. Initially it was the HAL which provided services, serviced aircraft and so on. However, in the last 50 years it has developed into a multi-dimensional, multi-institutional activity, which today covers several areas like the aircraft design and development, simulation, manufacturing, system realisation, education and so on.
Obviously we today have an end to end capability in the areas of aeronautics and aerospace. If you look at aerospace in totality we have broadly four major components of activities in this country, that have been allowed to evolve over the years. First of course, is the oldest institution HAL which has worked on 23 types of aircraft, 11 of which are of indigenous design. The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), developed under the ADA, is well known, as also the Advanced Light Helicopter, (ALH).
We also have the Intermediate Jet Trainer and a Light Attack Helicopter. They are even contemplating on a civilian aircraft may be with 100-150 passenger seating capacity. This has been a very long way for HAL and other associated institutions like, DRDO and ADA who can proudly claim today that they actually laid the foundation of aeronautics/aircraft industry.
More than 500 sorties have been flown on LCA and there is an order for 20 aircraft for the Air Force and an option for another 20. The ALH and other kinds of products of HAL have been also doing reasonably well in the market. On the other side, the DRDO has been very much engaged in the development of missiles. The Integrated Missile Development Programme (PRITHVI, AGNI, TRUSHUL ) and also Unmanned Air Vehicles, (NISHANT, LAKSHYA) have been major elements. Another segment of aerospace activity is going on in the Defence Research and Development Organisation. The third component constitutes the work on civilian aircraft, as also partly supporting the military programmes, and that is attached to the National Aerospace Laboratories of the CSIR, which worked on a HANSA aircraft, and now on SARAS aircraft. HANSA is an all composite light trainer aircraft which uses materials like the Carbon Fibre. And finally we have the space programme.
The development started in a modest way with SLV and has gone into Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicles, (ASLV). We have a good operational launch vehicle in the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and Geo-Synchronous Launch Vehicle. Currently the space programme is in the process of developing the third generation GSLVs, which will put us rightly on the top in this area – something like four to four – and – a half tonnes launch capability of satellites in the Geo-Synchronous orbit. We have built some of the world’s best satellites in Remote Sensing i.e. IRS Series of Satellites for land observation as well as for communication.
All the satellite structures, that have been built by HAL for ISRO, have very successfully met the demands in terms of quality, accuracy and precision.
Multi-purpose communication systems of the INSAT today provide services in the broadcasting, telecommunications and many other areas such as education and tele-medicine. The metrological component is another aspect of geo-synchronous aspect of the India’s space programme. The optimisation of resources, therefore, comes into play – as to how much one should invest in in-house sources like – DRDO, Defence Production and HAL or Space – and how much the industries can partake in the production and supporting of these various programmes.
We at ‘Space’ and DRDO recognised it long back that many of the facilities that are set-up in the industry are also applicable to our atomic energy programme. In fact some years back when Dr Nair was the Chairman of HAL, we decided that we will get the entire 2nd stage of the PSLV, (the Liquid Stage), manufactured and delivered as a total system by HAL rather than part by part.
I am extremely happy to note that last week such a totally built 2nd stage of the PSLV was delivered to ISRO by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. This speaks volumes of the progress we have made in producing systems, not just sub-systems, but a total system and that too of a large vehicle like PSLV. Incidentally, the same kind of stage is also used as a strap–on in the first stages of the GSLV, and there are large number of such stages that will be produced by the HAL in future along with the associated industries. All the satellite structures, that have been built by HAL for ISRO, have very successfully met the demands in terms of quality, accuracy and precision.
Since 30 years HAL has been involved in delivering the Satellite structures for ISRO. As regards education–when you do so much both in the Government sector as well as in the private sector, obviously, you need a lot of people who are in a position to undertake manufacture, design, development, testing, simulation and all the other downstream activities. In fact two weeks back I was in IIT, Mumbai and I went to the aerospace department particularly to see how the IIT-Aerospace Mumbai is doing. The professors were very young and enthusiastic but the student response has not been up to the mark.
So obviously the aerospace education even in institutions like IIT has been dwindling. They said they are not able to get requisite numbers. I am sure many other IITs including IIT Kanpur feels the same way. In fact once they were thinking of closing down the aerospace department. But what is redeeming, and the professors told me, that there is an educational institute in Nagpur, which is also running an aerospace department, and has 120 students.
…things that would happen in the next 20-25 years is the fact that there would be a lot of commonality between a Space Transportation system and Air Transportation.
Now they are trying to bring synergy between that institute and IIT Mumbai to take advantage of response of a larger segment of students. This is not difficult to reason out. You have a very strict procedure to get into an IIT, so if you want to be in the first 4000 in the country it is not going to be easy but certainly you can be in the first 20,000, and they say that the first 20,000 is marginally very much equal to the first 4000 in the IIT. So its not a big programme. They are going to see whether they can work together and institute a mechanism by which this can be done.
Institute of Science is thinking of doing that. But what I am happy to note is, that Dr CG Krishnadas Nair told me, a few months back, that he himself has a concept of starting an Aerospace University in Bangalore. Bangalore, you know is the centre of several activities in Space and Aerospace and Aeronautics. So obviously, such an Aerospace University will be dedicated not only to aircraft design, space craft design, launch vehicle design, but the entire gamut of activities, related to certification, safety issues, airport technologies landing/guidance technologies, airport management, airline management and a host of things that go with an aircraft or space craft or with launch vehicle.
There are discussions on with IISc and many institutions in Bangalore on the proposal. It is a very interesting new concept and has all the potential to succeed, simply because of the fact that it is a growing activity in this country, and also in many other countries across the world which are looking forward to this kind of development in our country. Now how does the future look like? Of course technology is growing.
In fact one of the interesting things that would happen in the next 20-25 years is the fact that there would be a lot of commonality between a Space Transportation system and Air Transportation. There is going to be a lot of synergy between aircraft activities and space launch vehicle activities, and, therefore, one could bring together many of the activities in the aircraft design groups to work closely with the Space groups not only in manufacture but also in design and development of the futuristic systems like the Space Transportation System, wherein efforts should be made to improve the payload fraction from the present level of i.e. US $20-25000/- per kilogram (that is what you pay for launching a communication satellite into space) to $5000 or even if you dream you can think of bringing it down to US $1000/-dollars per kilogram.
Then obviously the number of flights that go to the Space will considerably increase and transportation systems would be accessible not only for those very niche areas, but also to people otherwise interested in the adventure of going into the space. Of-course there are very many things that are common in set-up for aircraft and spacecraft. You need to develop hypersonic/supersonic wind tunnel, combustion studies, advanced computational fluid dynamics and a host of things.
There should be a directive policy that we need for aeronautics. Some of us including Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, have been tireless champions, for setting up an Aeronautics Commission.
There is, therefore, synergy needed between aircraft and space. It is not that we are not doing it currently, but not to the desired level. Ultimately you need a massive scale of effort, requiring infusion of a lot of money for realising an advanced level of activity in both space transportation system and the advanced aircraft system.
There are companies which make use of our graduates and post-graduates. The GE (General Electric), Jacqual centre in Bangalore is one classic example of India’s feeding its brain power into several important design concepts. In places like Jaqual Centre, it is primarily the Indian brain that supports many of the important developments that goes in the areas of aerospace, aircraft engines for which the GE’s well known. We have made huge investments in the earlier years.
In fact one of my colleagues tried to make a quick arithmetic of the type of money that we have spent since the inception of aeronautics activity in this country. He thinks it is in the order of 10000 crores. We have invested in various infrastructures at the Government level to support these activities, whether it relates to HAL, i.e. the development of LCA, or in the civilian domain, which is to the extent of 500 crores or so. So you can see that in total it is not an insignificant money.
So India’s space centre, is not really technology limited, you have all the elements of an aerospace activity on the technology side, but where exactly today we are lacking is on the policy side. If you really look at the history of aircraft development, you see some aircraft get developed, then it is dropped and you get into next generation and so on. Luckily for LCA, I am happy to hear it from Air Marshal too, that it is something the Air Force is very much looking forward to, and certainly it is going to a be very successful programme not only in trying to qualify to the specification on LCA’s performance, but importantly, also qualify with the user, who is ultimately going to use it.
I still don’t have a clue as to whether there is a second or a third generation for LCA for which specifications have already been laid down by the user, even as you try to deliver the first generation. Obviously there is a gestation period which can be anywhere between 8-10 years for a new generation of aircraft. India has done remarkably well in areas like Space. We are one among the five or six. but you don’t have an Indian civil aircraft of consequence. There should be a directive policy that we need for aeronautics. Some of us including President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, have been tireless champions, for setting up an Aeronautics Commission. I did use one of this forums some years back to champion the cause. This is the suggestion Dr Nair has been working on.
You have something like Rs. 30,000 crores to be taken advantage of in the next 10 years and the best first option is to convert that kind of money into an aerospace product. Are we in a position, for example, to absorb Rs. 3000 crores a year in the next 10 years, so that 30000 crores can be profitability spent.
Dr Kalam when he was the President of the Aeronautical Society of India, along with Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy, and a lot of us, have been speaking about this. The whole idea is to give a little focus to the various dimensions of the national aeronautics activity and to have a structured evolutionary growth of this activity. You have to promote R&D activity both in various R&D institutions and academic institutions, and then of-course we need to have a mechanism related to reviewing the, safety, airworthiness of aircraft in coordination with the Airforce.
There are many such things, that we need to look at and I think setting up of an Aeronautic Commission on the lines of Space Commission and Atomic Energy Commission could certainly go a long way in trying to bring together, and consolidate the various kinds of achievements that we have realised in the last 50-60 years. All I can say at this particular time is that if we have a strong national programme and agency like the Aeronautic Commission it will certainly provide a direction and focus in the years to come.
Once we have core national programme we can also play our own role in the international domain. We should not just create this aeronautics capability only for supporting the international activities, it should have a strong national component. It has happened in ‘Space’ and Antrix today is the commercial wing of ‘Space’, and it also supports several industries across the country. But most importantly Antrix is only a commercial arm of an Indian capability. The core is probably needed for India’s requirement whether it is developmental, or whether it is strategic.
In the case of aeronautics and space it becomes even more important at this juncture because not only it will provide a core capability to design and build advanced combat aircraft, civilian aircraft and so on, but also we can have some thing like, the offset arrangement with the Boeing and Airbus. You have something like Rs. 30,000 crores to be taken advantage of in the next 10 years and the best first option is to convert that kind of money into an aerospace product. Are we in a position, for example, to absorb Rs. 3000 crores a year in the next 10 years, so that 30000 crores can be profitability spent.
This is a big question, I am sure all of you will deliberate, and many of you will certainly benefit by the process of offsetting arrangement. I think a very comprehensive plan as to how this country could take the advantage of this kind of offset arrangement should be drawn. It is a substantial money, which would be integral to generating more money than you have ever infused into the country, in terms of aeronautics activity. The future certainly is extremely bright and the industry has a role to play. We strongly believe that ultimately it is the private and public sector partnership that will lead to a very strong and vibrant activity in aeronautics in this country.