Military & Aerospace

Military Aviation and National Growth
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Issue Vol 20.2 Apr-Jun2005 | Date : 04 Oct , 2012

From a modest Rs 85 crore in the financial year 1985-86, the export component has grown to Rs 215 crore in the financial year 2003-04. Over the years there has been a steady increase in the turnover, growth of infrastructure, and levels of productivity through absorption of higher levels of technology. Today, the major projects in hand include development and production of LCA, HJT 36 Intermediate Jet Trainer, Advanced Light Helicopter, Saras twin engine light transport aircraft, composite based components for ISRO projects, engine components for Snecma, components for Airbus aircraft, Marine Gas Turbine Engines and software packages for Boeing. In the concept and design stage are the Twin Engine Combat Aircraft Trainer (TECAT), Advanced Jet Trainer, Medium Tactical Transport aircraft for both military and civilian use and the Light Attack Helicopter.

In the area of licensed manufacture, there are a number of projects, big and small. These include the production of SU 30 MKI, Hawk AJT, Jaguar and Dornier 228 transport aircraft. Other programmes include mid-life upgrade and overhaul of a number of fixed and rotary wing aircraft and sizeable offset business from the Boeing and Airbus deals with the two state-owned national carriers, Air India and Indian Airlines.

The IAF operates at the cutting edge of technology and it devolves upon the apex agency, DRDO, to develop and support such technology.

HAL has been in the forefront of advanced technology, providing valuable spin-offs from which other sectors of industry benefit, as several production activities and requirement of services are outsourced to the private sector. The spiralling cost of aircraft of foreign manufacture involves a large outflow of funds, which is injurious to the health of the Indian economy. HAL is firmly set on the road to expand their range of production and integrate fully with the cycle of design, production, obsolescence and replacement to provide the needed support to military aviation in the country. From a stage of total import, HAL has passed through licensed production and is now moving towards joint production and marketing to minimise the outflow of foreign exchange.

Production activities at HAL have spawned a large number of ancillary units, which provide opportunity and production activity at lower levels of technology to support major projects at HAL. Similarly, military aviation has spurred the growth of the oil industry with the establishment of over 115 dedicated refuelling stations, manufacture of ground handling equipment and consumables such as oxygen, nitrogen and lubricants.

Development of Human Capital

HAL has around 30,000 employees comprising a large number of highly trained professional aerospace engineers, technicians and administrators who joined the organisation in their youth and have grown with the organisation. The index of productivity is evident in the fact that sales per employee have risen from Rs 1.4 lakh per employee in 1985-86 to Rs 6.9 lakh per employee in the year 1999-2000. Value addition per employee rose from Rs 77,000 in 1985-86 to Rs 4.8 lakh in the year 1999-2000.

Research And Development Establishments

An important objective of all economic planning is self-reliance, which can be achieved only through a sound R&D base. Devoid of adequate military industrial infrastructure, a developing country that seeks a  respectable level of national security has no option but to resort to huge imports of hardware and consumables as also is required to pay for transfer of technology, royalty, maintenance, certification etc. Such liabilities are a huge drain on the resources of a nation that have debilitating effect on economic growth negating the measurable positive impact of indigenous effort. A strong and effective R&D base within the country paves the way to the growth of the military industrial complex leading to enhanced self reliance, reduction in imports, conservation of foreign exchange, growth of indigenous technological aptitude, all of which has positive impact on economic growth.

ALH_helicopterReduction in the outflow of capital means that more funds are available for investment and circulation within the country. Military aviation has inspired the growth of R&D within the country, covering applied research as well as design and development in a variety of disciplines such as aeronautics, armament, rockets, satellites, missiles, computer science, electronics, instrumentation, communications, radar, electronic warfare, materials, metallurgy and so on. Spin-offs from R&D are available to the civil sector, which is a direct contribution to national development. The DRDO, which is the primary agency for R&D for the Armed Forces, functions in close association with 15 science and technology agencies, 40 academic institutions, 50 PSUs and over 200 private sector enterprises. The DRDO budget has progressively increased over the years and stood at around 4,000 crore in the financial year 2004-05. Given the increasing demand on the DRDO, a sizeable enhancement in the budget this year should only be expected. While the burden of expenditure on R&D in the fields of frontier technologies including nuclear and space is a part of the expenditure on national security, the fruits of R&D go to benefit the whole economy.

14 of the 59 IAF airfields are dual use and handle scheduled civil air traffic on a regular basis.

The IAF operates at the cutting edge of technology and it devolves upon the apex agency, DRDO, to develop and support such technology. Projects of DRDO involve a number of private and public sector agencies to support them, thereby promoting economic activity. As an example, for the LCA project, there are 11 academic institutions and 60 major industries involved. With nearly 5,500 crore committed to the project, the level of economic activity can well be visualised.

Taken together, the Indian Aerospace Industry, R&D Establishments engaged in aeronautical research and the IAF, constitute a huge aviation industrial network albeit with adverse economy of scale. The thrust towards self-reliance and indigenisation has drawn increasing participation from the private sector, providing them the exposure to high technology and the stringent standards associated with the field of military aviation.

Non Economic Factors Of National Growth

National growth and development is not governed by economic factors alone. As per a leading economist, Professor Cairncross, “The key to development lies in the minds of men, in the institutions in which their thinking finds expression and in the play of opportunities on ideas and institutions.” An underdeveloped or developing economy is not only required to enhance levels of investments to achieve higher levels of growth; but is also required to gradually transform the social, religious and political institutions, which are inclined to act as impediments to economic progress. This phenomenon was clearly manifest in Afghanistan where deep religious mindsets have successfully thwarted attempts at progress for over a century in spite of their sharp business acumen.

Expenditure on military aviation is generally regarded as a means to preserve liberty and freedom from external aggression.

As a nation, Afghanistan has been a complete political, social and economic disaster.

Expenditure on military aviation is generally regarded as a means to preserve liberty and freedom from external aggression. These are prerequisites for a stable and peaceful environment in the absence of which no type of growth, economic or otherwise, can be sustained. Security comes at a price, which must be paid by a nation through the investment of resources and sacrifice. zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s resolve to go nuclear even if “Pakistanis have to eat grass” is an example of an extreme position in this regard. However, the fact that resources must be committed to guarantee the minimum levels of security is a subject beyond debate.

The process of economic development can also be seen as expanding capabilities of people, upgrading levels of knowledge, growth of value systems, and improvement in the quality of life. The IAF, like military forces in general, helps break down barriers in social relationships and can be regarded as an instrument of change in promoting national integration and sociological advancement. Although difficult to quantify, these are socio-cultural benefits that promote socio-economic well being of the state even if they cannot be considered as a part of GDP.

Contribution of Air Force Infrastructure

From a flight of four aircraft and 25 men, established in 1932, the IAF has grown into a sizeable force with over 1,000 aircraft and 130,000 personnel.  It provides the core aviation activity and related expertise in a variety of disciplines. It operates at the cutting edge of technology with a variety of aircraft, radar and missile systems and promotes air-mindedness, modernity in thought, spirit of adventure, dedication and sacrifice. Air Force bases are spread all over the country and today there are 59 full-fledged operational airfields complete with air traffic control and support services. Some of these bases are located in remote and inhospitable areas – in Ladakh and the North East.

The IAF sustains a large pool of highly disciplined and trained manpower. Approximately five per cent of the work force i.e. 6,000 retire from service annually and are available to enrich the work force in the civil sector.

14 of the 59 IAF airfields are dual use and handle scheduled civil air traffic on a regular basis. Other IAF airfields can also be made available for civil air traffic with prior clearance. Some of the airfields in remote areas were developed when proper road access did not exist. Initially, IAF aircraft operated from improvised landing grounds, which subsequently evolved into standard facilities to support regular operations. Around each of these airfields developed air bases of varying size, which entailed extensive construction activity and investment of large funds. The larger bases support populations of around 20,000 and generate considerable economic activity and create business and employment opportunities in and around the base and also provide basic education facilities that are open to the civil population around the bases. Expenditure on the development of Air Force infrastructure leads to all round qualitative change in the socio-economic environment in the area. So far it has proved to be a boon, especially for the far flung and remote parts of the country.

The IAF sustains a large pool of highly disciplined and trained manpower. Approximately five per cent of the work force i.e. 6,000 retire from service annually and are available to enrich the work force in the civil sector. By virtue of their training and discipline, they have the potential to make a significant contribution to the economy through augmentation of human capital in a wide variety of disciplines. Military aviation has always provided the required human resources for the growth in the civil aviation sector. This has quite suddenly acquired greater significance in the recent past in the context of the rising demand in the civil aviation sector, consequent to liberalisation, which has spurred the expansion of existing airlines and mushrooming of a large number of new ones based on the low cost model.

Internal Security

Apart from the commitment to provide security against external aggression, the IAF has a significant contribution to make towards internal security. The IAF is employed in the frequent and routine redeployment of para-military forces, and also provides swift response to rush security personnel to disturbed areas to prevent or neutralise law and order problems. Speedy reaction with counter hijack forces is also a responsibility of military aviation.

Aid to Civil Authority

Disaster relief is a major area of responsibility of the Armed Forces in general and the Air Force in particular. Disasters or natural calamities such as floods, earthquakes, avalanches or fires, require swift response, which is most effectively provided through military aviation. It need hardly be stated that natural calamities occur in India with uncanny regularity. Speedy transportation of rescue and recovery teams, medical aid, food supplies, relief material and evacuation of casualties are some of the activities for which military aviation is considered eminently suitable.

Military aviation is totally integrated not only with the security paradigms but also with the social structure, industrial activity and the economy. It provides the nation the strategic underpinnings for sustained national growth.

However, it would neither be possible nor necessary to quantify the contribution of military aviation towards this national effort as such contribution cannot be provided so effectively and speedily by any other agency, nor can it be translated into monetary equivalence to be added to GDP. Response to the earthquake in Gujarat on 26 January 2001 and the Tsunami of 25 December 2004, are vivid examples of contribution by military aviation.

International Exchange

The IAF has participated with success in the UN Peace keeping Operations in Congo, Somalia, Sierra Leone and now in Sudan. It has provided and continues to provide specialist services to several foreign air forces including professional training for their personnel in India and abroad. Such interchange has generated immense goodwill, has served to enrich the professional regime and has enhanced the status of the nation in the world.

Conclusion

Military aviation is totally integrated not only with the security paradigms but also with the social structure, industrial activity and the economy. It provides the nation the strategic underpinnings for sustained national growth.

Expenditure on military aviation is an integral part of defence expenditure. In the Indian context, the level of defence expenditure is low and is usually under 3 per cent of GDP. The general belief is that expenditure on defence, which includes expenditure on military aviation, although necessary, diverts national resources towards non-developmental activity and hence does not contribute to national growth.
National growth has clearly two connotations, economic and non-economic. Apart from providing security to the nation, expenditure on military aviation has commercial and economic spin-offs. It has an array of beneficial effects on national well being as it promotes industrial production activity, R&D, infrastructure development, human resource development, employment opportunities and a range of socio-economic benefits.

Overall, the economy is sensitive to expenditure on military aviation as it stimulates growth, builds human capital and promotes synergy in civil-military relationship. While expenditure on military aviation may be regarded as a necessary burden on the resources of a nation, there is no doubt that a number of tangible benefits do accrue and the overall beneficial effects outweigh the perceived retardants to national growth.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal BK Pandey

Former AOC-in-C Training Command, IAF.

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