Defence Industry

Indigenisation of the Indian Aerospace Industry
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol. 29.1 Jan-Mar 2014 | Date : 08 Mar , 2015

LCA Tejas

A National Aerospace Policy, that caters to the interests of all stakeholders, duly synchronised where necessary, is the need of the hour along with an Aeronautics Commission and a dedicated Department of Aerospace with other supporting organisations. The Commission, Department and other supporting bodies should be tasked with designing and realising scientific, technological and industrial targets. This proposal was first placed for a decision in 1994, and later modified and re-submitted in 2004. It is still gathering dust tied up in red tape and ignorance.

The bureaucracy insists upon determining what the Indian Armed Forces need or do not need…

India has been a casualty of self-imposed arms control that has placed significant constraints on its policy of deploying military power as an instrument of furthering its national objectives in a rapidly evolving geo-political milieu. There are many reasons that have contributed to this sorry state of affairs which have led to a stunted capability not corresponding to its status as a regional power and its aspirations of becoming a global power.

Many factors can identify a nation’s military, in the list of which its capacity for economic growth occupies the top ranking. Since independence, Indians have been trying to convince themselves and their neighbours that they are a peace-loving nation committed to the principle of ahimsa (non-violence), as propagated by the Father of the Nation. This has been reflected in maintaining the defence budget around a measly two per cent, always unenthusiastically granted, ever since independence. Having been increased briefly, it is now being threatened to be reduced once again, citing economic difficulties. As a result, the defence industrial wherewithal to provide the military the resources to protect the integrity of the nation, has also been found wanting, leading to dependence on imports from foreign nations rather than a march towards self-reliance.

The ideological mindset on defence and security issues, which has been viewing the so-called militarisation and the active role of the private sector in India’s defence production, is another factor for our reliance on imports. In India, the topic of defence is considered as a ‘holy cow’, to be spoken of in hushed tones and in total secrecy. The reason for such an attitude is probably the lack of strategic culture in the political class, or a forfeit of knowledge in defence matters, or a misplaced notion of security.

In addition, the bureaucracy, which exercises ‘civilian control’ over the defence forces by proxy, insists upon determining what the Indian Armed Forces need or do not need and where to buy the equipment from, going to the extent, at times, of even overruling the recommendations of experts from the military. This policy has led to a continued dependence on foreign suppliers while projecting an inflated indigenous capability of the defence related public sector industry.

India’s defence production sector, especially in the aerospace segment, leaves much to be desired…

Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru, had visions of a socialist pattern of society in which public sector enterprises were expected to be the prime movers of the economy. This was applicable to defence production too. Whatever little production of military equipment that took place in the country was, therefore, entrusted to the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and the Directorate General of Ordnance Factories (DGOF). In a conscious decision taken due to security paranoia, the private sector was kept out of defence production. The defence aerospace sector was no exception.

As it stands today, India’s defence production sector, especially in the aerospace segment, leaves much to be desired. The Indian aerospace industry, whatever we have, has been driven predominantly by military requirements with a smattering of small agricultural aircraft manufactured for a short period. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been the giant of the aviation industry in India, with a turnover of over of about $3 billion and with about 30 license production and a few indigenous aircraft to its credit. As per Shri S.K Mittal, General Manager, Business Development, HAL, the company has developed more than 2,000 tier-3 suppliers but not any in the tier-1 or 2 categories (SP’s Aviation, Issue 11, p29). Yet, with such figures, it has not been able to meet the requirements of the IAF, or else, the Air Force would not be having a public spat with it over the basic trainer, or the Air Force would not have ignored HAL capabilities and go shopping to foreign vendors for the new replacement for the Avro aircraft. The enduring love-hate relationship between IAF and HAL never seems to die!

Today HAL is the largest of aerospace companies in Asia, with the IAF as its ‘captured’ customer. Rather than move ahead with IAF, holding each other’s hand and promoting mutual support, the two agencies are forever locked in conflict. Rather than adding the Air Officer in charge Maintenance (AOM) from Air HQ, on its Board of Directors, it has removed the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, a long-standing member of the Board, and relegated him to the position of a permanent invitee! Notwithstanding its size, the HAL has not accomplished very much, though the Chairman may have different statistics to present (SP’s Aviation, Issue 10, p34). No aerospace company in the world today, worth its reputation, attempts to cover all aspects of aerospace activity, as HAL does. The technologies in the aerospace industry are so spread over a broad spectrum, that it is almost impossible for any company to be self-contained, irrespective of its size, it has to have cross-linkages to be vibrant, proficient and economical. Yet HAL attempts to do just the opposite.

Indian aerospace industry (read HAL) has been stuck in the comfort zone of ‘licence production’…

India saw some major contributions of science and technology in the three to four decades after independence; organisations, such as the CSIR, DRDO and ISRO, bolstered the march towards nation building. Notwithstanding the contributions, the Indian Armed Forces continued to depend on foreign countries to meet their needs for military hardware. Even after 66 years of gaining independence, the situation has not changed much; the Indian Army is now wanting to replace the indigenous INSAS rifle with one from a foreign vendor while the Air Force is looking to augment its operational and strategic capability with the purchase of aircraft from abroad.

The DPSU-bureaucratic combine has flourished since independence, so has the Indian demand and consequent dependence on foreign supply. The local industry’s capacity for arms production is limited to only 30 per cent of the demand. While the call for indigenisation has been getting stronger over the years, Indian aerospace industry (read HAL) has been stuck in the comfort zone of ‘licence production’ with the bureaucracy supporting it with the insistence of a clause of ‘Transfer of Technology’ (ToT) in almost every contract. Little does the bureaucracy realise that a ToT gets us only modern production techniques but does not help us in getting modern technology to assist in design and development. There is, therefore, a need for a change of policy to arrive at correct assessments and decisions across the spectrum of political leaders, bureaucrats and technocrats.

Direct import is the simplest and quickest way of meeting the requirements of the military. Such imports also keep the military perpetually tied down to the foreign supplier for a continuous supply of spares and upgrades. The Government of India (GoI) has been increasingly becoming aware of the bullying by the foreign governments and manufacturers; the disintegration of the Soviet Union brought home the lesson, when the military, especially the Air Force, equipped with Soviet-era hardware, up to 70 per cent, faced the problem of procuring spares for the maintenance of the equipment.

The only promising start in the aerospace sector is the Mahindra Group, which produces 30 aircraft each year…

Due to the continued inconsistent performance of the public sector, nurtured with protectionist policies, the GoI now wants to leverage the private sector’s technical expertise towards achieving self-sufficiency. The Science and Technology Policy, promulgated in 2001, aimed to refocus on administrative and management structures in the various departments; a relook of the policy in 2003 once again placed the emphasis on self-reliance, with an added focus on sustainable development and knowledge-based development. The mere acquisition of modern technology, however, without the appropriate levels of knowledge, could prove detrimental to genuine indigenous capabilities.

In an effort to prove its commitment to achieving self-reliance in defence production, both for strategic and economic reasons, the GoI unveiled its first ever Defence Production Policy in January 2011. The policy seeks to achieve self-reliance in the design, development and production of weapon systems and platforms by creating conducive conditions for the private industry as well as broadening the defence R & D base within the country. The salient features of the policy are:

  • Preferences will be accorded to indigenous production. Import will be the second option. In case of import, the urgency of procurement will be considered against the time that will be taken in local development and production.
  • Weapons and platforms required ten years or more down the line, will be developed in the country. Subsystems, however, may be imported.
  • Indigenisation will be promoted through consortiums, joint ventures and public-private partnerships.
  • The “Make” category in the DPP will be simplified. The option to “Buy” shall be for the initial necessary numbers only.
1 2
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
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 Dhiraj Kukreja

former Air Officer Commanding in Chief of Training Command.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

One thought on “Indigenisation of the Indian Aerospace Industry

  1. Indegenisation of Defence weaponry will remain a distant dream always.We do not have the research setup in the country.Impulsive actions by Govt in power are only to the gallery to get more votes.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments