LOOKING INWARD
Asian Military Review|February/March 2021
India’s Government is trying to meld its Atamnirbhar Bharat Initiative towards its military aviation ambitions.
Mike Rajkumar

India’s ongoing border face-off with China along the Sino-Indian border, near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region, has triggered the Indian Government into a troop build-up to strengthen defences on its Himalayan borders.

The urgent requirement to modernise India’s armed forces has been impacted by the slowdown in its economy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This has forced the military to prioritise weapons acquisitions. The Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promoting a policy which provides an impetus to indigenous defence production under its ‘Atamnirbhar Bharat’ (Self Reliant India) drive to reduce the import of costly defence equipment from abroad.

Reducing imports The Government has been strongly promoting its Atamnirbhar Bharat initiative and in August, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) released a list of 108 systems and subsystems identified for design and development by Indian industry. The import of these systems would be banned completely by 2021. In December, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accorded its Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for procurement of six Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) Mk-II aircraft under the ‘Buy (Indian-IDDM)’ category of the new Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020.

While there is no official confirmation yet, it is expected that the earlier Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) India programme for which the Airbus A330 had been selected will make way for the AEW&C Mk-II project. The Indian Air Force (IAF) operates three Beriev A-50I Phalcon AWACS and two Defence Research & Development Agency (DRDO) developed AEW&C platforms called ‘Netra’ based on Embraer EMB-145 aircraft. The Indian AEW&C Mk-II programme however, calls for pre-owned Airbus A-319/321 aircraft from state owned carrier Air India to be used as the platform. The IAF received its second Netra AEW&C aircraft in September 2019 and is slated to add a third, completing the programme. Additional A-50I orders have been in the news for many years, but the contract for two new aircraft to join three of the type already in service, has not fructified.

A major beneficiary of the Atamnirbhar Bharat initiative is state-owned airframer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). While much of HAL’s history has seen manufacture Russian and British military platforms under license, today it has a credible rotary wing design, development and manufacturing capability and has ironed out production related issues for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), with larger orders expected soon. To overcome the performance limitations of the Tejas Mk-1, the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and HAL have offered the substantially improved Tejas Mk-1A which will feature an Israeli Elta Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, new Air-to-Air Missiles (AAM) in MBDA’s ASRAAM and the indigenously designed and developed Astra, Self-Protection Jammer (SPJ) along with other improvements. “The contract for the production of 83 Tejas Mk-1A is in final stages and is likely to be signed shortly. HAL has proactively gone ahead with the task of design and development of Mk-1A specific systems like AESA Radar, EW suite etc. The details of prototype roll-out and first flight would be shared after the contract is signed and the relevant steps are worked out,” HAL chairman R Madhavan told Asian Military Review..

Tejas is now operational in its Mk-I Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and Final Operational Clearance (FOC) variants with two IAF squadrons, entering operational service with No. 45 Squadron ‘Flying Daggers’ in July 2016 and No. 18 Squadron ‘Flying Bullets’ in May 2020. All 16 aircraft in IOC configuration have been delivered by HAL, which has also started delivery of the FOC standard aircraft. These feature improved weapons capability, an enhanced fight envelope with improved low speed handling and inflight refuelling capability. Production of Tejas twin-seat trainers is also underway, with 16 aircraft having been delivered to the IAF in IOC configuration. Delivery of FOC aircraft is now underway.

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