Patience will out

The following first appeared as the lead Comment in 29 January 2013 Flight International

Aero India is a show to be not so much attended as survived. After navigating the torturous process of obtaining Indian visas, and paying extortionate amounts to profiteering Bengaluru hoteliers, on 6 February the world’s defence aerospace sector will find itself in the dusty field outside Yelahanka air base. 

Even then, security guards tend to move around the entrances to the show from day to day. Inside the halls, delegates can look forward to battles with contractors and irascible show officials. A frustrated delegate can be forgiven for wondering if it is worth it. However, after a moment of reflection, the answer will be: yes.

For the next decade India offers a unique window of opportunity for large-scale defence aerospace sales. Although the Indian air force has some reasonably modern types, such as the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and Dassault ­Mirage 2000H, large portions of its combat fleet are more suitable for a museum dedicated to Cold War airpower.

New Delhi, for example, operates more than 150 ­MiG-21s and 88 MiG-27s. Its fleet of 120 Sepecat Jaguars is still functional, but badly in need of upgrading.  Meanwhile, New Delhi’s Hindustan Aeronautics HS 748 transports is antiquated by even the most generous standards.

Progress is being made to rectify obsolescence issues. Negotiations are under way between Dassault and the Indian government for 126 Rafale fighters to replace the MiG-21s. The Rafale was the last fighter standing in the mammoth medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition that had its climax at the 2011 iteration of Aero India.

And New Delhi appears to have an insatiable appetite for other types beyond high-end combat aircraft. By the end of 2014, it will be the world’s second-largest operator of the Boeing C-17 after the USAF. It has taken delivery of six Lockheed Martin C-130Js and is likely to order six more. A request for proposals to replace the HS 748s with 56 modern tactical transports is in the works.

In mid-2013, New Delhi will receive the first of eight P-8I Poseidon special-missions aircraft, which will greatly enhance its ability to project power into the vast oceans that surround the subcontinent. It has requirements for new maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters.

Aside from the sheer frustration of doing business in India, winning New Delhi’s custom will come at a big price in the form of offsets. Foreign firms may baulk at supplying technology and know-how that could one day show up in competitive products, but the potential of India is too vast to ignore.

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