India plans to push ahead with equipping its armed forces with indigenous products, with the country's defence minister saying that at least 70% of the requirements have eventually to be met in-country.
Locally produced products such as the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft and Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter were involved in the flying display at this week's Aero India 2009 show in Bangalore, although the Sitara HJT Intermediate Jet Trainer was not involved after one of two prototypes crashed during rehearsals - two years after the other prototype crashed at the last edition of Aero India.
"All these developments are enough to say that India is emerging as a great aerospace power," says defence minister A K Antony. "We are not going to stop with these initial successes. A country like India cannot continue to depend on imports. Eventually, India should aim to produce at least 70% of our defence requirements locally."
He points out that this would require greater involvement by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the national research agency, and public sector companies such as Hindustan Aeronautics. The minister reiterates that New Delhi will continue with its stringent offset policies, which range from 30-50% of the value of the contracts, to ensure that local companies benefit from defence deals and the transfer of technology. Money, he adds, will not be a problem.
"There is no question of scaling down our defence expenditure, which is 2.5% of our GDP [gross domestic product] or compromise with our acquisition programmes despite the economic recession," Antony says.
New Delhi has been pursuing indigenous products with greater fervour over the past few years. In addition to the LCA and Dhruv, India is working on a medium combat aircraft, small transport aircraft, a light combat helicopter and light utility helicopters. Together with the Russians, it is studying the development of a multirole transport aircraft and a fifth-generation fighter. The country also successfully licence-produces the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and BAE Systems Hawk, and many forthcoming aircraft procurements involve indigenous licence-production as well.
Indigenous programmes, however, continue to face several problems, including lengthy delays. The Tejas has been delayed by several years because of problems with the aircraft's design and the development of an indigenous powerplant. HAL says that the LCH's first flight will be held in September, six months later than the initial target date. After completing trials and certifications, the helicopter may not enter into service until 2013 at the earliest. The HJT programme also faces a fresh delay after the latest accident.
"It is great to aim for indigenous products and we must continue to develop them, but we must also ensure that the quality is there and that the aircraft are delivered on time. Indian defence products have yet to fulfil both criteria, and we will continue to rely on imports for the foreseeable future," says a former senior air force official.
For more on the show, visit our Aero India landing page
Source: Flight International