International aerospace firms will flock to the Aero India air show in Bangalore this week as they bid to share a potentially lucrative market

Shifting political allegiances can open markets as well as close them, and just three years after the USA lifted sanctions on India and Pakistan, the fifth Aero India show finds itself at the fulcrum of sales campaigns by US manufacturers competing against their international rivals.

The traditional hostility between these countries makes for an interesting market, and Pakistan's favoured status as an ally in the war against terror may hobble efforts by US manufacturers to tap the potentially massive Indian demand for defence systems - an appetite that is already providing substantial opportunities for European, Israeli and Russian companies as well as India's indigenous industry.

Record numbers

The growth in India's aerospace industry is one reason for the record number of exhibitors at this week's Aero India 2005 show in Bangalore (9-13 February). The other is the large number of defence procurements under way or on the horizon. But the largest - a potential $9 billion deal for 126 multirole fighters - illustrates the sensitivities of this regional marketplace.

India issued a request for information (RFI) in December to Dassault for the Mirage 2000-5 Mk2, Saab for the JAS39C Gripen and RSK MiG for the MiG-29MRCA. An RFI was not issued to Lockheed Martin for the F-16C/D, but India has made it clear the US fighter will be considered, if officially offered. But Pakistan is pushing the USA to permit the modernisation and expansion of its F-16 fleet, potentially placing Lockheed in a difficult competitive position.

The fighter requirement illustrates India's neutral approach to defence procurement. After acquiring 50 Mirage 2000s from France, plus 10 attrition replacements, the air force has taken delivery of 50 Sukhoi Su-30K/MKIs from Russia and Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) is gearing up to licence-build another 140. At the same time, India is developing the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA).

Delays to the LCA, being developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency and manufactured by HAL, are behind the Indian air force's decision to pursue a fighter purchase. Two technology demonstrators and the first of five prototypes have logged 340 flights since January 2001. The second prototype is due to fly next month, and an initial production batch has been ordered, but the LCA will not enter service before 2007, delaying phase-out of the air force's ageing MiG-21s, -23s and -27s.

With a developing industrial base to nurture, India is striving to balance foreign procurement, licence-manufacture and indigenous development while also balancing its political allegiances. Technology transfer will be a key factor in the new fighter competition, which could be widened to include the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon before a selection is made in 2007.

Limited choices

Pakistan's choices are more limited. The air force will begin taking delivery next year of the JF-17 lightweight fighter, jointly developed with China, but wants a more capable aircraft. If it is denied F-16s, Pakistan says it will look for alternatives, as it did when the USA initially turned down its request for Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft.

Pakistan is believed to be in advanced negotiations with Sweden for seven Saab 2000s equipped with Ericsson's Erieye radar, but the USA is reported to have made a last-minute offer of new or upgraded ex-US Navy E-2Cs. Northrop Grumman says it also been cleared to offer the Hawkeye 2000 to India, but not yet to Pakistan and is providing mission simulation demonstrations at the Aero India show.

India placed an order with Israel's Elta last year for three Phalcon AEW systems to be installed in Russian-supplied Ilyushin Il-76s. The government also launched last year a seven-year programme to develop an indigenous airborne early warning and control system. Embraer's ERJ-145 regional jet is considered a likely platform: the air force operates five Legacy business jet derivatives as VIP transports.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is to receive eight refurbished Lockheed Martin P-3C maritime patrol aircraft, as well as six used Lockheed C-130B transports. India has also been offered eight P-3Cs, although it is considering other options, including the Dassault Atlantique, and the air force is evaluating the new C-130J for a six- to 12-aircraft special-forces requirement.

If successful, the C-130J could be offered to meet a much larger Indian requirement to replace Antonov An-32 transports, although a cheaper Russian solution is considered likely. Several collaborative programmes are being proposed by Russia, including a planned An-12 replacement, the Multirole Transport Aircraft, that is scheduled for its preliminary design review early this year. Russia has proposed joint development of a new fighter, and HAL has been invited to join the Russian Regional Jet programme.

India likes to keep its options open. After long and hard negotiations that resulted last year in an order for 66 BAE Systems Hawks, 42 to be manufactured by HAL, the air force is looking at development of an indigenous advanced jet trainer (AJT) that could be available as early as 2010. The AJT would be a twin-engined transonic trainer with composite airframe and combat capability.

HAL believes it can develop the AJT in 39 months for Rp7.5 billion ($172 million), following on from its subsonic HJT-36 intermediate jet trainer (IJT). Two IJT prototypes are flying and service entry is due in 2007. The prototypes are powered by the Snecma Larzacs, but HAL plans to use the Russian Saturn AL-55I in production aircraft.

Indigenous power

The AJT could be powered by twin AL-55Is, or a derivative of the indigenous Kaveri engine under development by HAL for the LCA. India still lags in engine development, and HAL's Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) is powered by two Turbomeca TM333 2B2 turboshafts. The French and Indian manufacturers are working together on the more powerful Ardiden/Shakti engine. Meanwhile, HAL has re-engined both its Chetak and Cheetah helicopters with the TM333 2M2. The resulting Chetal and Chetan are in flight test.

With the utility version of the ALH in production, HAL is now working on armed versions for the Indian army and navy. The manufacturer says it is in advanced discussions with the Indian armed forces on development a light combat helicopter (LCH) variant of the ALH to replace the Cheetah and Chetak. Although the naval ALH is intended to equip an indigenous aircraft carrier to be built by 2010, India is looking abroad to replace its Westland Sea Kings. Contenders are the AgustaWestland EH101, Eurocopter Cougar, NH Industries NH90 and Lockheed/Sikorsky MH-60R.

Although India is largely a customer, it is increasingly a supplier and partner, and Aero India is showcasing the country's broadening aerospace capability. State-owned HAL has developed an avionics capability to upgrade air force MiG-27Ms and Sepecat Jaguars with indigenously developed mission computers. Now the company plans to form a joint venture with Israel's Elbit to develop aircraft simulators and advanced avionics. HAL has a memorandum of agreement with Snecma to manufacture components for civil aero-engines, and subcontracts with Airbus to produce doors and Bell to supply tailrotors.


Source: Flight International