India's air force could outsource some of its MRO requirements to privately-owned companies in the country.
This comes as defence procurement begins to lean toward western suppliers, with a large number of contracts in the pipeline, amid frustration with the level of support available for the Russian aircraft that are the mainstay of the air force.
Potential areas of cooperation with third-party MRO firms include issues with obsolescence in avionics for regular upgrades in software, training, calibration of test set-ups, ageing studies and radio frequency identification (RFID), say industry sources.
The air force has a large mixed fleet, inadequate spares and support, high attrition of skilled manpower and issues of obsolete equipment.
Lessons have been learnt from the unavailability of spares for India's Russian aircraft, which have often been grounded for long periods. These include Sukhoi Su-30MKIs and various MiG fighter aircraft, the Ilyushin Il-76 and Antonov An-32 transport aircraft and various helicopter types.
"Our core MRO capability [Base Repair Depots [BRD]] will have to function as an interface with the industry. We're starting this with a select transport fleet," says Air Marshal J Chandra, Air Officer-in-chief for Maintenance Command of the Indian air force. BRDs carry out fourth line repair and maintenance of aircraft and equipment for the air force.
"Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd [HAL] is overloaded. There is no choice but to turn to the private sector," says Air Vice Marshal PP Khandekar, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (ACAS).
The provision in military bids that include life support make the need to integrate civil MRO even more imminent.
"Once the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft contract is signed, India will become the best outsourcing opportunity for us as it will enhance the quality of our supply chain. Already, 14 of our suppliers worldwide are presently working on hydraulics and fuel systems," an official from US industrials group Eaton tells Flightglobal.
Shashi Ramdas, a retired Air Marshall and the former chairman of state-owned carrier Indian Airlines, says that challenges remain in breaking out of the "antiquated mindset" of government-owned companies. "Military MRO is no different from civil," he adds. "It will improve the nose to tail ratio and is a model worth replicating."