Indian Air Force goes global

The Indian aerospace industry has begun to acquire wings- quite literally. With the home-grown Tejas LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) getting its initial operational clearance for induction into the Indian Air Force on the 10th of January, 2011, the highly lucrative Indian aerospace sector has got yet another entrant looking for its place under the ever-expanding umbrella of Indian  aircraft acquisition. Regrettably, even as we indulge in yet another  bout of pointless self-congratulation  , the harsh reality of our indigenous aerospace industry’s glaring inadequacies, as embodied by the nearly thirty years and 3000% cost hike  it has taken for the LCA project to come to fruition, is simply too obvious  to brush aside. It is in this context that I look forward to the increasing participation of foreign  defense majors, especially the likes of BAE, Boeing and Saab in the rapidly expanding  Indian defense sector, which  will hopefully bring in the much needed cutting edge technology our air force is desperately in need of. BAE Systems in particular, seems to be a step ahead of the curve. With sales worth 36.2 billion dollars in 2009, it is Europe’s biggest defense company, and one of the leading foreign players in the Indian market. It recently declared India to be a “home market”-essentially meaning that India would henceforth be used as manufacturing base, and would no longer be just an export destination for BAE products. It had last year, during the British PM’s India visit, bagged contacts worth 1.1 billion dollars, in large measure due to a 57-aircraft deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL) for providing trainer Hawk jets for the Indian air-force. It is also a leading contender in what is, rather dramatically, routinely billed as the ’mother of all defense deals’(I wonder what they had against the father)- the $12 billion, 126-aircraft medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contract. The Eurofighter Typhoon, manufactured by a joint venture between Britain’s BAE Systems, Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica and the German-Spanish giant EADS, has , according to unconfirmed reports, come on top in the Indian air force’s technical assessment of the competing rival bids for the contract. Although one can never rule out political considerations overriding technical proficiency when it comes to the government taking the final call, the Eurofighter has already created enough of a buzz to ensure it will remain a serious player on the Indian scene in the coming decade, which is likely to see India more than triple its defense spending in the face of an increasingly fraught security environment- the Chinese are not getting any friendlier and as for Pakistan, well, it was never very friendly to begin with. For me, the Typhoon’s biggest competition would come from the Russian MIGs, given the age-old ties we have with them and the general consensus that Russia is our only all-weather friend on the global stage. The Americans, notwithstanding our recent flirtations, are simply not that high up in our strategic calculus yet   to stand a realistic chance of bagging such a heavyweight order. But there is still light at the end of the tunnel for everyone, irrespective of who bags this particular deal. The Indian defense pie is only getting bigger, and there is bound to be enough for most international players to get a mouthful sooner rather than later.

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