The Brits are Back…

When it comes to protecting our skies and general matters of national security, I have always felt it is wiser to err on the side of pragmatism rather than sentiment. And as one comes across ever more depressing news of the painstakingly slow progress being made on the Kaveri front, I can’t help but wonder why we can’t just stick to common sense and get the best that money can buy from foreign shores. For the uninitiated, the Kaveri was meant to be our very own indigenous engine, to be built with the noble intention of powering the equally indigenous HAL Tejas fighter, better known as the “Light Combat Aircraft” (LCA). Sadly, as we all know, even the best laid plans can often go awry, and in the case of the domestic engine program, it would appear that everything that could go wrong, has indeed gone wrong. Under development since 1986 and initially meant to be integrated into the Tejas by 2001, the Kaveri, nearly two decades later, was deemed unfit for the LCA and subsequently discarded by the IAF in favour of its foreign competitors, resulting in the somewhat peculiar scenario of the supposedly indigenous Tejas being in fact only 60 per cent so, powered as it is by entirely non-desi engines. The Kaveri’s induction meanwhile, has been further put off till 2018, with a concomitant escalation in cost from Rs 382 crore in 1989 to a revised cost of Rs 2,839 crore in the present. Now, I am no fighter pilot- though I did watch Top Gun seven times- but really, you don’t need to be one to realize that given the worthy track-record mentioned just above, the prospect of getting on board a Kaveri engine powered jet would inspire just the kind confidence you would look for before heading out on a suicide mission. Thus, against such a background, it comes as no small relief to note that Rolls Royce Plc, the second largest maker of aircraft engines in the world and one of the biggest names in the defence contracting business, has begun to acquire a steadily deepening footprint in the Indian defence landscape. The iconic British brand has, in the course of the last one year alone, bagged several significant engine deals, the most noteworthy of course, being the order for an additional 57 Adour-powered Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. The Rolls-Royce engine contract with Hindustan  Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is worth up to £200 million and includes the very first Adour engines for the Indian Navy, which will operate 17 of the aircraft. They  have also signed an agreement to establish a manufacturing center in India, which is supposed to be a 50:50 joint venture between the Bangalore based HAL and Rolls-Royce. Now before you guys accuse me of selling out to the Brits, let me reaffirm that I have the very best of intentions at heart. Let’s not forget that this is the same Rolls Royce, whose Merlin engine is widely believed to have been one of the main reasons for the Allies winning WW 2, given the pivotal role Merlin powered jets played in turning the tide during the seminal Battle of Britain. So when I speak of Rolls Royce getting a bigger share of our pie, you can rest assured it is strictly while keeping our best interests in mind. In any case, with defence contracts worth nearly $ 100 billion being up for grabs in the next one decade alone, it is but inevitable that Rolls Royce will garner its fair share of the cake and emerge as one of the leading players in the Indian market. I, for one, certainly do hope we are able to get our own act together by then-Tom Cruise I may not be, but my hopes of starring in the Bollywood version of the American blockbuster,ie. Oonchi Bandook, haven’t disappeared just as yet.

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