By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: In a game-changer decision for the defence sector, India today signed a contract, worth $3 billion, for 56 Airbus C295MW aircraft with troops and military equipment carrying capability, to replace an ageing fleet of HS748 Avro planes for the air force.
The Ministry of Defence‘s spokesperson tweeted that the contract was signed.
In what is seen as a stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s push for self-reliance in the defence sector, a major part of this deal will be executed by the Tata Group, a key player in the aerospace and defence sector in India and a major partner for the project with Airbus Group.
The Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Modi, had on Sep. 8 approved the purchase of the C295 aircraft for the Indian Air Force, to boost the armed forces’ military cargo and troops carrying capabilities.
India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh had told journalists at an event on Sep. 9 near Barmer in Rajasthan that the estimated value of the contract, when signed would be Rs 22,000 crore ($3 billion).
The decision could have far-reaching, historical implications for India’s defence sector. This will be India’s first private sector project for manufacturing of military aircraft, to be executed by Tata Group, with support from European aerospace major Airbus, effectively ending the over 70 years of monopoly of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
When signed, this will also be the first ever military contract that Airbus has bagged in India. Airbus had waited on the sidelines for nearly 60 years for at least one defence contract to be in its kitty, even as India had selected the company’s products as the lowest bidder in more than two tenders that got scrapped.
These failed bids for Airbus include the light utility helicopters to replace the Chetaks and Cheetahs and for the midair refuellers to enhance the endurance of several Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft.
Soon after the contract signing, Airbus Group said in a statement that India has formalised the acquisition of 56 Airbus C295 aircraft to replace the IAF legacy Avro fleet. “It is the first ‘Make in India’ aerospace programme in the private sector, involving the full development of a complete industrial ecosystem: from the manufacture to assembly, test and qualification, to delivery and maintenance of the complete lifecycle of the aircraft,” the statement said.
Under the contractual agreement, Airbus will deliver the first 16 aircraft in ‘fly-away’ condition from its final assembly line in Seville, Spain. The subsequent 40 aircraft will be manufactured and assembled by the Tata Advanced Systems (TASL) in India as part of an industrial partnership between the two companies.
The first 16 aircraft will be delivered over four years after the contract implementation. All the IAF C295s will be handed over in transport configuration and equipped with an indigenous Electronic Warfare Suite.
“This contract will support the further development of India’s aerospace ecosystem, bringing investment and 15,000 skilled direct jobs and 10,000 indirect positions over the coming 10 years,” Airbus Defence and Space chief executive officer Michael Schoellhorn said. “The C295 has proven again as the segment leader, and with the addition of India as a new operator, the type will enlarge its footprint even more, not only on the operational aspects but on its own industrial and technological development”.
“This is a moment of pride for Tatas and a milestone for the Indian military manufacturing ecosystem. For the first time, an Indian private company will be wholly manufacturing an aircraft in India. This endeavour demonstrates Tata Advanced Systems’ capabilities as a defence manufacturer to build globally competitive complex platforms in India,” TASL’s managing director and chief executive officer Sukaran Singh said.
The C295 programme will see Airbus bring its complete bouquet of world-class aircraft manufacturing and servicing to India in collaboration with our industrial partners, including the Tatas and leading defence public sector units such as Bharat Electronics Limited and Bharat Dynamics Limited, as well as private Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
With a proven capability of operating from short or unprepared airstrips, the C295 is used for tactical transport of up to 71 troops or 50 paratroopers, and for logistic operations to locations that are not accessible to current heavier aircraft.
It can airdrop paratroops and loads, and also be used for casualty or medical evacuation (medevac), as demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis, using either basic litters or mobile intensive care units (ICU) with life support equipment. The aircraft can perform special missions as well as disaster response and maritime patrol duties.
The IAF becomes the 35th C295 operator worldwide, with the programme reaching 278 aircraft, 200 of which are already in operation and have booked more than half a million flight-hours.