The Indian Air Force has prepared a 10-year plan for modernisation, officially known as Indigenisation Roadmap (2016-2025). As per the plan, the IAF will be homing in on services and technologies that will help it achieve the desired level of progress in the period under consideration. It is expected that as part of the plan the requirements for said technologies and services will be shared with the private sector as well. In all, the project is expected to cost INR 2.5 lakh crore but the domestic sector in India is expected to account for no more than 15% of the acquisitions being made for the project. The basic idea behind the project is to reduce imports and make the planes at home; it seems – to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency in a sector that is high atop the central government’s priority list.
Making the requirements known
This is precisely the reason the Indian Air Force authorities will inform the private sector companies about the requirements such as 3D printing technology and rotor blades. They will also share details about how much will be needed in 10 years. This sharing of information is expected to help the privately-owned companies get some ideas and then set up their manufacturing establishments accordingly. The roadmap was made public at a CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) event on 19 April 2016. The list mentions 174 parts that have to be locally produced as soon as possible. This is inclusive of spares and parts needed for Jaguar AN 32 transport fleet and subsystems needed for Jaguar fighter planes.
Involving the private sector
Under normal circumstances, one would assume that such work will be done by the public sector companies. However, the said roadmap is bringing a change in how indigenization is done in India by asking the private sector entities to collaborate and take part in the entire project.
Reason for low acquisition from Indian companies
As has already been said, the amount of acquisition being done in the project from Indian sources has been pegged at a maximum of 15%. The reason for such low sourcing is the non-availability of majority of the necessary technology in India. According to the report, MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) is going to be the main area where the Indian companies are expected to take part. The report also mentions how pro-defence government policies have paved the way to create some space for defence MRO in India’s private sector. As far as MRO is concerned, the report states that the Indian companies can contribute in areas such as airfield safety systems – arrester barriers and crash tenders – and aero engines and airframe.
The paper also mentions that several small, micro, and medium-sized industries are expected to be established in order to cater to the demands of the Indian Air Force. It is expected that if successful this programme will enable India to produce capital equipment and maintain spares for its air force. As far as future technologies are concerned, it is expected that the privately-held Indian companies will be able to contribute in areas such as 3D printing technology and advanced sensors and weapons.
Strength of Indian Air Force
At present, the Indian Air Force has 170,000 people working for it in various capacities. It has 42 squadrons that are equipped with approximately 1500 aircraft. It is preceded only by the US, Russia, and China in terms of size.
When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister he had stated that one of his ambitions was to make sure India could be a powerhouse in defence manufacturing, something that would put it at par with the strongest armies in the world. In a sense, it was an integral part of his Make in India campaign as well. So, in that vein his administration has taken a step towards realizing that plan. As anyone would know, a significant chunk of India’s budget is spent on defence and most of it is used in importing equipment from other countries at high prices.
So, if India is indeed able to produce those parts may be it would not need to import and it could become an exporter as well, in the process. It might be an outrageous statement but this thinking is a lot on the lines of the Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis Model, one which envisaged India to be a producer and exporter of goods during the Pre-Liberalization Era. One could also hope that this will generate sufficient employment for sections of Indian population like labourers and engineers, most of whom are moving to countries like the US and UK in search of better opportunities. Money saved in this regard can also be used for other sectors that desperately need it like education, health, and public welfare.