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Aero India 98

Advanced Light Helicopter on display

In December 1998, India's fourth international air show "Aero India 98" was held at the Yelahanka base of the Indian Air Force, 22 km from Bangalore. The show may not have been in quite the same league as top-notch air shows such as Farnborough, Le Bourget or even Singapore, but it was a forceful reminder of India's aviation capabilities and the importance attached to the Indian market by global companies. Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam summed it up when he said "The air show is a window to highlight our aerospace technologies and offers a platform on which we can explore ways on how to cooperate with international aerospace companies."

Aero India 98, was organised by the Department of Defence Production and Supplies, Ministry of Defence, in association with the Defence Research and Development Organisation(DRDO), the Department of Civil Aviation, the Department of Space, the Indian Air Force, HAL and the Government of Karnataka. It was a follow-up to Avia 93, Hexa 95 and Aero India 96. Better and bigger than the previous three air shows, Aero India 98 witnessed the participation of 110 international companies from 18 countries, besides 60 Indian entities - from HAL to fledgling private entrepreneurs. Many top-notch defence companies from the U.S. did not participate because of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on India following the nuclear tests in May 1998.

Defence Minister George Fernandes, Union Minister for Civil Aviation Ananth Kumar and Karnataka Chief Minister J.H. Patel at the inauguration.

Inaugurating the air show, Defence Minister George Fernandes announced that an India-led consortium was likely to develop indigenously a 100-seater passenger aircraft. India, he said, would take the lead and invite neighbouring countries to form the consortium(in much the same way Britain, Germany and France formed Airbus Industrie), and would share its capabilities and competence. Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar said that his Ministry was ready to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Defence Ministry for the purchase of these planes.

"Aero India 98" at Yelahanka air base

Air shows in India, which have become a biennial event, are markedly different from most important air shows elsewhere. Unlike in the major shows, global buyers are conspicuous by their absence at Indian shows: one does not see many heads of air forces or other civilian and military decision-makers coming to the exhibition hangars to shop for products. Instead, at Indian air shows, exhibitors come to sell their wares, which are targeted at the few Indian aeronautical customers, principally the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited(HAL) for defence and military equipment, and civilian transport operators such as Indian Airlines, Air India, Jet Airways and Sahara Airlines for passenger aircraft. An analyst said: "Only those sections of the aviation world that think that India will buy some of their products come to the Indian show."

A parajumping display by IAF personnel

There were impressive displays by fixed wing and rotary wing(helicopter) aircraft - fighters, transport aircraft, trainers, helicopters, maritime aircraft, flying demonstrators and even an unmanned aerial vehicle. The highlight, however, was displays by the Sukhois - the Su-30 MK(India has contracted to buy 40 of these or aircraft of a similar hardware platform from Russia) and the Su-33(the naval variant of the Su-30) - the Mirage 2000, the MiG-AT(Advanced Trainer), MiG-21s, MiG-23s, Kamov-50(Ka-50) attack helicopter, Mi-8 helicopter, the Hawk-200, the Falcon 2000, the Dornier 228, the Airborne Surveillance Platform and variants of the Advanced Light Helicopter(ALH). On static display was, among others, the mammoth transport aircraft, the Il-76. In all there were over 25 different kinds of aircraft.

Crowds at the show despite the inclement weather

Barrel rolls, inverted flying, vertical charlies, tight turns, rolls, tail slides, slow flypasts, aerobatics... such breath-taking, daredevil manoeuvres were the order of the flying displays. And, as at Aero India 96, the Sukhois were the piece de resistance.

The Su-30 MK on a flight demonstration

Designed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and marketed by the Irkutsk Aviation Industrial Association, the Su-30, the multi-functional long-range interceptor that can be used for air superiority and against ground and aerial targets, boasts of unsurpassed manoeuvrability on account of its thrust vector control(TVC) engines. It impressed aviators and spectators alike with thrilling manoeuvres, performed at an altitude of hardly 250 metres. The TVC engines enable the pilots to achieve obtuse angles of attack(in excess of 150 degrees), as demonstrated in the manoeuvres, and achieve zero speeds(while flying).

The Su-33, the naval variant of the Su-30, which has foldable wings and is designed to operate out of an aircraft carrier.

If one had to choose from among the Sukhois, it would have to be the Su-33. Complete with foldable wings and special landing gear, the Su-33 is designed to operate out of an aircraft carrier. Neither the cloudy weather(which prevailed on most days of the show), nor the delay in having the aircraft released by the Indian Customs fazed Victor Pugachev, the Sukhoi Design Bureau test pilot who is credited with pioneering the "cobra" manoeuvre(where the fighter aircraft's speed drops suddenly and the aircraft rears up in the air like a cobra's hood).

Sukhoi's main Russian rival for contracts with India, the Military Industrial Group(MiG-MAPO), was also present at the show, pitching for its MiG-29SMT, which, it says, can with an upgrade rival the Su-30 MK. If it is to do so, it has to enhance its fuel storage capacity. According to IAF pilots, MiG-29s, which are air defence or escort aircraft, cannot fly far owing to their low fuel storage capacity. An IAF pilot said: "You could have a situation where a MiG-29, which is escorting, say, a Mirage 2000 or a Su-30 MK on a sortie, has to return to base owing to lack of fuel, while the fighters that it is escorting fly farther afield, even into enemy territory."

The upgraded, two-seater MiG-21

MiG-MAPO, which won a contract in 1994 with the Indian Government for the upgradation of the IAF's MiG-21(BIS), showcased its newly developed advanced jet trainer(AJT), the MiG-AT.(Of the 1,200 combat aircraft on the IAF's inventory list, 600 belong to the MiG family.) The MiG-AT, which is the latest to be shortlisted by the IAF for the AJT, has rivals in the British Aerospace's Hawk-100 and the French Alpha Jet, but neither of the two was on show. BAe's Dave Potter said: "The Indians know our aircraft well, so there was no need to bring it down." Instead, BAe exhibited the Hawk-200, a single-seater multi-role combat variant of the Hawk-100.

Chief of the Air Staff S.K. Sareen with his French counterpart Jean Rannou

The French and the Israelis had a strong presence at the show. French companies, which have established themselves in the avionics business and which were well represented, sought to take advantage of the absence of U.S. companies. Although no business deals were finalised at the air show, business seems certain to get better. Dassault Aviation, manufacturers of the Mirage 2000, offered to supply the IAF 10 updated versions of the Mirage 2000 at about the same price as prevailed in 1982, when the first Mirages were sold to India. According to Jean-Claude Girard, senior vice-president, military sales, Dassault "is very confident of finalising the deal".

Alain Sautivet, commercial manager of Turbomeca, the French firm which is one of the companies that supplied engines(TM-333) for HAL's multi-terrain twin-engined Advanced Light Helicopter(ALH), said that his company had offered HAL full production licence to manufacture the newer TM-333-2B2 engine. "We are also prepared for co-production," he added. Sautivet said that a programme to incorporate and qualify the new single-crystal material into the TM-333-2B2 was on. "The technology is proven and is being used on engines of the Dauphin and EC-135 helicopters. The ALH had in fact flown during its prototype stages on the TM-333 engine(since 1992 Turbomeca has supplied 14 TM-333 engines), but sources said that HAL had switched to the U.S. company Allied Signal's T800 engine during the production trials. According to HAL Chairman Dr. C.G. Krishnadas Nair, "The decision on which to use has been left to the customer who buys the ALH."

One of the U.S. companies that did participate was Bell Helicopter Textron.(Its arch rival Sikorsky, which hardly has a presence in India, did not come to the show.) According to Bill Reinger, Bell Helicopter Textron's chief representative officer for India, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Macau, the company is "exploring the possibility of producing an existing model or developing a modified version of its range of machines in India in partnership with HAL."

Bell, which has sold 39 helicopters to clients in India, seeks to promote its product lines for use in several areas - from law enforcement, trauma care, off-shore activities and electronic news-gathering - where there is an untapped market in India. But overall, Bell, like other major helicopter players, is satisfied with its sales performance, especially in the civilian market. The same, though, cannot be said about the military side. Guy Rupied, managing director, Groupement des Industries Francaises Aeronautiques et Spatiales(GIFAS, the French Aerospace Industries Association), said: "Competition is very heavy, it is all a question of opportunity."

Companies such as Sextant Avionique, SFIM, Thomson-CSF and GEC Marconi and a host of fledgling Israeli companies deliver avionic solutions, which include flight control and navigational aids such as head-up displays(HUDs), inertial navigational systems, digital maps, ECMs, air data systems, head-down displays, head tracking systems, helmet mounter displays, laser warning systems, mission computers, night vision goggles, primary and secondary flight control computers and integrated avionics suites.

Of opportunities there were plenty in the dynamic avionics market. More than ever before, avionics, the brain of an aircraft, has become the key to any mission's success. As a pilot from the IAF's MiG-23 squadron said, "Today air-to-air combat is not about dogfights between fighter planes, it is more about electronic warfare. Electronic Counter Measures(ECMs), therefore, are crucial. Unfortunately, the IAF is not giving them as much importance as it should."

IN the civilian sector, Airbus Industrie and Boeing vied with each other for orders from Air-India and Indian Airlines. Dinesh Keskar, president, Boeing India, said: "Today the growth in the civilian market in India is negative, but Jet(Airways) is the bright spot." Boeing announced that it had finalised a $4.5-million contract with HAL, according to which the latter would manufacture 300 sets of main landing gear uplock box assemblies for the Boeing 777; Airbus entered into a memorandum of understanding with HAL to study the development of a freight-carrying version - A320 QC(Quick Change) - of the A320 family. HAL currently produces A320 doors for Airbus. Production is shortly expected to be enhanced to four sets of doors a month and should touch six sets a month by 1999.

Among the Indian exhibitors, HAL's sheer size earned it pride of place. Defence organisations such as the DRDO were not far behind. HAL, which has embarked on the development of an Intermediate Jet Trainer, the HJT-36, had a full-scale, all-metal, mock-up of the HJT-36 on display. HAL hopes the aircraft will replace the Kiran(HJT-16) trainers that have been in use with the IAF for nearly 30 years. The IAF plans to phase out the 200-odd Kirans by 2004. HAL has pegged the overall project cost at Rs.200 crores and expects the prototype to roll out 39 months after it gets the go-ahead. The plane should enter service two years thereafter. HAL engineers said that the project cost had been capped at Rs.18 crores. HAL, they said, was looking for "off-the-shelf" equipment in order to save time and money. About 200 vendors have so far been identified.

HAL announced that it had signed up with Avions de Transport Regional(ATR), the Franco-Italian consortium of Aerospatiale(France) and Alenia Aerospazio(Italy), for the manufacture of the ATR-42-500, a 50-seater passenger aircraft. Indian Airlines has agreed in principle to buy 16 of the aircraft, including six in the first phase. Krishnadas Nair said that the Navy, the Coast Guard and some other agencies may place orders. The first six planes will be bought off the shelf, but HAL hopes to assemble the planes in larger numbers at its Kanpur factory from completely knocked down kits. According to Luciano Fava, vice-president, sales, Australasia, ATR: "Near-total indigenisation of the plane will be possible in the future." He also disclosed that there was a possibility of HAL manufacturing the ATR-72, a 70-seater plane.

a remotely piloted vehicle

Nishant, the Remotely Piloted Vehicle conceived, designed and developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment, gave a flying display at the show. Nishant is used for reconnaissance, target acquisition, target designation, damage assessment and electronic surveillance. The DRDO also showcased its newly developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Nishant-E. Also displayed were mock-ups of Akash, the 25-km-range surface-to-air missile that is being developed as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, and Rajendra, a multi-function phased-array radar which is designed to engage multiple targets simultaneously. Also on display were mock-ups of Nag, the third-generation anti-tank missile, Prithvi, the 200-km-range surface-to-air missile, and Agni, the intermediate-range ballistic missile. The displayed firepower confirmed what Abdul Kalam boasted: "We are a missile power."

"Aero India 98" amply demonstrated India's capabilities in the field of aviation and showed up the significance of the Indian market for global companies.

(Excerpts taken from "Those magnificent flying machines" in Frontline)