Defence ministry questions the need to replace Avro - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 18 December 2014

Defence ministry questions the need to replace Avro

Airbus C-295 that is flying with the Ghana Air Force

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Dec 2014

The ministry of defence (MoD) on Wednesday declined to clear the Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal for an Indian private sector company to build 56 medium transport aircraft in India. Instead, the ministry has asked the IAF why a new aircraft is needed at all.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar raised the question today at a meeting of the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). The IAF will be required to answer.

The IAF has been arguing that replacing its ageing fleet of Avro HS-748 constitutes a domestic manufacturing opportunity for the private sector, building up a rival to public sector aerospace monopoly, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Accordingly, tenders were sent out to reputed global aerospace vendors, including US firms Boeing and Lockheed Martin; European multinational Airbus Defence & Space; Antonov of Ukraine; Swedish company Saab; Ilyushin of Russia; and Italian company, Alenia Aeromacchi.

They were required to select an Indian private sector partner (HAL was explicitly ruled out) who would build 40 aircraft in the country with foreign technology, within eight years. The first 16 aircraft were to be built abroad and delivered quickly.

The response has been unenthusiastic, with only a single bid coming in by October 22, when the bids closed. That was from Airbus Defence and Space, which proposed to build the Airbus C295 medium transport aircraft in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL).

Meanwhile, Indian aerospace experts have written to the MoD pointing out glaring flaws in the so-called “Avro replacement programme”.

The first big question the IAF will be required to answer is: what operational role the new aircraft will play? The Avro itself has no operational role, being a “communications aircraft”, an air taxi that flies senior officers around the country.

Instead of replacing the Avro with a brand new aircraft, HAL has proposed extending the Avro’s service life by replacing its current Rolls Royce Dart engines with modern, fuel-efficient engines. HAL, which had built the Avro fleet between the 1960s and the 1980s, points out that each Avro flies barely 350 hours a year, and the airframes have thousands of hours of service life remaining.

The defence minister is now asking why the Avro needs replacement at a cost earlier estimated at Rs 11,897 crore. Given the rupee’s decline, the project cost would be currently be closer to Rs 14,000 crore.

The MoD is also questioning the wide variation between the Avro’s specifications and those of the C295 aircraft that has been offered. The Avro is basically a civil airliner, with side doors for passengers and without military attributes like a fuselage that opens at the rear and a ramp for loading equipment quickly. The “Avro replacement” on the other hand has the specifications of a military tactical transport aircraft, including: rear ramp, auxiliary power generator, and the capability to lift cargo to high altitude airfields like those on our border.

Parrikar is wondering why the IAF needs 56 new tactical airlifters, given its large fleet of AN-32s (which are being upgraded); newly-bought C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III; and the ageing IL-76.

In addition, India and Russia are jointly developing and building a brand new “Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA)”, which would overlap with the “Avro replacement aircraft”.

Furthermore, the MoD has observed the “Avro replacement” was sanctioned as a 50-seat aircraft that could lift 5 tonnes of cargo. The Airbus C-295 is a 71-seat aircraft that can lift 9.25 tonnes of cargo.

For the Tata Group, a cancellation of this project would be a blow. Its specialist defence manufacture company, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), hopes to expand on the back of a C-295 production line. So far, TASL has garnered relatively small manufacturing orders --- like helicopter cabins for Sikorsky; and C-130J parts for Lockheed Martin.

Already the MoD was reluctant to sign a contract with Airbus – Tata, since they were single vendors in the bidding. Now, however, the very rationale of replacing the Avro is being examined afresh.

Purchases cleared by MoD


Four survey vessels for navy
Rs 2,324 crore

Hydrological survey of seabed for naval operations

Upgrading Samyukta electronic warfare equipment

Rs 1,682 crore

Modernising equipment that listens to and jams enemy radio and radar

P-7 Heavy drop platform
Rs 402 crore

Para-dropping 7-tonne loads, like heavy equipment and light vehicles


  1. Makes sense....

  2. The first thing we need to get is the INSAS 2020 and all the towed guns. That would be the first line of attack in any war. Our soldiers are carrying heavy weigjys with them, its limiting their ability. Our Air force is always behind new toys. So Upgrading the Avro seems a better option, if it is done by HAL. That will reduce the cost by half atleast.

  3. Ajai sir

    sorry for a little large response

    The MoD is in a quandary, there are several reasons

    1. Avro 748s (over 60 are in service) have been in service with IAF for close to 50 yrs & are nearing end of life and need to be replaced

    2. MoD in a bold move decided to award the contract to private companies but only the Tata consortium showed guts to respond. As such the tender will be cancelled and fresh one will be issued.

    3. Problem started when it was decided to make 56 planes from scratch, a complete no-no since it will require setting up a green field project, it not possible for any company to set up a large greenfield project for just 56 planes.

    4. As far as my understanding goes only when a greenfield project that makes a minimum of 70-80 aircrafts and services upto 400 planes over its lifetime can a aircraft manufacturing unit be considered economical and profitable.

    5. Even if 56 planes are assembled in CKD/SKD condition with minor parts sourced from India, still making 56 planes is uneconomical proposal, unless a full fledged aircraft MRO facility is attached.

    6. We must keep in mind that 100 An32 being upgraded will remain in service till 2030 only.

    7. As C17 entered service the IL76/IL78 were relegated to medium tactical transport and will have to be replaced.


  4. contd....

    So what needs to be done:-

    1. MoD should invite Lockeed Martin to set up a MRO and then a greenfield project in partnership with a private player. The MRO facility can become that largest in eastern hemsphere to service C130Js across Asia, Africa, Oceania

    2. As India didn’t sign CISMOA and other deals with US that lead to some equipment not being installed on 12 C130J-30SH; we can surely repeat the alternative arrangement with C130Js as were made with C130J-30SH.

    3. So how many C130Js can be made in this facility apart from doing MRO , the answer is 125:-

    a. 56 for IAF to replace Avro 748
    b. 28 for IA that will form base for future fixed air wing of IA
    c. 14 for IN that will form base for future fixed air wing of IN
    d. 7 for use of NSG to allow them not to depend on others to move around during standoffs
    e. 7 for use of NDRF as that will allow them to reach places quickly during natural emergencies
    f. 7 for use of ICGS/BSF/ITBP as they too need a dedicated transport to move around
    g. 4 for RAW/IB/NIA to allow them to conduct operations wherever they want

    MRO Facility & Jobs for 50 Years

    With C130J MRO facilities being set up in India for C130J-SH and C130J operating across Asia, Africa, Oceania it will be a really good business prospect. This will result in creation of thousands of jobs in India for the next 50 years. C130J which has already been in service for over 50 years is so robust that it can wither the test of time and be in service for atleast another 50 years.

    With 125 C130J Do We Need Indo Russian MTA

    Yes, we need it too. Along with 56 Avro HS748, 100 An32, and 24 IL76 and IL78; the total aircrafts that need replacement is 180. So even after 125 C130J are churned out there still will be requirement for 60 more similar aircrafts, which can be easily fulfilled by the Indo Russian MTA in variety of roles including mid air refuellers.

    Indo Russian MTA as Passenger Jet What Happens to RTA-70 (Indian Regional Jet)

    The Indo Russian MTA an HAL/IL initiative apart from meeting the requirement of 60 transport aircrafts in India, can easily morph into a passenger jet. Indo Russian MTA as a passenger jet, can and will stop HAL/NAL from duplicating their efforts (RTA70), instead effort can be put towards developing more indigenous products and cutting down imports.

    If only the ideas put forth ring a bell with IAF, MoD and the planners, it will certainly result in India becoming more self reliant in aircraft design and development.

    Oh just learnt that either Lockheed/Boeing/Airbus are to setup a MRO in Gujarat, with a deal as early as next month. Hopefully its Lockheed for C130Js


    Joydeep Ghosh

  5. Fair enough for the new minister to question the need for Avro replacement.
    But no news about the Pilatus vs. HTT-40 yet. 'thought that was to be vetted as well in this round. Looks like the MoD wants to give both sides some more time to reload their guns.

  6. A 25 year old aircraft will still remain as a 25 year old air craft. Even if you change the engine or electronics. AVRO is almost 40 year old and AN 32 is also almost 30 year old. Recently an AN 32 crashed even after retrofit and modernization. These C 295 will eventually replace AN 32.
    We need these planes to start a second manufacturing line in our country, particularly when the fist one is in doldrums and can't be depended.

  7. Finally, somebody has put in question the unbridled acquisition of hardware by the IAF.

    This a/c is clearly not central to our transport requirements - It seem superfluous and a forced add-on patch to the fleet. We have loads of other medium and medium-heavy a/c to fulfill all sorts of roles.

    I wonder if this a/c was just a personal taxi for IAF brass - at an expense of 1000's Cr of your and my tax money.

    I can understand IAF wants competition for HAL - and IAF thought it was safe to do so with a unnecessary a/c. Surely it makes sense to do so for basic airframes that a nascent private sector can handle. Something like a UAV or a BJT (Pilatus)

    I hope headlines like this are now consigned to history : The Indian air force (IAF) has decided to “urgently” buy 106 PC-7 Mk. 2 Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA) from Pilatus.....


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