Build defence aerospace - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 16 January 2019

Build defence aerospace

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard (unsigned edit)
17th Jan 19

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which has long preferred to import rather than build its aircraft, continues to treat Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the country’s only experienced aircraft integrator, like a stepchild. For example, in the recent cases of the Tejas Mark 1A and the HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft, the IAF has discouraged indigenous development projects, especially by delaying the placement of manufacturing orders. This is disrupting the smooth and uninterrupted flow of HAL’s aircraft assembly lines. Then the IAF cites the resultant delay and expense to further criticise HAL and argue for more imports to meet “critical needs”. A new phenomenon is the IAF’s non-payment of bills for aircraft and services already delivered by HAL, adding cash-flow issues to the defence public sector unit’s (DPSU’s) brimming pile of woes. Inexplicably, the defence ministry, which should be overseeing this activity, seems reluctant to intervene. This neglect of indigenous manufacturers, combined with the IAF’s poor force planning, has resulted in its fleet consisting of seven different types of fighters, which will rise to eight when the first Rafales arrive this year. This logistical nightmare in peacetime could become an operational nightmare during war.

In contrast, the navy, which embraced indigenisation whole-heartedly half a century ago and now operates mostly Indian warships, has systematically created the eco-system needed for designing and building warships in the country. It has instituted its own design bureau, a directorate of indigenisation, and ensures that carefully chosen admirals head the four DPSU shipyards that build its fleet. Unlike the navy, which has taken ownership of the process of designing, developing and manufacturing warships, the IAF stays aloof from HAL, preferring to sit in judgment. If the IAF is convinced that HAL is not functioning efficiently, it too should ensure a steady flow of recently retired air marshals to head the organisation and make it conform to the IAF’s requirements.

It is a truism that India has long been the world’s largest importer of defence equipment. However, unlike other large importers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, India has a well-developed industrial base, skilled workers and a large and well-qualified pool of scientific manpower. As one of the world’s largest automotive component manufacturers, and as a leading space power, we have demonstrated our ability to conceive, plan and achieve high-technology outcomes. And as the navy has demonstrated, we can do this in the field of defence. If India continues to lag in the field of aviation, this is largely because we have failed to leverage our large defence budget – and the IAF has the largest capital allocations of any service – to build capacity within Indian industry. There is no shortage of good intentions. The defence ministry has ordained that Indian-designed, developed and manufactured weaponry will be top priority for procurement. A “Defence Production Policy” has declared that India will become one of the world’s top five defence producers by 2025, with defence exports multiplying ten-fold to $5 billion that year. But all this will remain just talk until the IAF follows the navy’s lead and starts developing an eco-system of domestic aerospace vendors by ensuring the flow of indigenous projects. No other country with as big a defence budget as ours – be it the US, China, Russia or the European nations – ignores its key domestic manufacturers, as the IAF disregards HAL. This situation must change.


  1. Great article, keep it coming till these fellows wake up!

  2. Bon courage Sir!

    Its not totally the IAF sir! The real issue is with the 56" chest and his government? All bluster, no real action that will benefit the nation. 56" chest signed the deal with the French and others because they invited him to visit after he had been barred from traveling to these nations due Gujarat government approved genocide against our own people, yes muslims. He had to reward them or no invite.

    Now he has been humiliated by POTUS few times and is being told to buy american to reduce the trade deficit or else. 56" chest has deflated, hence IAF will place an order for the 40 year old F-16's, thus killing off the Tejas too. Does 56" have courage to order Tejas in numbers and tell POTUS to do his worst?

    Someone should tell 56" chest, it's not the size of the dog that matters but the fight in the dog. Just look to his most hated nation, they have stood up to USA, and are being begged by the POTUS to help. Courage requires one to walk the walk.


  3. Colonel,

    In addition to Indian Navy, I would also add BARC/NPCIL and ISRO to that list. IAF can certainly walk in their footsteps in this context.


  4. Correct on every point.

    The ordnance factories and DPSUs have to be closely integrated with the users so that there is sense of ownership and the stakes are high for both the producers and users.

    May the good sense prevail not only in the AirForce but also in the Indian Army

  5. When we have had IAF chief's who were caught taking bribes, how can you think IAF will support local manufacture.

  6. Truly agree. Reflects the facts and this shows the true bias of govt and iaf.. HAL ia the best and remains the best.

  7. 1. Why is HAL build aircraft costing more than OEM rates?

    2. Do HAL have history of meeting timelines of production?

    3. Has not IAF whole heartedly accepted Aakash missile system, Indian build radars and other weapon systems which were completed in respectable time frames?

    4. Why is HAL not getting any other customer if its products are capable?

    5. How bad is trade union in HAL? How productive is staff?

    6. When has building of defence industry become the responsibility of IAF?

    7. Dont LCA have approx 50% or more cost interms of import. How does it qualify for an indigenous effort?

  8. Col. Shukla, you are the only fearless journalist in India, who dares to call a spade a spade.

    In India, the armed forces have demi-God status. Questioning their decisions is sacrilege. However, your superb and insightful analysis has exposed the IAF of it's questionable, dubious and even corrupt decisions to sideline indigenous projects in favour of imported hardware.

    The Tejas could've been inducted back in 2011 itself, when it got IoC status. After all, even the Eurofighter did not have air to air capability when it was first inducted!

    Isn't it ironic that the same IAF that claims a shortage of jets, makes the Tejas run through hoops of IoC, FoC, sudden requirement changes, rejections etc. ? Any other industry or organization, and such glaringly dastardly decisions would be questioned by anyone. But this being the IAF, it's decisions are accepted !

    Is another IAF Chief / Vice-Chief getting his wallet fattened by the new tender of 110 jets ? As if that wasn't enough, is the Pilatus deal -- despite the presence of the HTT-40 -- another wallet fattener ?


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