Indian Air Force goes high-tech in managing inventory, looks to industry for indigenising spares - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 3 February 2021

Indian Air Force goes high-tech in managing inventory, looks to industry for indigenising spares

After digitizing its spares and maintenance, the IAF has begun reducing reliance on foreign vendors through a major programme of indigenizing spares


By Ajai Shukla

Yelahanka, Bangalore


The Indian Air Force (IAF), whose predominant ethos is the macho cult of the fighter pilot, has, unusually, given pride of place in its display at Aero India 2012 to a new, high-tech system of maintenance management that has entirely removed paper from its functioning.


The system, which has been developed by Wipro, is called e-Maintenance Management System (e-MMS) and its main application software is called IDM-MAXIMO. This streamlines and centralises record keeping, inventory management and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) in the IAF’s 170 bases and 13 Base Repair Depots (BRDs) spread across the country. 


With this digitization providing the IAF with a firm grip on its inventories, it has begun reducing reliance on foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) by launching a major programme of indigenizing spares.


“The IAF has already identified indigenisation requirements of approximately 4,000 lines of spares… Enormous opportunities are available for the aerospace and defence industry in India, including micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to join hands with IAF in this vigorous indigenisation drive,” stated a defence ministry release on Tuesday.


A top IAF maintenance officer describes the importance of this task: “The IAF has multiple types of fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, radars and air defence missiles. For supporting them through their three-to-four decade-long service lifetimes, the IAF can either keep paying each OEM the exorbitant prices they demand, or else make out a concerted plan to indigenise the spares pipeline.


According to the release, the IAF is looking to indigenise aviation-grade fuel, hydraulic and pneumatic filters, aero-engine bearings, hydraulic and pneumatic hoses, multifunction displays, aviation grade circuit breakers, lamp filaments and spark plugs.


The opportunities this presents to skilled domestic industry are immense, says the IAF air marshal. “In the last one year alone, the IAF has indigenised 1,400 lines of spares,” he says.


The challenge of keeping the spares pipeline going in India even after the OEM ceases the production of spares is called “obsolescence management”. The IAF begins planning for this as soon as it contracts a new type of equipment. 


It has three options for product support: First, there is “OEM supported equipment,” for which the foreign vendor is contractually bound to continue maintaining the equipment for a specified time period. IAF platforms such as the C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and the Rafale fighter are in this category.


Second, equipment built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) normally falls in the category of “HAL supported equipment”. This includes, amongst others, the Tejas and Jaguar fighters, the Hawk trainer and the Dhruv helicopter.


Finally, for legacy equipment such as the MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighters and the AN-32 transport aircraft, there is the category of “BRD supported equipment”. The BRDs also end up responsible for supporting platforms such as the IL-76 transport aircraft, which the OEM was supposed to support, but eventually did not discharge its contractual responsibilities.


The BRDs, which are manned by IAF personnel, are also charged with developing lines of spares for equipment like the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer, where charges of wrongdoing in contracting has led to a breakdown in the supply of spares.


For all categories except for “OEM supported equipment”, the IAF’s Nagpur-based Maintenance Command is ensuring that the BRDs engage with industry to indigenously develop spare parts supply lines.


This initiative is yielding results. In the current financial year 2020-21, the IAF targeted 97 high-value items for indigenisation and managed to develop Indian sources for 60 of these. That has saved the IAF about Rs 140 crore. 


To inform industry of its indigenisation requirements, the IAF has leveraged the internet. “Details of [tenders for indigenisation of spare parts] are also being listed in the IAF website ,” stated the defence ministry release.


Additionally, the defence ministry website hosts a list of over 200 lines of high value spares for indigenisation. High value spare is defined as one with a unit cost greater than Rs 10 lakhs.


The need to indigenise spares is especially pressing in the case of Soviet Union-origin equipment, where supply lines simply dried up when the Soviet Union collapsed. 


To create reliable lines of supply indigenously, New Delhi and Moscow signed an Inter-Governmental Agreement in September 2019. Russia agreed to assist in developing sources of spares that fulfilled three conditions: The spares would cost less than those that Russia was supplying, the time for supply was to be reduced and Moscow would transfer technology needed for building them in India.

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