THE “INDIAN” AIR FORCE ON THE FAR HORIZON

Was it the title of the recently concluded 12th International Conference on “Energising Indian Aerospace Industry — Gathering Momentum?” that made the event this year so different? The conference decidedly moved at a pace far different to the earlier years and, in fact, seemed to impart such impetus and momentum that by the end of the conference it was unanimously felt that the interrogation mark after “…Gathering Momentum?” could or should be shed because the industry had moved from the proverbial ‘crawl’ to ‘walk’ and were looking ahead at ‘run’. It was indeed heart-warming and encouraging to see this trend.

Possibly the biggest surprise was the representation from the government. Every international or national seminar conducted by think tanks is intended to provide ‘take-aways’ for the government because some of the best minds and organisations have applied themselves to bring out solutions that will improve the existing situation. But the yawning lack of enthusiasm and representation smacks of disrespect for the think tanks and apathy towards ideas for progress. Summaries, post a seminar/conference, sent to the government scarcely see the light of day. While no decisions could be expected, the extant acknowledgement by mere presence was a shot in the arm.

Another great representation was by the state governments, whose speakers had been given a clear direction by the powers that be to commit to providing necessary space and infrastructure to facilitate growth of the aerospace industry in their respective states. It was like an auction! “We can give 10,000 hectares of land”/“We can give 15,000 hectares”/“We will give 500 MW of power free”/“We will promote the growth of SEZs,”etc. It certainly took the audience by surprise. But possibly more than that, it was instrumental in infusing greater enthusiasm in the conference.

It is but natural that such a conference will highlight the Prime Minister’s “Make in India” thrust. As a corollary to the ethos imbibed in active service, the directors of military think tanks ensure that their organisations remain apolitical. Therefore, the “Make in India” and the push for “Made in India” that found a strong voice in the conference, was a genuine fervour that emanated from the heart of the audience. Some of the issues touched upon were :

  • Strategic Partnership Models.
  • Balancing Private / Public Sector undertakings.
  • Momentum of SMEs and their importance.
  • Build to Print.
  • Co-design / co-develop.
  • Technology Spin-Offs.
  • Setting up an organisation like DARPA of the USA.
  • Electronic warfare (ECM and ECCM).
  • Indigenous lifetime product support.
  • Flexibility in Offsets and its implementation.
  • Safeguarding proprietorship.
  • Transferring capability vis-a-vis transferring technology.
  • Skill sets and development to international standards.
  • Technology trends.
  • IDDM—Indigenous Design and Development Model.
  • National Civil Aviation Policy.
  • The VCAS and the DCAS offering assistance and the services of the IAF for entrepreneurs.

The country is moving, no doubt about that. Awareness of our acute dependency on international players to support the military has seeped into the minds of the public and industry. The ego, so far dormant, that we can do as well as anybody else, has been pricked. The IAF (and I am sure this would be true for the Navy and Army too) is willing to open its doors for ideas and proposals and the government is making every effort to streamline (and further streamline) its procurement procedures and models. Indigenisation in the military field is on the rise. But it is not enough to create the infrastructure and the base. The essence of recognition is export and that is where one must be looking. Quality control, quality assurance, uncompromising international standards and its sustenance, a work culture essential for desirable production standards, confidence and acceptability by the biggest players in the international arena are absolutely essential for credibility.

UAVs are being made, the LCA will see the light of day, the AMCA is in its design phase, helicopters and transport aircraft are coming off the anvil. Missiles and electronic systems are already being recognised. I have no doubt that the march to co-design and co-develop, build to print, transfer capability vis-avis transferring technology, etc will lead us to self-sufficiency in the future and the truly “Indian” Air Force is not just a ‘mirage’ but a reality.

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

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