India’s aviation industry is 20-30 years behind the United States and other western nations, believes US envoy Timothy Roemer.
Roemer made these comments after a visit to the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s plant in Bengaluru, in a secret cable that has been released by WikiLeaks.
Incidentally, the US administration has recently launched a concerted and aggressive campaign on behalf of American fighter aircraft manufacturers to push for the ‘mother of all deals’– the $11 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft deal for 126 fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force.
The deal could give the ailing US economy a major boost in terms of both exports and thousands of jobs.
Image: Employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd work inside a workshop.
Photographs: Jagadeesh Nv/Reuters
To comprehend the size and complexity in aviation technologies is not easy. The HAL-NAL-ADA and other DRDO setups have done a commendable job but still a generation behind the Indian security needs vis-a-vis China. This gap must be bridged, but no realistic solution is in sight within the ideological mooring which led to creation of this defence production infrastructure. We need a second set of defence related infrastructure in private sector to help reduce the quality and capacity gap.
Since Indian manufacturing afford cost advantages and skilled manpower in huge numbers, given proper licensing arrangement is likely to invite capacity creation for sub-system and component needs for exports to developed civil democracies. This will help reduce the investment gap for production of such sophisticated technologies with development gestation of several decades. This fast forwarding the technology development and its assimilation on Indian soil is feasible if we think in terms of seeking realistic alternatives to match the rapidly emerging threats. This will not shrink the PSU setup,but only make them more competitive.
Indian technology need not evolve only in the crucible of PSUs, institutions which evolved per Soviet model.It needs to be complemented with a competitive and internationalized private defence sector to facilitate Indian assimilation.
However, any decision to introduce an alternate internationalized private defence sector base would be a momentous one, like the 1991 reform. Not easy to come by. The move to merely expand the PSU base is politically less risky and remains the official policy.
Hon Defence Minister had recently said that no developed nation would share its best technology, we would get only the second best. While this is true presently, this constraint can be met by enabling institutional arrangements which provide unfettered decision-making and policy making legally for their investors and management per Indian as well as international needs.
The old case study of Bokaro Steel plant is illustrative here. Later the steel sector expansion is coming thanks to private investments. Same story in Airlines, telephony, automotive and other sectors.
But aviation technology is of different grade in terms of system complexity and reliability needs. It would require incredibly complex set of negotiation to establish an autonomous policy decision making institutional structures amenable to the needs of both India and developed civil democracies.
There are two American catch phrases which assume significant meaning in our current context. One is — arsenal of democracy — and the second one is — military-industrial complex –. The first phrase makes new sense in the Indian context of emerging security threats. While the second phrase points to internal political risks due to such large-scale investments.
How to cope realistically with the emerging threats while safely managing the internal risk is the question which remains unanswered.
Was when Kurt Tank was heading HAL.
You can google him and read about him.
Kurt Tank was a brilliant engineer who designed the FW-190
After the war after a brief stint in Argentina, Tank moved to India. First he worked as Director of the Madras Institute of Technology, where one of his students was Abdul Kalam (later Kalam became President of India and designed indigenous satellite launch vehicles and missiles). Kurt Tank later joined Hindustan Aeronautics, where he designed the Hindustan Marut fighter-bomber, the first military aircraft constructed in India. The first prototype flew in 1961; the Marut was retired from active service in 1985. Tank left Hindustan Aeronautics in 1967 and by the 1970s had returned to live in Berlin, basing himself in Germany for the rest of his life. He died in Munich in 1983.
Indians really do not have the zeal and expertise to design well.