The government’s decision to proceed with the procurement of 56 C-295MW military transport for the Indian Air Force (IAF), from an Airbus Defence & Space – Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) consortium, is a landmark moment for India’s private sector Aerospace & Defence (A&D) industry. Until now, all of India’s military aircraft requirements have been met either with direct imports from abroad, license production in India with OEM or developed indigenously by state-owned airframer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)/Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA).
This week’s approval from the apex Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired for the procurement of 56 C-295MW, is the first instance of the license manufacture of a military aircraft being awarded to a combination of a foreign aircraft OEM and an Indian private sector firm. CCS approval is the penultimate stage of the defence procurement process and will be followed by a formal contract. Airbus Defence delivers the first 16 aircraft as ‘fly-aways’ from its factory in Seville, Spain, within four years of contract signature. TASL is to assemble the remaining 40 aircraft under license from Airbus Defence within ten years of the contract being inked.
A New Beginning
The C-295MW contract, when finalised, will ensure that for the first time, an Indian private sector firm is tasked with the assembly of an entire aircraft in India under license from the OEM, as opposed to supplying individual structural parts or avionics items. The Tatas have already emerged as an aviation powerhouse with TASL being a major manufacturing partner for global aviation OEMs such as - Boeing Defence for fabrication and assembly of the fuselage for AH64 Apache attack helicopter along with secondary structures and aft fuselage panels for CH47 Chinook helicopter; Sikorsky for S92 helicopter cabin assembly and detailed part manufacturing and Lockheed Martin for C-130J Empennage & Center Wing-Box assembly.
The multi-billion-dollar C-295MW deal will ensure that Tata Group is well ahead of its rivals in this arena, as TASL will undertake structural assembly, final aircraft assembly, systems integration and testing, and management of the indigenous supply chain in India. Sizeable military aircraft orders awarded to the Indian private sector are also few and far between, and the A&D industry is all about scale. The C-295MW deal is estimated between INR 18,000 and 20,000 crore, and a sizeable amount of the value will be invested in India to make many parts, sub-assemblies, and major components.
The license manufacture of the C-295MW aims to create a long-term industrial ecosystem to make transport aircraft for India with significant technology transfer from Airbus Defence & Space to TASL. The original RFP called for Airbus Defence to provide a 30% value addition from Indian firms for the first phase of license manufacture of 16 aircraft, followed by minimum value addition of 60% for the final 24 aircraft to be made in India. In addition, Airbus will also have to discharge offset obligations through the direct purchase of eligible products and services from Indian firms.
The MoD also announced that all 56 aircraft will be fitted with an indigenously developed Electronic Warfare (EW) suite to defend the aircraft against missile threats. This will generate additional work for Indian firms. As per the MoD, the C-295MW programme will provide more than 42.5 lakh manhours of work to the Indian A&D sector. It will directly generate 600 highly skilled jobs, over 3,000 indirect jobs and 3,000 additional medium skill employment opportunities.
Since TASL has to undertake structural assembly, final aircraft assembly, systems integration and testing, the project calls for extensive development of specialised infrastructure in the form of hangars, buildings, aprons and a taxiway. To maintain the 56 aircraft fleet, the government has also asked that a ‘D’ Level Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility be created in India before completing deliveries. There are also expectations that this MRO facility will act as a regional MRO hub for various variants of C-295 aircraft.
The C-295MW is a rugged aircraft with a proven ability to operate in challenging operating conditions and has a rear ramp door for the para dropping of troops and cargo. The C-295MW is a variant of the C-295W, the standard version available since late 2014. The Defence Acquisition Council accorded its Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) to the IAF in 2012, following which Airbus Defence and Space emerged as the sole bidder for the Request for Proposal issued by the Ministry of Defence in 2013. The Field Evaluation Trials, where the aircraft was flown and demonstrated in India to the IAF, was completed in 2016.
The aircraft features winglets and an uprated engine delivering improved performance while operating at ‘hot and high’ airfields (locations with high temperature and high altitude) and can deliver an overall reduction in fuel consumption of up to 4%.
The aircraft can take off from unprepared short, soft and rough airstrips and, depending on the configuration, can carry up to one tonne of additional payload.
Its two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127 turboprop engines allow it to stay in the air for up to 11 hours.
This tactical airlifter has a pressurised cabin allowing it to cruise at altitudes up to 25,000 ft, and it can attain a maximum speed of 480 km/h. The highly versatile C-295MW can undertake a wide range of missions from transporting personnel, troops and bulky/palletised cargo, performing communication and logistic duties to taking up missions such as casualty evacuation, search and rescue, surveillance and control, homeland security, etc.