India PM Narendra Modi at COP26

View from India: first ‘Made in India’ military transport aircraft announced

Image credit: UNFCC

Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Tata-Airbus transport aircraft manufacturing project on October 30 2022.

The aircraft is for the Indian Air Force (IAF). Being Made in India, the transport aircraft can transform the defence sector. Vadodara, Gujarat is where the dream will soar high and come true.

The C-295MW, which will be the state-of-the-art transport aircraft, has a capacity of 5-10 tonnes. Designed with contemporary technology, the C-295MW will replace the Avro aircraft of the IAF. This is a first-of-its-kind project wherein a military aircraft will be manufactured in India by a private company. The planes will be manufactured by the Indian Aircraft Contractor, TATA Consortium of Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL) and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) led by TASL. The first Made in India aircraft is scheduled from September 2026 and can be used for civilian purposes. The financial outlay of the project is ₹ 21,935 crore.

With this, India will join the ranks of countries such as US, Japan, UK, Russia, France, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Brazil, China and Japan, which have the capacity to manufacture their military transport aircrafts. Modi said: “In the coming years, the Defence and Aerospace sectors will be two important pillars for making India 'Atmanirbhar'. By 2025, our defence manufacturing scale would cross $25 billion. Defence corridors being established in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu would power this scale.”

The vision is to ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make for the Globe’. Already, India’s fighter jets, tanks, submarines, medicines, vaccines, electronic gadgets, mobile phones and cars are popular in many countries.

By way of explanation, in September 2021 the Cabinet Committee on Security approved the procurement of 56 C-295MW transport aircraft from M/s Airbus Defence and Space S.A. Spain. The Ministry of Defence had signed a contract with M/s Airbus Defence and Space S.A. for acquiring the aircraft with its equipment. As per media reports, 16 aircraft will be delivered in ready-to-fly condition and 40 will be manufactured in India.

The fact that the country has embarked on a transport aircraft manufacturing project speaks volumes. The mega project happening in Gujarat could reinforce the entire defence industrial complex ecosystem in the country and open up the skies for aviation technology collaborations. Investments in aerospace and defence (A&D) are expected to increase. Domestic aviation manufacturing along with logistics could be strengthened with next-gen infrastructure with fine-tuned component and system manufacturing, testing, spare parts and allied industries.

Appropriately, the TATA Consortium has zeroed in on 125 domestic MSME (micro small and medium enterprises) suppliers across seven states. Employment generation in the aerospace ecosystem is its key takeaway. Projections point to 600 highly skilled direct jobs and over 3,000 indirect jobs. An additional 3,000 medium skill employment opportunities with more than 42.5 lakh man hours of work within the aerospace and defence sector of India are among other estimates. Nearly 240 engineers will be trained at the Airbus facility in Spain.

There’s an interesting dimension to the overall defence sector. Modi has recently virtually initiated the expansion of Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel. This is India's flagship plant at Hazira in Gujarat's Surat district. The target is to double the crude steel production capacity from the present 154 million tonnes per annum to 300 million tonnes per annum over the next 10 years. The goal is to boost indigenous capabilities and lower the import of steel for the defence sector. A case in point is the INS Vikrant or the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) which was made with steel produced in India. Launched at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) in September 2022, INS Vikrant is the first indigenous and largest ship made by India, which includes indigenous designs and aircraft carriers for the Indian Navy. The special kind of steel for the entire ship except for the bulb bars has been supplied by the steel plants present at Bhilai, Bokaro and Rourkela.

India has a history of being a large defence importer and has sourced military equipment from Russia and various other countries world over. The Modi government has laid strong emphasis on ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ - ‘Self-Reliant India’ - with the Make in India initiatives. It is hoped that the upcoming transport aircraft manufacturing facility will give a fresh perspective to the domestic aircraft scenario.

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