By Kamal Shah
Indian Aerospace & Defence’s Editorial Director, Kamal Shah, conducted an exclusive interview with the Indian Army’s Director General, Army Aviation Corps (AAC), Lieutenant General AK Suri, on his military aviation vision for the service and the nation. The interaction delved into critical technologies the domestic defence industry could focus on, the emerging defence Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul ecosystem and opportunities for the private sector, the indigenous aircraft engine manufacturing efforts and how they could be achieved, followed by advice for start-ups on how they can support the operational needs of army aviators.
Q. Post Aero India 2023, what are your expectations from the indigenous industry towards meeting the services critical technology needs? What specific areas and technologies would you suggest to the Indian companies dealing in the aviation sector to focus on keeping Army Aviation’s requirements in mind?
Ans: Self-reliance in defence production is very important. A large scope exists for indigenous manufacture of various components of helicopters such as avionics, communication equipment, airframe components etc. Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions to reduce pilot fatigue, Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS)-based Global Positioning System (GPS), Software-defined Radio (SDR) for helicopters and latest generation Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) are some of the technologies where Indian companies can focus on.
Q. The AAC has established MRO hubs in collaboration with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), can these be further streamlined with private sector players too? Also, looking at the current massive expansion plans in terms of the number of aircraft in both commercial and military domains in India, do you see India becoming an MRO sector hub in the region and could grow rapidly in India?
Ans: MRO hubs are HAL-operated Maintenance and Repair hubs which have been established to facilitate the units in terms of reducing the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) related spares and Line-Replaceable units (LRUs). A need was felt to make these repair hubs more effective by including the repair and calibration of critical Ground Support Equipment (GSE), Ground Handling Equipment (GHE) and Bay Servicing Equipment (BSE).
In this regard, an interaction with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and Original Equipment Suppliers (OES) of critical GSE, GHE and BSE supplied by the private sector was undertaken. During the meeting majority of OEM/OES agreed in principle for the establishment of facilities at MRO hubs. Army Aviation and OEM/OES have also been facilitated in this regard.
Q. What opportunities are available for the Indian private sector, notably Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), to collaborate and support the AAC and, in tum, create a foundation for the military MRO ecosystem in India?
Ans: As already brought out earlier, MSMEs can be part of the large ecosystem of the Indian industry to provide various components of helicopters for manufacturing by HAL or to some other manufacturer.
Q. Indigenisation in engine production and serving has been an area of development for a while now. Could you share your views on how a robust indigenous engine ecosystem could be set up in the country? For this, what areas should Indian companies/Joint Ventures (JVs) focus on?
Ans: HAL has already paved the path for indigenisation in engine production. The establishment of HEMRU (JV between HAL and Safran) would strengthen the indigenisation effort towards engine production. HAL has laid out an elaborate path for indigenisation where clear milestones with regards to the indigenisation of critical technologies have been well spelt out. HAL is making endeavours to establish a local vendor base for the sub-system, and in this regards, the local vendors must be facilitated for joint production and co-development with HAL.
Q. What message would you like to give to the indigenous defence industry, especially start-ups and innovators, after Aero India 2023?
Ans: The response from the Indian industry post the impetus on Atmanirbhar Bharat has been very encouraging. A number of products have been offered by various start-ups and innovators for various defence solutions. Still, there is a large scope for private industry to cater for the requirements of Indian defence forces. The quality of equipment being offered by the start-ups for aviation use should be of nothing less than gold standards.